The Failure of Effective Leadership

In most of these situations, the CEO-pastor discerns the Spirit’s leading for the organization and then uses his or her leadership skills to “make it happen” by envisioning, organizing and managing its members…. In the end, moral failures are not the worst of the problem: the worst is when leaders give off the air that they are doing things in order to be effective instead of doing things out of faithfulness to Christ and who they already are in him because of what he has already done.”

David Fitch’s chapter on leadership has been an interesting read so far. I think he may be overstating his case, but it’s one worth thinking about. In fact, I saw a bit of myself in his description of why modern pastoral training sets pastors up for failure.

In a nutshell, Fitch states that pastor-leaders are formed for character failure by evangelicalism’s obsession with “effective leadership” training.

“Effective leadership” places effectiveness as the leader’s priority, perpetuating the modern myth that technique and skill can control the outcomes of organizations. This subtly trains the pastor to act, behave and lead as though he or she were in control of the church. As a result, the CEO-pastor does not serve, but leads. He or she doesn’t submit as a member of a community to the community’s gifts and discernment, but directs an organization. In most of these situations, the CEO-pastor discerns the Spirit’s leading for the organization and then uses his or her leadership skills to “make it happen” by envisioning, organizing and managing its members. This is not biblical Christian leadership.

Also interesting is the discussion that “effectiveness” is not morally neutral. The quest for effectiveness in Christian leadership means something has been sacrificed for effectiveness. Local churches must come to the realization that within Christian leadership effectiveness may not be a good thing. The typical church’s mission to share Christ or make disciples of the most people as possible is primarily a pursuit for effectiveness. In this light, the church becomes a managed system of disbursement of teaching and ministry to the most people in the most effective way. And usually in this system, the marginalized suffer.

The postmodern critique of modernism also asks who can be trusted to determine what is “effective” and therefore control outcomes the bring about that “effectiveness.” At times the pursuit for effectiveness in Christian leadership is but a guise for the leader’s attempt at control or personal success.

“Effective leadership” training also shifts the pastor’s moral behavior to become a subset of effective leadership. In other words, pastors view their moral lives from the context of their leadership. The pastor-leader maintains moral faithfulness primarily because moral failure would ruin their ministry. The pastor-leader then becomes an expert at managing his or her external life with little internal character formation. Simply put, they learn to smile on the outside when they’re seething on the inside.

Fitch taps into something important with the following words:

“Ministry can only flow out of one’s life and character. In the end, moral failures are not the worst of the problem: the worst is when leaders give off the air that they are doing things in order to be effective instead of doing things out of faithfulness to Christ and who they already are in him because of what he has already done.”

Here’s the question: Are “faithfulness to Christ” and “effective leadership” compatible in genuine biblical Christian leadership? If so, how? In the end, one must submit to the other. There will be times when what is good for the community is bad for the organization. There will also be times when success must take a back seat to what is simply good, just and right.

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