March 27, 2006
Is Ministry Leadership Different? Andy Stanley and Jim Collins in an unexpected point-counterpoint
How is ministry leadership different from other kinds of leadership? In the next exciting issue of Leadership, Pastor Andy Stanley and business expert and author Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good to Great) offered answers that left me scratching my head. Can they both be right? Read some excerpts below.
"What is distinctly spiritual about the kind of leadership you do?" I asked Andy Stanley. Nothing, he said. "There's nothing distinctly spiritual. I think a big problem in the church has been the dichotomy between spirituality and leadership."
His answer surprised me.
As pastor of a thriving megachurch north of Atlanta, with an additional ten satellite locations fed his sermons by video, Stanley is becoming the model for the next generation of large church pastors.
Younger by about a decade than Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, Andy really seems to connect with younger leaders. We noticed it among the attenders at the annual Catalyst conferences. Organized jointly, at first, by Stanley's North Point Community Church and John Maxwell's InJoy Ministries, the Catalyst conferences have increasingly featured Andy. He is the headliner, opening the gathering as incentive for attenders to arrive on time, and presenting the closing session in hopes that they will stay to the end. It works. Andy's frequent speeches on integrity hold the crowd's attention better than Maxwell's chestnuts on momentum and irrefutable laws.
Because Andy connects well with younger leaders, who in general are bent more toward spiritual formation than church growth, I expected Andy to talk about the spiritual nature of leadership. He did not. He did talk about prayer and seeking good counsel and the crucial nature of integrity in the leaders with whom he surrounds himself; but leadership, even church leadership, is not distinctly spiritual, he said.
"I grew up in a culture where everything was overly spiritualized," Andy said. "I don't want to be a cynic, but raking out all the spiritual versus non-spiritual, I think, is healthy."
He agreed with those who contend that good leadership is good leadership, whatever the setting. "One of the criticisms I get is ?Your church is so corporate?' And I say, ?OK, you're right. Now why is that a bad model?'"
Good business principles work for Andy and North Point. "A principle is a principle, and God created all the principles," he summarized.
I must admit I felt a bit incredulous. I thought I'd hear something that backed up the pendulum swing we have heard prominent emerging leaders identify--that younger leaders don't buy all the church growth stuff, that the models that built megachurches worked for boomers, but for Gen-X and younger? Fuggidaboudit. That business models, while they may inform church leadership, do not define it; that church leaders are spiritual leaders and spiritual leadership must be, well, spiritual.
"Churches should quit saying, ?Oh, that's what business does,'" Andy said. "That whole attitude is so wrong, and it hurts the church. In terms of the shifting culture, I say thanks to guys like Bill Hybels and others who have been unafraid to say we have a corporate side to ministry; it's going to be the best corporate institution it can possibly be, and we're not going to try to merge first century [with the 21st ]."
The ground shifted a little at that comment. Then I heard an opposite view from an unexpected quarter. It was, in fact, Jim Collins, author of the paradigm-altering business book Good to Great, who pointed out some of the uniquenesses of church leadership. Some church leaders have put Good to Great on the same shelf with Purpose-Driven Life and the Bible. But Collins, who admits he is not an expert on churches, is beginning to see that not all his business principles apply to ministry settings.
"One of the things from Good to Great that really resonated with church leaders was the Level 5 Leadership finding," Collins told us, "that leaders who took companies from good to great are characterized by personal humility and by a fierce determination to a cause that is larger than themselves.
"I was delighted how the Level 5 concept took hold, and yet the deeper I got into it, the more I realized that Level 5 leadership looks different in a non-business setting. A church leader often has a very complicated governance structure. There can be multiple sources of power, constituencies in the community, constituencies in the congregation. With all of that, you're going to run into trouble if you try to lead a church as a czar. Church leaders have to be adept in a more communal process, what we came to call ?legislative' rather than an ?executive' process."
Jim Collins recognizes that church leadership is different, and in many ways harder. That did my heart good. Not every business principle is right for ministry leadership.
Both men agreed on the dangers of unanimity. While it's often posited as evidence of the Holy Spirit's guidance, Stanley warned his own elders against requiring 100 percent agreement on big decisions. "It sounds so spiritual, but?I knew it would've been the worst possible thing we could do."
Collins concurs: "I've never found an important decision made by a great organization that was made at a point of unanimity. Significant decisions carry risks and inevitably some will oppose it. In these settings, the greatest legislative leader must be artful in handling uncomfortable decisions, and this requires rigor."
Thanks guys, I'll think about that. Rigorously.
Andy Stanley and Jim Collins are interviewed in the Spring issue of Leadership, which will be published in April.