June 15, 2006
The President & The Pastor (part 2): more lessons from George W. Bush’s brave/reckless leadership style
In May, NY Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani surveyed seventeen books written about the leadership of President Bush. Her article, which summarized what Bush’s fans and critics have observed about his leadership style, caught the attention of Out of Ur blogger Andy Rowell. Andy is a teacher of church leadership at Taylor University and a former pastor. In part 2 of his post, he reminds us that some bureaucracy may actually be good, and he champions the value of transparency.
Lesson 3: Remember that some policies and procedures created generations before us actually make sense.
There is nothing more annoying than a policy that does not make sense to us. There certainly may be policies on the books at your church that no longer fulfill their original intended functions.
By all accounts, President Bush inherited a dysfunctional overly bureaucratic intelligence establishment. Sensing this, the Bush administration created a special office to look into the evidence for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In doing so, they unintentionally avoided experts and procedures that would have noticed and corrected some of the weaknesses in the intelligence gathering methods and conclusions.
One of the hardest things for a pastor is getting permission to do things. Often times, we have to wait until the next committee meeting to get our initiative approved. At that meeting, the issue is discussed but there is a request for more information before a final decision can be made at next month's board meeting! Frequently, we're sorry we asked! Isn't it just better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission? But sometimes these cumbersome policies and procedures help protect us from our own blind spots.
Lesson 4: Be honest and transparent about what you are doing.
President Bush permitted wire-tapping without full public disclosure because his team believed getting permission wasn't fully necessary. But when it became public he was highly criticized for it. Apparently, even National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice does not always get consulted when things are happening. For example, she reportedly was not informed about the plans to house foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
In pastoral ministry there are certainly times when levels of confidentiality and limited disclosure are called for. For example, some people will be working with a couple having difficulty in their marriage. Not everyone in the church needs to know what is going on. But in general, our desire to keep something we are doing secret is an indicator that something is wrong.
Once I bought a board game for $40 with money from the church budget in order to use it for one evening's activities. I ended up using the game for about twenty minutes. Was that worth the money? I found myself debating whether I should pay for the game out of my own money or with the church’s. I ended up sheepishly explaining my questions to my Senior Pastor. We ended up deciding that I would pay for it myself and keep the game because the church would have no ongoing use for it. Even though I have not used the game since, it was probably the right decision because I learned again the importance of financial integrity in the church.
The point is that in the ministry we sometimes do things we feel mildly embarrassed about. Bush and team probably felt a bit embarrassed about the wiretaps and Guantanamo. Their temptation was to keep these things private and secretive for as long as possible. Bob Woodward, one of the journalists who helped uncover Watergate, says that presidents can make mistakes but they just need to admit them promptly and clearly. When a mistake is admitted, people are stirred up momentarily but they let the issue go. Similarly, as pastors, if our conscience bothers us, let's expose the offending issue to others. If we have a desire to be secretive, there is probably something wrong.
Conclusion: Perhaps we are better off seeking to be faithful rather than seeking to make an impact.
The last line of Kakutani’s article says:
The administration's growing problems suggest that Mr. Bush might have done well to put aside his yearning, as Fred Barnes notes, to be an "event-making leader" who "by himself, changes the course of history" and focused instead on a task Mr. Barnes says is not even on the president's radar: "being an 'eventful leader' who merely handles the tribulations of his era skillfully."
The same might be said to us. Like the president, we badly want to "make a difference." We want to "make an impact." That is good.
But may we first endeavor to be faithful. There is something deeply noble about someone who "merely" serves faithfully in the midst of the trials and tribulations of local church life. Life will be full of enough problems for us to overcome without causing a number of them by our foolishness and ambition.
Instead, may we take the situations that are given to us and approach them with all the courage and wisdom we can muster. And may we recognize that the "opportunities" that demand we compromise our integrity in order to "tackle them" are in fact temptations of the evil one. May we have the courage and conscience to bypass the ambition and the fame despite the cutting label "ordinary." Another One will call us faithful.