April 26, 2007
Shepherds or CEOs?
A new leadership paradigm is emerging, but is the church listening?
Recent excerpts we've posted from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Baker, 2007), edited by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, have generated a lot of discussion. This final installment should keep the trend going. Sally Morgenthaler writes about our cultural shift away from an autocratic CEO model of leadership toward a more reflexive and cooperative model, and why many churches have failed to get the memo.
Significance, influence, interaction, collective intelligence - all of these values describe an essential shift from passivity to reflexivity. We are no longer content to travel in lockstep fashion through life like faceless, isolated units performing our one little job on an assembly line. This attitudinal shift is nothing short of revolutionary. True to form, Western Christendom seems oblivious to its implications. But it is the entrepreneurial church (congregations of roughly one thousand and above) that seems particularly clueless about the shift from the passive to the reflexive. And this, despite all its posturing about cultural relevance.
This disconnect shouldn't really surprise us. Large-church leaders have been trained in the modern, command-and-control paradigm for thirty years. Here, organizations aren't seen so much as gatherings of people with a common purpose but as machines. There is no irony here. Machine parts don't have minds or muscles to flex. They don't contribute to a process or innovate improvements. Machine parts simply do their job, which is, of course, to keep the machine functioning.
The mechanical paradigm of organization largely explains why modern church leaders are trained as CEOs, not shepherds.
Sheep have their own ideas of what, where, and when they want to eat. They may not want to lie down by quiet waters and go to sleep at eight. They just might want to check out the watercress down by the streambed. Or they might want to head out over the next ridge to see if there are any other flocks out there. Conveniently, machine parts don't get ideas. They just get to work, and they work according to specification.
Church members who don't comprehend this three-decade shift in leadership paradigms are frustrated that their CEO pastor is so self-absorbed. They were looking for a shepherd - albeit, one with a big
name and a big flock. What many of them ended up with instead was a "my-way-or-the-highway" autocrat - a top-down aficionado whose ecclesiastical machine whirs only to the sound of his own voice and functions tightly within the parameters of his own limited vision. One doesn't have to be on the pastors' conference circuit long to figure out that prime-time clergy (ages forty to fifty-five), are marinated in this kind of thinking. They have been told repeatedly that this is the only leadership model that will ensure success. (And make no mistake: in new millennium America, success equals the greatest number of seats filled on Sunday morning.) Theirs is a mono-vocal, mono-vision world - one that affords the most uniformity and thus the most control. It is a world of hyperpragmatics where the ends (church growth) can justify the most dehumanizing of processes.
Pity the member who questions the machine and develops any significant influence. Sooner or later, that member will be disposed of - shunned, silenced, and quietly removed from any position of authority on staff, boards, worship teams, or within the most lowly of programs. Unwittingly, this member has run headlong into an industrial age anachronism: "the great man with the plan" methodology. And he or she has lost.
But it is not only individual members who lose. It is God's kingdom and the waiting world that is being sacrificed. Sacrificed on the altar of pastoral ego. The question is, how long can these antiquated, top-down systems last? As long as people will let them. In a push-back world, hierarchy can function only in the womb of passivity, which may be good news - at least on the survival level - for big religion. Because, if there is anything the entrepreneurial church is good at creating, it is compliant cultures - those Stepford-like minicities populated with otherwise savvy, creative human beings. Yet these otherwise savvy children of God somehow missed the memo: they have a brain, a voice, and a Jacobesque call to wrestle, not only with the living God, but with whatever institution claims to hold all truth inside its too perfect confines. Is it any wonder that megachurches proliferate in areas of the country where the church attendance percentages are well above the national norm?7 This is not quantum physics. It's the law of supply and demand. Entrepreneurial churches thrive in the most churched areas of the country because they are populated with the already churched, not the unchurched. And their leaders know this, despite their incessant outreach-speak. They know who their real target market is: it is hothoused Christians. And if hothoused Christians are anything, they are passive.
If passivity is a requirement for participation in big-church America, then it is no wonder that most new world citizens wouldn't put so much as a tire mark on our parking lots. Maybe they get what we refuse to get: supersized ecclesia is as much about power as it is about God. With luxurious facilities bordering on the obscene, organizational hierarchies designed to feed pastoral ego, and constituencies of the robotically religious (who else would tolerate living in a machine?), it's not hard to figure out that one's story, creativity, and opinions aren't welcome. Newsflash: the "Forty Days of Honest Dialogue" campaign is not coming to your local suburban church-plex anytime soon. So much for relevance in a reflexive culture, the members of which will most likely keep driving past our parking lots. No one has to tell a new world citizen that power-and-control religion is about monologue, not dialogue. It is about one leader's vision; one take on what God is up to in the community, the nation, and the world; one single, often blurry, and out-of-context frame in this speeding movie we call life.
Sally Morgenthaler is recognized as an innovator in Christian practices worldwide. Known best for her book Worship Evangelism (Zondervan, 1998), Morgenthaler became a trusted interpreter of postmodern culture and a guide to the crucial shifts the North American church must make if it is to become a transforming presence within pre Christian communities.