It has been a while since I wrote about servant-leadership, and I have noticed a general trend of people finding this site while doing a search on that topic. My lack of writing about this isn't due to lack of interest or commitment, so I thought it would be good once again to devote a few posts to the subject.
I am on record saying that there is a leadership crisis in the Church and, in some ways, society in general. Don't misunderstand; we have plenty of leaders and more than enough servants. What we don't have is leaders who understand the concepts of servant-leadership.
I follow many of the blogs and sites that bemoan the condition of the local church. They mock some of the goofy trends in the Church that deserve to be mocked. They debate and write to come up with better philosophical and theological solutions to our current dilemma. Many of these bloggers are much better writers and thinkers than I, so I read them and agree with almost all of them. Yet the leadership crisis worsens daily.
For one of my upcoming D.Min. classes, I am re-reading and re-listening to Jim Collins' book, Good to Great. In that book, Collins outlines the principles he discovered from his research into what made good companies great companies. Collins has also written a short pamphlet applying and analyzing the "good to great" principles in the social sector, which would include churches. One of the concepts that Collins describes, and it's at the top of his list, is what he has come to call Level 5 leaders. This is just another name for servant-leaders.
What is a Level 5 leader? Collins explains:
"Level 5 refers to a five-level hierarchy of executive capabilities, with Level 5 at the top. Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company [or organization], and not themselves. . . Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results. They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions." (page 39).
It is my contention that we can debate the theology of the Church all day long -- what it should be, the appropriate mix of outreach and missions, and the appropriate structure -- but until we have a change in the heart and thinking of leaders, we will continue to repeat the same problems we have experienced in the last 30 years. We don't have a lack of creativity or ideas of what the Church should be; in my opinion, we don't have enough servant-leaders.
I have found that when most people plant churches, sometimes even breaking away from an oppressive church situation to do so, they don't resolve to change the leadership philosophy or practice they experienced. They simply determine they are going to do a better job than the previous leaders under which they served. Until we see and accept that the current leadership attitude and spirit are flawed, then we will not see any change in the Church, whether we call the church seeker-sensitive, seeker-friendly, seeker-tolerant, seeker-suspect, or "us-four-and-no-more."
I heard Collins talk about Level 5 leaders in New York City before he ever published Good to Great and I cried. (For those of you who know me, you know that is a significant event!). He talked about how Level 5 leaders practice the principles of the window and the mirror. I'll let Collins explain what he means in his own words:
"Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility. [Other kinds of leaders do] just the opposite--they look in the mirror to take credit for success, but out the window to assign blame for disappointing results." (page 39).
Why did I cry when I heard him talk about this? I cried because I never, ever heard or read about anything like this in the Church, and I still don't, for the most part. I read plenty about philosophical changes that need to be made in church theology but until we identify leadership as the problem and pursue specific remedies, we won't make much progress. We will start over and over again, and enjoy the ennui of fresh starts, only to find ourselves in the same woeful predicament due to lack of servant-leaders. My solution to the church leadership crisis is to work to become a Level 5 leader. I don't need a title, an armor-bearer, an office or a position to do so. And neither do you.
I want to contribute to the healing of the Church and her members not by replicating the mistakes of the past, only doing a better job of implementing a flawed system and philosophy. I want to model servant-leadership and train servant-leaders, not working with those who are content to tweak the past but who want to learn from the past and change the present for a better future. And by the way, I don't think the leadership crisis is limited to the Church. I do believe, however, that we must address it there so that we can once again produce leaders who go forth to transform society. At the present, most leaders are built and shaped outside the church and then come to worship. I want to reverse that process -- they come to worship, are shaped into servant-leaders and go out from that point.
Stay tuned for more to come about servant-leadership in the coming days. I haven't forgotten about it. I am just now ready to do something about it!
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