First Show on the Road
Matthew 20 and Servant-Leadership


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! 

    Feel free to add your comments to this entry on the site where it is posted.


Bill Kinnon

Firstly, do you cry as loud as you laugh. :-)

Secondly, I very much appreciate what you have to say in desiring to become a Level 5 leader. But, and it is a big but (no pun intentionally intended), one of the problems I find with the Pastors whose book shelves feature Collins two most famous books is that these people all buy into a CEO model of church leadership - and are reinforced in that thinking by Collins book - and they are all convince that they are at least Level 4 leaders.

Mark 10 and Matthew 20 point to a radically different leadership style that Collins really doesn't come all that close to recommending.

Of course, some of this may come from having worked with/for a guy who told me others thought he was a Level 5 leader. But he didn't tell me that that was only on Opposite Days.

john stanko

Yes, Bill, and I'm sure those same leaders have a Bible on their shelf and claim to use Jesus as their model for leadership and ministry! I am not claiming that Collins' Level 5 concept is perfect, but it's sure a whole lot better than most of what I have heard from church circles. In Collins' pamphlet on Good to Great in the Social Sector, I think he does indicate that Level 5 leadership may be more important there as represented by building an effective team in a much different setting than a corporation.

I know that the authoritarian leader I worked for didn't have Good to Great or any other book from which he could derive leadership help or adjustment. He just led by power and surrounded himself with worker bees, which Collins referred to as "the genius with a 1,000 helpers" mode of leadership. Problem was, my leader was no genius, but very good at what he did do -- manipulate, coerce and defend.

Thanks for writing. How do you keep up with all that you read and write? Pretty amazing. Keep up the good work.

Bill Kinnon

I did think Collins monograph (G2G & tSS) was good. I youth leader borrowed it a couple of years ago, though, and never returned it. I'm sure it's on his shelf, along with his Bible.

'Tis unfortunate that we can't openly discuss this "former leader" of ours who travels the globe with his wondrous title. It's profoundly sad to see what happens to giftedness in leaders when that giftedness is not submitted to the community.

How many leaders has the church lost to the tendrils of Narcissism - when the church refuses to rebuke and correct - but instead does a terrible exegesis of the "do not touch the Lord's anointed" passage. Oh what could have been!

Keep on keeping on, John. Your one of the good guys in my not humble but accurate opinion. (Line stolen shamelessly from Tom Wright.)

The comments to this entry are closed.