Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

From Fad to Discernment

Written by: on September 3, 2015

When Good to Great came out in 2001, the hype of the book extended all the way to a growing church in Gig Harbor, Washington. Our Executive Pastor who loved all things Patrick Lencioni, Stephen Covey, and John Maxwell decided we, as a staff, needed to read the Jim Collins’ book together. The concepts of the hedgehog, the flywheel, and Level 5 leadership became the common language in our culture as we looked at programs, desired number growth, and effective staff interactions. Much good came out of the conversation in defining “great” within a church context (even prior to the “Social Sectors” monograph which Collins added later) with an atypical disciplined approach. The grappling forced us to look at what was important and distinct for our local environment.

However, I will confess to a distinct distaste to what the continued conversation from Good to Great created over time with “getting people off the bus.”   Some staff seat positions were rearranged with changes that needed to occur. But what broke my heart, and eventually ended up contributing to my decision to leave the church staff, was the overconfidence effect that came into play as the Senior and Executive Pastors began to systematically remove staff members because they weren’t the “right fit.” Those on the bus had to agree with the definition of effectiveness developed through the process.  To be exact, effectiveness became predicated on the number of new parishioners, superseding the focus on how to deepen relationships with God and others. The “great” became a question of quantity, not quality.

Over the next five years, staff changes created a revolving door whenever a staff member chose to disagree, or even simply ask for a longer period of time to decide, with an upper level decision. While a staff needs to work together for a culture to function well, disagreement with how things are done does not mean the culture is being undermined, rather it can create a healthier culture.

I do not blame Good to Great, especially in light of how Collins took to evaluating the value of his concepts for the Social Sectors. Rather, this type of book, as well as others along the way, serves as a reminder that fads can actually harm if discernment is based only on the “new best thing.” Even as Collins learned along the way, it is better to “invest more time being interested.”[1] During that season while on staff, our desire for being cutting edge was to be interesting/exciting, instead of listening and pausing around what the whispers of the Holy Spirit were offering.

In retrospect, I appreciate my simultaneously required (through my Masters program) reading from Paul Hiebert’s anthropological work on “bounded sets” vs. “centered sets.”[2] Bounded sets by definition are static, about the boundaries of who is in and out. Centered sets are dynamic where the movement is toward the center, rather than focusing on the boundary.[3] Hiebert’s description of how missionary work effectively draws in others appeals me to me with the focus on the center of what’s most important. I am drawn to that focus of being centered, rather than defining who is on and off the bus. I recognize the need to make those hard decisions when there isn’t a “right fit” appreciating Collins’ words on eliminating a culture of “niceness”[4] that can undermine the purpose of an organization. However, when the focus is only on who is in and who is out, or “in or off the bus,” something is lost in the desire for quantity over quality.

On another curiosity note, I’m wondering if there is a correlation between Collins’ book and his monograph for the Social Sectors with a movement towards social entrepreneurship.  From that time and subsequently, there is an increasing number of businesses and non-profits from different ends of the spectrum looking at what it means to be a social entrepreneur type of company/organization – focusing on purpose versus the bottom line financially or numerically.  For the non-profit with the possibility of making money, the advantage of using the Collins’ principles requires an honesty about finding an economically sustainable system while still centered on its main objective.  For the business, the financial ends can be replaced by purposeful passion that measure with a more holistic approach and outcome.  Just curious.


[1] James C. Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer ([Boulder, Colo.?]: J. Collins, ©2005), Author’s Note.

[2] Paul Hiebert, “Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories,” Gospel in Context 11:4 (October 1978): 24-29.

[3] http://www.westernseminary.edu/transformedblog/2014/01/17/whos-in-and-whos-out-christianity-and-bounded-sets-vs-centered-sets/

[4] Collins, 32.

About the Author

Mary Pandiani

Spiritual Director, educator/facilitator, follower of Jesus, a cultivator of sacred space for those who want to encounter God

8 responses to “From Fad to Discernment”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Thanks for the genuine look into a difficult season of life Mary. I appreciate that. I guess that question that will always underlie any conversations about “right person” “wrong person” or whatever is “who gets to decide?” I mean in the church context. In a business context it’s a little easier to answer I think…

    Who do you think should make the decisions of who is a “right” person and who is a “wrong” person? Aren’t we all invited into the family of God? Doesn’t that mean we’re ALL the “right” people?


    • Brian Yost says:

      Good question, Jon.
      One the one hand, I embrace the bus analogy. From a church point of view, it makes sense to help people find their area of giftedness. It is wonderful when individuals and the church in general flourish because they are dong what God has designed them to do.
      On the other hand, I have seen leaders who use people like pawns on a chessboard. The leader has a vision of success, and manipulates others (often hurting people in the process) to achieve the end results. What they forget, is that they are not the head of the church, Christ is. They also forget that it is not just about the bottom line of reaching the goal, but that it is also about the journey to get there.

  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Mary, Great line … “The ‘great’ became a question of quantity, not quality.” Value is such a slippery slope. I appreciate the historical context you brought to forefront through your post. I remember first hearing about Jim Collins and Good to Great at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit. It was a hot book then and has had far reaching impact on the business and social sectors of our society. My wife saw me reading it this week and made mention how her building principal was making references to this book this week as the staff was meeting to get the school year started. They are shooting for a “great, not good” year. 🙂

    And … interesting observation on the rise of the social entrepreneur. I had friends directly begin to look at their for-profit-company and wonder about how to turn it into a non-profit to shift the ultimate outcomes that their business success would lead to. There was a greater spirit of wanting to “give back” and for a Level 5 culture for the work environment and ultimately for the employees they had.

    Definitely interesting stuff. Great thoughts and lots to think about. Thanks

  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Great insights Mary…I’ve also been asking myself what the “right person” even means. We tend to measure these kinds of things in efficiency and production yet I feel like God measures in faithfulness.

    This past weekend at our church we celebrated our Middle School pastor that has been on staff in that same role for 20 years. I can tell you that many churches would have asked him to move on after his first 3-5 years but now after 20 years you see the fruit of his faithfulness and consistency.

  4. Dave Young says:

    Mary… I don’t think I could ever say things as clearly as you do, but just know the insights and fair critique are absolutely essential in applying anything like Good to Great to the church. We are an ecclesia not a business. We’re an organism more so then an organization. On the other hand he has great insights that should be useful to our leadership and to how we lead the organization, especially during times of significant change. So I take it with a grain or two of salt

  5. Dawnel Volzke says:


    Your post makes me sad. I’d say that the leaders who implemented Collin’s work, in the church you described, weren’t level 5 leaders. Good leaders aren’t threatened by healthy conflict. It sounds like Collin’s work was taken out of context and applied inappropriately. The church wasn’t properly identifying and measuring what success should look like, so the effort was doomed for failure from the start. Success was based on something different than the mission or calling from the Lord. The efforts were driven by wants of individual leaders.

    Your story is similar to what I’ve seen in some of my consulting work, and I’m left wondering why Christian organization’s struggle to implement some of the same principles that secular businesses (in general) so easily grasp. Most secular organizations do not so easily dismiss people or treat them so poorly. Yet, I see this too often in Christian organizations and churches. I wonder if it is because so many church leaders have never experienced what it is like to work in a leadership role with a large corporation. If they did, I think that they would be pleasantly surprised. When I go in to consult with organizations, I often see clear evidence when leadership principles and best practices aren’t understood. Secular businesses often apply biblical principles because they work. They don’t always know that they are biblical principles, rather they call them best practices. It should be no surprise to Christians that organizations become profitable, have higher customer satisfaction, and have good employee morale when they operate in a way that aligns with the way Scripture indicates.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      It is interesting that a leader can leverage Collins’ demands for a Level Five leader as a way to manipulate the organization toward their own selfish ends. Kind the polar opposite of Level Five isn’t it?


  6. Travis Biglow says:

    You have a great observation Mary so sorry it had to come through being involved in it. I agree with you to on how fads can become carnal to say the least. And it is so sad that people can become so preoccupied with success by quantity and not quality that they hurt people. I think those leaders are not humble to begin with or allowing the Holy Spirit to dictate the route in which to lead. I love reading concepts about ministry but i pray over the ones i want to do. And most of the times you will be removing and replacing ideas as the Holy Spirit dictates. Blessings!

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