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

Leadership Gurus and Pastor Pete

Written by: on November 27, 2023

I’ve gone through a number of “leadership phases” in my 52 years of living and serving Jesus’ Church. Each season was marked by a Christian author/speaker and the volumes of work they would produce that impacted me, and so many others like me.

Although written in 1967, I remember when “Spiritual Leadership” by J. Oswald Sanders really struck a chord in the Christian leadership zeitgeist. I was a young volunteer leader in the youth group that I grew up in. I was learning how to lead a meeting, prepare a Bible message, give an altar call, and facilitate a Bible study. Sanders classic was a go to, and frankly, it still has got some good steam, as modern generations discover its weight and worth.

In 1979 John Maxwell wrote his first book, with billions more to come. It wasn’t his best work, but it opened the door to a whole world of leadership books, talks, seminars and conferences. Maxwell is the OG of Christian Leadership. I bought many a cassette tape-series (and then the move to compact disc), attended a slew of 1/2 day seminars, and forked over lots of personal hard earned cash, and the “widows-mite” church budget line to Maxwell. He would often begin his seminars with “My name is John, and I’m your friend.” Then he would go on to give us such notables as “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and his famous “Leadership is Influence.”

More on that famous phrase in a moment, but first I’ll mention his protege’: Andy Stanley. After a brief hiatus of all things John Maxwell, I discovered Atlanta megachurch pastor/leader Andy Stanley. Cut from the Maxwell cloth, Stanley gave us leadership lessons for a new generation. He was current. He had young kids at home. He was still leading a church, unlike “Just call me John” Maxwell. I consumed any and all Andy Stanley. Our church in Washington State might as well have been an extension campus of Northpoint Church. For a fee, I’ll bet we could have become one.

I then took a long break from all things leadership. My stomach couldn’t do another CD lesson or blog post, even from Foursquare legends such as Wayne Cordeiro and Ralph Moore. I wanted nothing to do with church growth gurus such Donald McGaveran, C.Peter Wagner, Robert Schuller, or Lyle Schaller. I lump Bill Hybels and Rick Warren into that pile as well.

For an extended season all I could read was Eugene Peterson.

Then Craig Groeschel came at me like a whirlwind. Move over Peterson, here comes something sexier. I was like a crack addict at an underground rave. I had been clean and sober for a while; I was doing so good, then Life.Church asked if I wanted a hit. The first one was free, but the rest cost me.

Now, these folks aren’t to blame. They are not the problem. They were offering solutions, advice, tips and helps. I was the consumer. And, oh boy, consume I did.

Back to Maxwell, he famously declared that “leadership is influence” and that couldn’t have been more true.

It still is. I was being led and influenced.

Peter Northouse’s “Leadership: Theory and Practice” comprehensively captures the sweeping expanse of leadership approaches, theories and behaviors that I was being influenced by. For approaching 30 years it has been considered the Bible of leadership theories.

The Bible. It’s not uncommon to hear of a book as “the Bible of….” Name any topic and you’ll find “the Bible of” that topic. Car maintenance. Song writing. Graphic arts. Knitting. Amazon will sell you The Barista’s Bible. No joke. Just type “the fill-in-the-blank Bible” into your search bar, and prepare to be amazed.

So, what might the Bible actually say about leadership? Interestingly, not very much. Sure, Romans 12:8, in the context of spiritual gifts, says “if it is to lead, do it diligently.” However, I am hard pressed to find much more than that.

Ok. Ok. I hear you in the peanut gallery: yes, the Bible does talk about authority, and it highlights individuals that certainly led others. But that’s about it. There’s simply isn’t enough to warrant a multi-million dollar (and that may be conservative) industry around Christian leadership.

Perhaps leadership IS influence and the Christian Leadership industry “influenced” us all to buy all their stuff.

Now, I wholeheartedly realize that I am the leader of an organization, and that I am currently enrolled in a leadership doctoral degree. I get the irony inherent within this post.

And, I’m OK with it. I’m OK with Northouse. I’m even OK with Sanders, Maxwell, Stanley, and Groeschel. They have contributed so much to scholarship, as well as to, the Body of Christ. God bless them, everyone (said in my best Christmasy Tiny Tim voice).

I don’t fault them, but I do have to actively, prayerfully, and contemplatively counterbalance them:  thus my love for Eugene H. Peterson.

Rest in peace Pastor Pete.

About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

14 responses to “Leadership Gurus and Pastor Pete”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi John,
    Your comments resonate with my “tiredness” of leadership “how to books.” With that being said, I find myself in a Doctorate of Leadership in Global Perspectives!

    Hmmm…why am I here? Actually, that question was asked of me by one of the PF’s in Capetown. She asked, why do you need this program?

    Double hmmm…down deep I unconsciously 1) knew it would give me credibility in establishing something to address immigration and interlinkt.org (now in 10 languages was born),2) I knew it would give me credibility for discussing the topic of immigration on a broader scale (now the Immigration Symposium is happening March 9, 2024). Glanzer writes, “Leaders make waves. When a person desires to provide leadership service as an influencer in the kingdom, wave making comes from an internal motivation, a sense of destiny, to see the world as God intended it to be” (p.125).

    Wow…Creating a Wave (Glanzer), A Cascade (Satell).

    This is why I am in the program.

    This is why I want to read about leadership styles, finding my deficiencies and acknowledging my strenghts.



    • mm John Fehlen says:

      I too had to discover and declare a viable reason for doing this program at this stage in my life and leadership. It helps me to “keep my eye on the prize” when I’m discouraged and tired. That sounds like what you have done Russell – you have found a ‘purpose’ so that you can endure the inevitable ‘pain in the process,’

      Proud of you and all you are doing in the world!

  2. Travis Vaughn says:

    John, I also read or listened to many of these names, though I don’t think I’ve ever read/listened to Groeschel. I know who he is, but I’ve never tuned in. You mentioned Wayne Cordeiro. I think I first heard Cordeiro early in my career, probably at a Leadership Summit at Willow Creek in the late 1990s. I was one of several pastors at a large WCC church in Louisville, KY (I was in my mid – late twenties). I remember Cordeiro’s fractals in “Doing Church as a Team,” which is still an article you can find just by doing a quick search on Google. I think he talked about it there (at least, I THINK he did). Like you, I grew tired of the “how-to” leadership seminars and speakers as my interests turned toward cultural anthropology and missiology (yes, I even started a PhD at Concordia Theological Seminary in the 2000s, only to be offered a full research fellowship after getting 1/3 through the program, and then I withdrew with too much life going on). It’s funny, as I’ve grown older, there has been somewhat of a resurgence in my leadership interests (though not necessarily from pastors)…and a practical turn away from some, not all, of my academic/missiological pursuits, which is why I pursued a more practical doctoral program…this DLd. Thanks for the walk down leadership memory lane. This was a fun post to read!

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      I cut my ministry teeth on Doing Church as a Team (DCAT) and fractal organizational structure – really good stuff. Wayne and I are personal friends, and I love him and his voice into the Body of Christ.

      It’s funny how (and your reply helped me process this)…much I have been influenced (leadership IS influence) by these voices and just how grateful I am for each of them at varying times in my life and to varying degrees. I can joke and kid about them, leadership lessons, conferences and resources, BUT I cannot deny their impact upon me. Even the stuff that I now would consider to be incomplete or even off-balance – it too shaped my leadership, it has helped me make subtle and not-so-subtle adjustments to my leadership prowess.

      Ever-learning. Ever-growing.

  3. mm Tim Clark says:


    I’ve been with you on the see-saw of leadership teaching.

    For a while that’s all anyone talked about and I, too, bought the t-shirt… until I couldn’t stomach it anymore. So I reverted to the “pastor pete’ (Eugene Peterson) approach as well.

    Now I find myself in a balanced sweet spot, recognizing that leadership flows out of who I am and that learning the tools of leadership are helpful aids but not the end-all-be-all.

    I wonder if that has to do with maturity, and becoming comfortable in our own skin. Now I find I can appreciate Groschell or Maxwell, or Stanley, or Peterson, or Fehlen, but not feel pressured to become any of them.

    Anyways, just some thoughts. Thanks for the inspiration for them.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Did you just list little ‘ol me, a twig, among the mighty oaks of Groschell, Maxwell, Stanley, and Peterson?!?!?

      If so, thank you. That’s kind and undeserved.

      Secondly, I would like to personally invite you to an exclusive John Fehlen Foundation Leadership Roundtable. The cost is $10,000, which provides a dinner at my home, a tour of my office, and an opportunity to use my guest bathroom (#1’s only…no #2’s).

      Oh wait…someone else is already doing this: https://www.maxwellleadership.org/roundtables/

      Let me “pivot” and invite you to the John Fehlen Foundation Kayak trip on the Willamette River. I only have one kayak so we will have to squeeze into it together. It’s still costs $10,000. I take ApplePay.

  4. Jennifer Vernam says:

    This Gen-Xer can relate to your post, John. The way that my resistance showed up was even more dismissive. After all, each of these “gurus” are writing about “just one guy’s opinions.” What I have noticed with my dismissive air is that I also don’t even know their names. Its like my brain is a sieve. It is not infrequent for me to be sitting with some friends, talking about important concepts, and they will say “you know its just like so-and-so said in that book they wrote.” and 90% of the time, my answer is “I don’t know who you are talking about”… and it can happen even if I read the book!

    So, this leaves me feeling a little out of the loop. I used to be proud of my strong resistance to being a fan-girl, but I am not so sure if it is not also a liability.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      So…in full disclosure…I am a complete fan girl, um, boy, when it comes to Christian Leadership “gurus.”

      I once sent John Maxwell a personal letter asking him a leadership question that was bugging me. No reply.

      I am friends with Wayne Corderio and can text him right now to prove my point.

      I stood next to Andy Stanley in the John Wayne airport, waiting to get on the same flight. I so wanted to touch him. Creepy, I know.

      So, yah, fan-boy. Which is part of the overall problem. We love our celebrities. And by we, I mean, I. But I am not alone. It’s a massive industry with huge amounts of money in play. But these are humans, just like you and me.

      Isn’t this kind of ‘fan-boy/girl’ behavior what folks sometimes exhibit around pastors? I know it happens from time to time with me. Just recently a congregant saw me at my local coffee shop and sheepishly said, “Oh gosh, it’s weird seeing a celebrity in the wild.”

      Now, that could go to my head, and by God’s grace I work hard to keep that from happening. But it illustrates a point how we elevate those that are on stages, write books, do conferences, sing songs, and are on our televisions.

      Not even sure how I got on this stream of consciousness, but alas…

  5. Cathy Glei says:

    So much of your voice is heard in your posts. Thank you for always “lightening” things up. Life is too short to be serious. I appreciate how you highlighted several church leaders. I too thought of their influence in leadership. . . Rick Warren (I attended two PDL conferences at Saddleback); Andy Stanley (I attended two Catalyst events in the Atlanta area); John Maxwell (I attended one of his Leadership Summits in Indianapolis in the 90s. . . remember the 90s?). That particular conference, Steve and I took a van load of church leaders and stayed at a very sketchy hotel close to the event location. It was so sketchy that a part of our team took cover because gunshots were being fired near their hotel room. Thankfully no one was hurt but it made for a very memorable leadership/ministry experience early in our ministry years. Out of the leaders you mentioned, is there a phrase or concept that you gleaned from them that comes to mind from time to time as you lead?

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Remember the 90’s! Absolutely, although they were second to that of the 80’s. Long live the 80’s!

      That era really was the heyday for what we’re talking about. It was ripe for these voices. There had been a long period of time in which the “Church” was organic, wild and free (think the 60’s and 70’s) so along comes voices that bring with them structure, clarity, mission, purpose, and leadership prowess. We benefited from that, until we didn’t.

      There’s a 60’s/70’s-like spirit on the rise, particularly among young people. They don’t care as much for the slick, processed, purpose-driven, etc. That’s not to say they want it to be a hot mess, train wreck, but they certainly want more of the, dare I say, it’s been so overused, oh here I go: authentic.

  6. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Reading through your (entertaining, as always) post, I can’t help but think about how easily I am influenced by whatever new/current voice I’m hearing. I could say a lot more about that, but I’ll settle on this: it brings me back to Jules Glanzer’s main idea that in leadership (as in life) we need to listen to the Voice of the One. I actually preferred the terminology he used with us on the zoom call: Triage of Voices. I often feel like so much of my mental energy is taken up with that necessary discernment, or triage of the many voices around me. Any wisdom for someone trying to grow in this area?

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      The wisdom I would give would be only to echo what you have highlighted in your reply…that is:

      Listen to the Voice of One.

      Simply profound and profoundly simple.

      That’s the plumb line that we have to keep coming back to. Another leadership guru with the silver bullet of leadership will always step forward, and we can certainly glean from that in helpful ways, but we have to consistently come back to the Voice of One.

  7. Esther Edwards says:

    I love the way you take us on a journey throught your posts. Ah, yes…so thankful for the leadership gurus through the years… Maxwell was our go to as we entered our first senior pastorate in 1994. To be honest, we didn’t have a clue as to how to run a church, so, we too, consumed every thing he put out.
    Many of the names you mentioned also shaped and formed us, but, to be honest, I have “guru fatigue.” After years of everyone’s take on leadership, there seems to be a growing desire in us to simplify and lean in to hear God’s voice above all else.

  8. Hey John,

    Your journey through Christian leadership literature, from Sanders to Maxwell, highlights the evolving landscape of leadership perspectives. You acknowledge the influence of these figures while emphasizing the importance of grounding leadership in spiritual depth. Your candid reflection adds depth to the discussion of leadership’s evolving role within faith communities.

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