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.