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

Who Moved the Cream?

Written by: on March 20, 2015

Cream Rises

I have often wondered how certain people have found their way into leadership positions, especially into ministry leadership positions. If “the cream always rises to the top,” then why does that not always seem to be the case in leadership situations? At least in my own experience it seems that sometimes just the opposite has happened. What accounts for this?

In her potent little book, Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader, Shelly Trebesch uses several Biblical, historical, and personal case studies to explain her views on Godly leadership development. She quotes Robert Clinton as she defines the isolation experiences of leaders, “Isolation is the setting aside of a leader from normal ministry involvement in its natural context usually for an extended time in order to experience God in a new or deeper way.”[1] Perhaps part of the answer to my question above is that the leaders I am referring to have not yet been through an Isolation experience. I wonder why this is? I also wonder if it might be time to check out a theory I have held for a long time. I will spell out that theory now.

What would happen if churches (and perhaps other organizations as well) would build in what I might call “forced isolations” every few years for their senior leaders? Here are the parameters:

  • The leader is assigned a job in a MacDonald’s (or similar fast-food restaurant) in a location where he or she is unknown.
  • The job lasts three to six months.
  • No promotions are allowed in this period. The leader starts and finishes this season as an entry-level worker.
  • The leader is not allowed to reveal his or her real position to the new fellow workers.
  • At the end of the period, the leader is to report to the board of the organization what she or he learned in the time away.

I would like to hear (and see) what changes occur in the leadership style of the leader after such an experience. My hope would be that he or she would return with a new set of eyes and with a new set of priorities. I cannot be certain that this would work for all leaders, but I would think that at the very least the leader would return with a humbler spirit. Perhaps I am only dreaming, but I would hope that my little experiment would bring some of the cream back to the top of the bottle. What do you think? Are there better ways of accomplishing this result? Have you experienced the same thing I am addressing here? I would like to know your thoughts.

[1] Shelly Trebesch, Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1997) 10.

About the Author

Bill Dobrenen

I am a husband, father, and educator. I love my wife, my two amazing children, and my students. My dissertation research is on the importance of Traditional Native-American Tribal Leadership Practices. Being in the LGP program is a gift from God for me during this season of my life. I look forward to another great year with my LGP4 cohort.

7 responses to “Who Moved the Cream?”

  1. John Woodward says:

    Brother Bill, now there is a true “desert experience” – a 3 month stint at McDonald’s. “Oh, Lord…how long?” I think your idea has real merit: We often think of spiritual isolation as quiet and contemplative, but how ’bout isolation as none-leadership service. It reminds me of under-cover boss programs lately, where those at the top are truly transformed by working with those that have been serving them for years, without ever knowing what their lives are like. What a great idea! But, how many in primary leadership would be willing to go this route? What are you thoughts?

    • John,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my short post. No, I don’t think that leadership would like this route, but I think that it would be a beneficial experience for them.

      I left “full-time ministry” in 1994. Before getting into teaching full-time, I had a job as a grocery merchandiser. I worked in 26 Albertson’s grocery stores. I was back in the “real” world. Looking back, it was probably one of the best experiences of my life. It allowed me to be around real people in real time in real places. This job helped shape me into being the person I am today and I am thankful for that. Would I do it again if it were necessary? Absolutely! Would I work at a fast food restaurant? That is a good question. I would probably do it reluctantly at first; however, it would probably prove to be a life-enhancing experience in the end. So, yes, I probably would if I needed to.

  2. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Bill,
    What an interesting post 🙂 You raise a really important issue. I do agree with you. We certainly all need our isolation seasons to bring things into proper perspective.
    Personally I like the idea of working in McDonalds for a few months. Would be a nice respite from the pressure and responsibility of ministry 🙂

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    What you wrote reminds me of a story that Randy Clark shared in one of his books (healing evangelist). In his early years of ministry, he held down a job in a fast food restaurant. It was a humbling experience for him but he allowed God to use him to minister to his colleagues. 🙂

  4. Liz,

    My post was short this week. I just tried to say one thing. Proper perspective is essential to leadership. I think that without being in touch with the real world, leaders will not be who they need to be, thus my theory. I know it isn’t foolproof, but it might just help, especially for pastors who have lost touch with real people. Yes, it might be a good respite from the pressure and responsibility of ministry. That is an interesting thought. Maybe some would never go back. 🙂

  5. Richard Volzke says:

    I like your idea of forced isolation on ministry leaders. Many times, when a pastor or ministry leader has “reached the top of the food chain” he or she forgets where they came from. Ministry should not be about climbing the corporate ladder, but about the right people in the right position, and on the right bus. I do agree that age and experience does play a part in doing ministry, but it should not be the main factor when it comes to getting ministry positions. I’ve seen firsthand a pastor put into a higher leadership position than he was qualified for…and in over 4 years, I’ve seen no significant improvements to the problems within the churches that he leads. There is lacking accountability. The model that you suggest would force leaders to consider their responsibilities carefully, and would also instill the needed oversight and accountability to ensure continued positive movement forward in churches.

  6. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Bill, What an interesting idea to force senior leaders to work in McDonald so that they develop a proper perspective in leadership. I wonder how many senior leaders would be willing. Like Liz say, working in McDonald’s might be not that difficult for some leaders comparing to their responsibility of ministry.

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