DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Fallen Leaders or Transformed Servants?

Written by: on February 28, 2018

You know that feeling you get when someone speaks glowingly about a person that you think very little of? You roll your eyes a bit, and if you’re a grace-full person, try to think of some polite way to respond. To be honest, it was difficult for me to work my way through Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership for that reason, and more. I can’t quite figure out why former leaders like Jim & Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ted Haggard were even referenced as “gifted leaders” in the first place. My first reaction in reading the preface, “very often those leaders occupying highly visible and influential positions… are the victims of these failures”[1] is to reply, “so don’t be a highly visible or influential person.”

Seriously, the authors note that “the majority of tragically fallen Christian leaders during the past ten to fifteen years [this text was originally written in 1997] have been baby boomers who felt driven to achieve and succeed in an increasingly competitive and demanding church environment.”[2] I have two responses to this observation. First, I want to push back on that tendency to achieve and succeed, and suggest that leaders—especially “Christian” leaders—stop feeding the desire to “achieve and succeed.” It actually seems antithetical to the model given us by Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:6). The kenosis of Jesus should be enough to compel us to resist high visibility and influence as goals or ends unto themselves. Or, we can also look to John the Baptizer, who pointed to Jesus and responded, “He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).

My second response to this observation is to question how generations younger than those Baby Boombers—Gen X and Millennials—look at ideal leadership. For Millennials at least, leaders are valued who collaborate and use teamwork, express authenticity, and prefer smaller and intimate experiences, which all seem to conflict with the characteristics of the “fallen leaders” identified by our authors.[3] I want to hope that the younger generation won’t put up with charismatic leaders (not charismatic in the religious sense, but as one having charisma, magnetism) who to draw people to them and not to Christ.

All of that being said, it is a helpful reminder for those of us who serve in the church to recognize that our strengths are often also our weaknesses,[4] and that each of us are not yet fully formed into Christ-likeness, or what God desires for us. While I felt like the authors’ list of potential character flaws was overly simplistic and didn’t necessarily fit everyone into their categories, there is value in understanding our need for continual transformation.

This concept couples nicely with the thesis of Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve. Friedman reminded us that our focus must be on our “own presence and being,” what we can change, rather than attempting to manipulate others.[5] Again, identifying our negative tendencies and addressing them is much more effective in serving an organization or the people of God, than railroading our personalities over other people.

I appreciate the effort of McIntosh and Rima to help us navigate through the personality flaws we all wrestle with. However, their suggestion of redeeming our dark side by “practicing progressive self-knowledge” may unintentionally feed our dark side. They list four spiritual disciplines—scripture reading, personal retreats, devotional reading, and journaling—to allow space for the Holy Spirit to scrutinize our lives.[6] These are all valuable disciplines (though some are more helpful for particular people than others), but they are all individualistic pursuits. We must remember that, even as leaders, we are simply a part of the Body of Christ, and that exercises which help transform us into the mind of Christ must also be ones we practice communally with our sisters and brothers. Shared spiritual disciplines have the potential to take the focus off of us and our individualistic ambitions, and allow us to simply be part of something bigger than us, the Body of Christ (and not even the head, at that).


If we say we are followers and servants of Jesus, we must also be willing to say, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). It goes back to the concept of Jesus’ kenosis, the pouring out of himself. If we truly want to be like Christ, we will step back, out of the limelight and away from the microphone, and onto the floor with a basin and towel.

 

[1] Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 11.

[2] Ibid., 15.

[3] https://religionnews.com/2018/02/19/the-best-book-about-millennials-and-the-church/ and https://www.thindifference.com/2014/04/top-5-leadership-traits-millennials/.

[4] McIntosh and Rima, 28.

[5] Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Church Publishing, 2007), 4.

[6] McIntosh and Rima, 200.

About the Author

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Katy Drage Lines

In God’s good Kingdom, some minister like trees, long-standing, rooted in a community. They embody words of Wendell Berry, “stay years if you would know the genius of the place.” Others, however, are called to go. Katy is one of those pilgrims. A global nomad, Katy grew up as a fifth generation Colorado native, attended college & seminary and was ordained in Tennessee, married a guy from Pennsylvania, ministered for ten years in Kenya, worked as a children’s pastor in a small church in Kentucky, and served college students in a university library in Orange County, California. She recently moved to the heart of America, Indianapolis, and has joined the Englewood Christian Church community, serving with them as Pastor of Spiritual Formation. She & her husband Kip, have two delightful boys, a college junior and high school junior.

10 responses to “Fallen Leaders or Transformed Servants?”

  1. Mary says:

    Katy, I really appreciate the “outside look in” comments you made. I just tended to take the book at face value without thinking more deeply. You and Jen both have great insights.
    I especially appreciated your focus on, “we are simply a part of the Body of Christ, and that exercises which help transform us into the mind of Christ must also be ones we practice communally with our sisters and brothers.”
    We are not alone, thank God.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Katy, I appreciate your post. I think I might argue that these men and women of the past who were in a position of leadership and fell were great leaders in the sense of what they had accomplished, built and done. Although I would hesitate to say they were not Christians—and I use that only for comparison as you did not suggest that at all—I would agree that they were not great examples of Christ-like leadership or lives.

    In my research on middle leadership I came across the work of Jeffery Pfeffer. His research suggests that those who are narcissistic have a fast tract to leadership in most every organization—from my research perspective that includes the church. Narcissistic personalities are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful, they can be ruthless and still hold their hands up on Sunday morning and worship God and can not see any connection between the two. I’m talking about people who truly love God, and what to sincerely serve him. I almost feel sorry for them. However, they are completely unaware that their actions are hurting people and in some cases destroying them. They become extremely successful in terms of, for example organizational development, growth. While those with the qualities we often associate with christian service often find themselves in the middle of an organization. And to that I say, thank God. Because everyone knows it is from the heart of the organization that ministry flows and the world is changed.

    I am praying with you to know Christ and the fellowship of his suffering. Sometimes the suffering part comes from serving under a narcissistic leader. It is then that we can truly know who Christ is, and ultimately who we are. Thank you for an excellent post Katy.

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      Oh absolutely, Jim. I’ve worked with some delightful narcissistic leaders, who love the Lord. People are drawn to them because of their personalities; but (at least in my experience), like you mention.

      But this, wow: “everyone knows it is from the heart of the organization that ministry flows and the world is changed.” This, I believe, is key to how God uses us, like a glacier shaping a mountain. Subtle and strong.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Katy,
    “identifying our negative tendencies and addressing them is much more effective in serving an organization or the people of God, than railroading our personalities over other people”
    In identifying our negative tendencies is a personal revelation and also a revelation from our community (family, friends, etc.) We do need to sift out the negative revelations for truth to ensure value.

  4. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Katy, your blog had me at your first sentence. Yes, I know exactly what you were talking about when leaders are mentioned that you have less than an admired opinion of, and you have to fake a “Christian” response. That was perfectly worded as the image came quickly to mind.

    I have a theory on these “leaders”: I think they were dealing with personality disorders before they entered the ministry and the exaggerated attention and admiration actually fed the disorders. We have gotten confused about what is a good leader and are seeking damaged individuals who mirror the leadership qualities we have come to exclusively, mistakenly admire. Narcissistic individuals are attracted to pastoring because of the power they hold over people. They tend to be very charismatic, good-looking, and personable, but they lack a soul. They are not able to love, connect with true empathy (they can fake it), and they lack the ability to have insight, therefore they are not able to grow without some serious professional and divine intervention. They collect people who worship them and discard or villainize those who challenge them. This leads to the point you made of healing in community. They manipulate, control, and extinguish community that doesn’t service them as they seek their own personal interests. They often control through sexual or inappropriate behaviors. As we start to admire a different type of a church leader, I think we will build a different type of church that holds more health and promise for connecting relationships versus controlling environments. I am grateful for your leadership in God’s body, and your rich value for community.

  5. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Katy, I appreciate your critique of this book. If only it was as easy as to stop “feeding the need to achieve” or to hope that broken or disordered leaders can be dissuaded from being in positions of influence!

    I want to push back on one thing you said, though. “However, their suggestion of redeeming our dark side by “practicing progressive self-knowledge” may unintentionally feed our dark side.” As a person who has spent a couple of decades practicing self-knowledge I really disagree that self-knowledge feeds the darkness. If anything, exploring my personality, emotional intelligence (or lack thereof), and leadership tendencies has taught me that shine a light in the back corner of the cupboard eliminates the fear of a boogeyman and also reduces denial about the things we would rather hide. The book ‘Glittering Vices’ by Rebecca DeYoung and Barbara Brown Taylor’s ‘Speaking of Sin’ have some great points about the importance of naming the darkness. I don’t think we should dwell on them but we have to face them. I agree some of this must be done in community, but the reason the Bakkers and such were so successful for so long is that they had their community fooled.

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      I don’t disagree one bit with you, Kristin. My point in questioning the authors’ “practicing progressive self-knowledge” is not that pursuing self-knowledge is problematic. Like you, I agree that knowing ourselves is essential to shaping the light and moving us out of the darkness. My critique of the authors was that their solution for how to practice self-knowledge was solely individualistic. Again, *solely* is what I had trouble with; I do not think journaling or personal retreats are wrong (I love personal retreats and wish I did them more often), but recognize that much self-knowledge can be discovered through communal spiritual disciplines *as well.*

      • Kristin Hamilton says:

        Ah. Gotcha. That makes a lot of sense. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of incorporating communal spiritual disciplines! I wish more of evangelicalism would practice this.

  6. Katy,
    Very good critique of the book and I really appreciated it, especially your point that their suggestions are all individually based – I missed that, and – especially for us Christians – the power of the community is not to be overlooked.
    Two points of pushback, however.
    First, you said:
    ‘I want to push back on that tendency to achieve and succeed, and suggest that leaders—especially “Christian” leaders—stop feeding the desire to “achieve and succeed.”’
    I think Kristin already noted this, but do you really think it is that simple? I think for many, if not most Christians, especially leaders, this maybe the #1 struggle, and I am confident it isn’t because most leaders didn’t try to quench that desire to ‘achieve and succeed’. That desire is so often wrapped up in the very essence of who a person understands themself to be….. Christ, of course, should be at the center of that understanding, but that is a work in progress for all of us…..

    #2 – You said: ‘If we truly want to be like Christ, we will step back, out of the limelight and away from the microphone, and onto the floor with a basin and towel.’
    I don’t want to argue the point on the merits, as I definitely think I understand and agree with where you are coming from here, but I would point out that in a very real way, accepting the mantle of leadership is also accepting the call ‘into the limelight’….. It certainly was for Jesus. So I think the issue isn’t about the limelight per se, rather about why we end up there (because we are following God’s call or because we are seeing recognition, etc.), and how we act once we find ourselves in that limelight.
    Jesus example was so powerful in large part because of his unexpected and countercultural vision of what it meant to act like a leader.

    Growth, attention, ‘success’ for their own sake are not worthy pursuits for the Christian leader, but I do believe that some leaders might be called to those things – and the limelight that comes with them – if they are faithful to the call of Christ in their lives.

  7. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    GREAT POST KATY!!! I agree with you point about striving to succeed. We all should be and that is not a flaw if pursued in an appropriate manner. Also, I had to laugh out loud when I read this “I can’t quite figure out why former leaders like Jim & Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ted Haggard were even referenced as “gifted leaders” in the first place. ” LOL I was thinking the same thing! Lord help us all! 🙂

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