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

Leadership as Discipline

Written by: on October 27, 2016

Theories are good things.  They help us dream about the possibilities.  I had theories of what parenting would be like before I had my first child.  Let me give you an example of one.  Before we were parents, we actually said that our kids would eat healthy and we will not stop at McDonalds.  That theory went out the window during our first road trip.  As I stepped into my first pastorate, I had theories as well.  I would be well planned, focused and never allow myself to get distracted in my office.  After about a month of meetings on the master plan, the finances, the church governance, the renovation, the staff, the outreach, and the other ministries, I realized that my theories were no good.

In Manfred Kets De Vries book, Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, he challenges the theory of leadership.  In his preface, he states:

Only a fraction of the strategies that are formulated in organizations are effectively executed.  Most people aren’t very good at synchronizing vision and action, at aligning ideas and execution. Anyone dealing in ideas needs to take into consideration people’s ability to implement those ideas.  Navel gazing alone doesn’t take visionaries past the drawing board.  Leaders, to be successful, must understand action as well as theory (p. xxii).

Kets De Vries will go on and shape his entire book by helping leaders act or execute their ideas by addressing various topics in the field of leadership.


Many people believe leaders are born.  I, however, believe that leadership is a discipline, and I believe Kets De Vries would support this.  The difference or link between leadership theory and leadership practice is discipline.  Most people do not want to engage in practice because it is rarely clean and easy, but it can be messy and frustrating.  An example of this is Kets De Vries discussion on change.  As he points out people do not willingly embrace change because they prefer the status quo.  As a leader, one has to realize that to change a person truly or even an organization, then the heart has to change as well and this is what Kets De Vries points out in his “5 C’s” of change: concern, confrontation, clarification, crystallization and change. Leaders and organization talk a great deal about change, but because of the difficult process of changing people’s hearts, they focus merely on the theory of change and fail to execute.  The difference between theory and action in change is discipline.

Another area where we Kets De Vries draws this out is in his chapter entitled: The Dilbert Phenomenon.  He states that organizational rhetoric rarely matches reality.  A quick scan of church life could prove this true.  In the early to mid-90s, church around America began writing mission and vision statements.  They would be framed and put in the hallway.  There might even be great graphics surrounding the statement.  But, many of the statements were forgotten because the rhetoric of the organization rarely matched the reality.  Quite possibly the reason many of them failed was due to the lack of discipline.

In Kets De Vries book, I see this gap everywhere.  Theories stay on a desk because leaders lack the fundamental discipline it takes to execute.  Leaders are not born.  Leaders are made through the discipline of execution.  They allow their words and their deeds to line up.

About the Author


Jason Kennedy

I am a pastor of a thriving church in Grapevine, Texas. With two little girls (5,8), and a wife that is a medical doctor (family practice), life is non-stop.

11 responses to “Leadership as Discipline”

  1. Hey Jason. I think that leadership involves discipline. You state early on in your blog that leadership is a discipline and then conclude that leaders are made through the discipline of execution, specifically allowing our words and deeds to line up. Are you saying authenticity, like framing a churches mission statement that would be the authentic mission statement and execution would fall under leadership as a discipline? Or are execution and having words and deeds line up separate disciplines?

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Great question. For me, every aspect of leadership involves discipline. I think in this case they are same. Too many leaders become “lazy” and think that just because they say it, then it will happen. I am saying that it won’t happen unless you have the discipline to make your words actionable.

  2. Nice. Actionable…and accountable perhaps.

  3. Jason,

    Wow. That is a very powerful summation of this book. Theory is something that I have struggled within our organizational structure. We want to make disciples but that truly takes discipline. It doesn’t happen by chance. Developing leaders takes time and it takes a lot of work. So I wholeheartedly agree with you that discipline is usually the disconnect.

    Also changing you mind I believe is part of leadership. You do have to change between McDonalds and your plan… Eat up!!


  4. mm Marc Andresen says:


    It is a difficult adjustment for us, isn’t it, as we move through ministry and try to adjust to and balance the difference between theory and practice.

    Regarding the local church’s engagement with and support of missions, what do you see happening relative to theory and practice? Are you hearing the same theories of missions espoused and the same practice? Are the theories/rhetoric about missions the same, but the practices changing? What do you think?

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      It’s hard to say. I think there are more theories because we are in a new age (millennials and globalist). With there being a lot of uncertainty, there are new theories emerging. Some will work themselves in the marketplace. However, many will fall flat.


  5. mm Phil Goldsberry says:


    Agree with you that “rhetoric rarely matches reality”. You are facing reality in Grapevine and dealing with organizational reality with your short tenure.

    What are you seeing as the “rhetoric” that has evolved in your time there that is true, not just cute words? You have faced the history of the church with its good and bad. What are you implementing that is past “navel gazing”?


    • Jason Kennedy says:

      The one issue is missions. In the past, they talked about missions and had no strategy. I have come in and matched rhetoric with action and it has paid off. We will give more in one year than the last 3 years combined.


  6. Aaron Cole says:


    I enjoyed reading your blog. I agree with various forms of leadership material and lack of application do to their theoretical nature or lack of leader’s discipline to apply. You stated that you do not believe that leaders are born, do you think all leadership ability is solely discipline? Do you believe that any degree of leadership is gifing or talent? If so, what’s the mix of natural born verses developed leadership skill?


    • Jason Kennedy says:

      I think it is mixed. However, I think some people use the born idea as an excuse. People are born with certain traits, but it is up to the person to hone those effectively which takes discipline.


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