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

On A Common Leadership Journey

Written by: on October 24, 2014

Bob-Dylan-Saved copy

Bob Dylan was cranked up to the max as I drove the streets of Orange County, California that night in 1980. I knew all the lyrics. After all, I was a Dylan fan.

You might be an ambassador to England or France
You might like to gamble, you might like to dance
You might be the heavyweight champion of the world
You might be a social light with a long string of pearls
But you gotta serve somebody
Yes indeed you gotta serve somebody
It might be the devil and it might be the Lord
But you gotta serve somebody

This music guided this youth pastor’s life. Dylan was now a Christian. Our side had won him over. No more Rolling Stones. Now it was Slow Trains Comin’… This was as good as it got. The world’s most famous musician was now on our side. After Slow Train Comin’ came the Saved album.

Well I’m pressing on
Yes, I’m pressing on
Well I’m pressing on
To the higher calling of my Lord.

 Many try to stop me, shake me up in my mind,
Say, “Prove to me that He is Lord, show me a sign.”
What kind of sign they need when it all come from within,
When what’s lost has been found, what’s to come has already been?

But then the music stopped. Christian radio stations quit playing Dylan’s music. It was over. Dylan had gone back to the dark side. We had lost our champion, our celebrity. Dylan had indeed changed his way of thinkin’ and had made himself a different set of rules. I was crushed.

So why did Dylan leave the Christian fold? This is an important but hard-to-answer question. I have researched this question some but could not come up with a definitive answer. But I have some ideas. These thoughts are not verifiable, but they might have some value. The information is based on anecdotal and experiential evidence, along with some synthesis. I would like to present my ideas here because they relate to this week’s reading by Manfred Kets De Vries.[1]

In his very readable text, Manfred Kets De Vries, who has education and experience in many different fields including economics, management, and psychoanalysis, the author does a masterful job of painting the most accurate picture of leadership that I have ever seen or read. Why I so appreciate this book is the fact that De Vries does not hold back in his analysis of dysfunctional leadership styles. I found myself enthralled with the sections on emotional intelligence (something not always addressed in contemporary leadership manuals), dysfunctional personality styles, the “failure factors” of leadership, unhealthy organizational cultures, and several possible solutions for dealing with and transforming “the rot at the top.” De Vries writes:

Dysfunctional leadership triggers a number of social defense patterns that detract from the real work of the organization. Free-floating anxiety and dysfunctional collective fantasies easily derail people from the company’s principal task, resulting in the victory of procedure over substance. This in turn leads to morale problems among the organization’s employees.”[2]

De Vries then lists several factors of and problems for declining morale of the people in the organization and leadership’s responses to these problems. He states that organizations often experience a number of cycles that he names “vicious circles.” It is a sad commentary on the state of many organizations, churches included.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for leadership and organizations that are willing to stop this vicious circle of dysfunctional fallout. But that darkness-to-light journey will take its toll on those who are willing to change, and the very concept of change brings anxiety to both leaders and organizations. Why? Because change from dysfunctionality to functionality is never an easy journey, and it will always be deeply uncomfortable. The author then takes his reader though a five-step process that he calls “The Five C’s of Change.”[3] These five C’s are as follows:

  1. Concern: Negative Emotions
  2. Confrontation: The Focal Event
  3. Clarification: The Public Declaration of Intent
  4. Crystallization: The Inner Journey
  5. Change: The Internalization of a New Mindset

This is a painful process, one that the majority of leaders and organizations would rather not go through. The good news is that, on occasion, this act of “repentance” does happen. But it is both time-consuming and costly. De Vries finishes his book with a concentrated look at effective leadership, models that Christian leaders in particular need to emulate – that I need to emulate.

So why did Dylan leave his Christian commitment and community? First, I need to say that no one but God knows if Dylan ever left his relationship with the Creator. Many have argued that his music and his lifestyle have proved that Dylan is no longer a Christian. But I would argue that Dylan is such a private person that he has probably kept that information to himself all these years, so perhaps no one but Dylan will ever know. By the way, if humility is a “Fruit of the Holy Spirit,” then Dylan would score high in that area. In the concert that I went to on Tuesday night, which is now a lifelong $250 dollar memory, Dylan demonstrated this attribute brilliantly. But I digress. It is clear that Bob Dylan no longer practices American Christianity openly. But, again, why did he leave? What caused the change?

As I was researching these questions, I learned that Dylan and I have a common experience. He and I were both involved in the same Christian denomination. In fact, we both had the same pastor, he as a congregant and I as a staff pastor at a church in Southern California in the early 1990’s. By the way, although it is true that we had the same pastor, we did so at different times and at different churches, so Dylan was not my worship leader.

I worked with this pastor as the youth minister of a fast-growing infant congregation. The church grew from a handful of people to 500 congregants in its first month, partly because of the celebrity status of the pastor and partly because of the church’s location in the heart of one of the richest counties in California. The pastor was a good man but a poor leader due to his own insecurities. He was aloof but controlling. He did not know how to build a leadership team and was easily manipulated by those with wealth in the church, which lead to some questionable decisions. But most of all, this pastor was a man who did not like confrontation or input. He had an agenda that was his agenda. The bottom line is that he would not heed wise counsel and would fire anyone who would question his ideas or vision. On the spring morning I asked some questions of him in a one-on-one meeting, I was fired that same afternoon and told to pack my things and not return to the church. There was no room or place for further discussion. Needless to say, it was not a good day.

So what happened to Bob Dylan? No one will ever know. But I wonder if he was allowed to have doubts and questions? I wonder if he became disillusioned with the Christian faith because of the style of leadership at his church? What I do know is that the church had a well-used revolving door. Curious parishioners filled the seats, but disheartened worshippers abandoned those seats in droves. Leadership makes a difference in the health of an organization, particularly dysfunctional leadership. I don’t know why Dylan left, but I do know that his short stint in the church impacted him and that it might well have disillusioned him. It certainly disillusioned me.

On a positive note…my research also revealed that my former pastor has now left the movement he had begun all those years ago. He is still involved in ministry. In a recent interview he confessed, “I was so blind to things in my life from being very narcissistic, controlling and manipulative — things that I didn’t see that my wife did. So she did one of most loving, most selfless things that anyone could do — she separated from me.” (I have not cited the article here for obvious reasons.) The article goes on to discuss this man’s journey to humility and grace. He is still teaching but is no longer the leader of a church. I was moved by this story, so much so that I plan on contacting him and talking through our meeting of 30 years’ ago. I also hope for a restoration of our relationship that will be a part of my own journey of humility and grace. My prayer for Bob Dylan is that he might also be able to re-experience that grace. Maybe he never left it in the first place.

[1] Manfred Kets De Vries. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed. (Harlow, England: Prentice Hall, 2006)

[2] Ibid., 133.

[3] Ibid., 139-144.

About the Author

mm

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.

10 responses to “On A Common Leadership Journey”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Bill, as always, a wonderful post with an interesting application for the book. (And truly brilliant how you brought Dylan into your post fresh off the concert!) I think the pastor you discuss is a tremendous example of the need for Christian leaders to be in the process of self-evalution and humility. It is sad how many leaders I know that sound just like this pastor (narcissistic, controlling and manipulative) who — because of their lack of self-awareness or “sin” awareness in their lives, have little time or space for those who struggle, who suffer, who need a helping hand. How do you think it is possible for those who claim to represent Christ in positions of ministry leadership can be so far off the mark? Do you think power goes to their heads or do you think they feel they can be demanding because they have some special access to “truth”? And what might Bob Dylan be writing and singing about today had there been someone there for him to truly help him walk in the way of the Lord? Hummmmm!?

    • John,

      Thanks for reading my post and for your comments and questions. I will give my responses here:

      1. How do you think it is possible for those who claim to represent Christ in positions of ministry leadership can be so far off the mark?

      I think that many Christian leaders are self-deceived. They often misinterpret Scripture, thinking that they are “God’s anointed ones.” The problem with that is that Jesus is God’s anointed and nobody in the Body of Christ can occupy a place in that Body above the neck, since that is the place reserved for Jesus only. I also think that often Pastors get tunnel vision and become blinded to truth, to reality, and to common sense when they interpret reality through the eyes of their own ministry rather than having a bigger view of what the real world is like.

      2. Do you think power goes to their heads or do you think they feel they can be demanding because they have some special access to “truth”?

      Yes on both counts. As I said above, self-deception is a tricky sin, especially when it has to do with Christian leaders. It would be wise if every leader had someone who could look him or her in the face and speak truth. But then, that leader would have to respond to that truth. And, yes, I have seen leaders who think they have the truth. They might have some truth, but God speaks to the community, not just to one person. Again, I think this is related to inflated egos and pure self-deception.

      3. And what might Bob Dylan be writing and singing about today had there been someone there for him to truly help him walk in the way of the Lord?

      This is a great question. Again, nobody knows for sure what happened. However, I do think that if Dylan would have had a really good person there, it would have made a difference. But these kinds of relationships, unfortunately, are quite rare. Also, I will need to take the time to listen to the lyrics of Dylan’s new songs to answer your question more thoroughly.

  2. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Great post, Bill. I started thinking about leadership and maturity and age. I don’t know your former pastor, or how old he was, but I will guess that he was relatively young, perhaps under 40. Kets De Vries mentions that many don’t rise to CEO status until,their mid-career. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee health or lack of dysfunction. But as we age, we are often more secure in our identity and less fragile emotionally. In the church, and in our consumer based world, we elevate youth. People who are perhaps not developmentally ready rise to superstar status I the church too easily. And sadly, many are the stories of the emotionally fragile leader abusing his position. So I wonder about this. I wonder if as a church we might need to re-consider wisdom and experience and maturity. Perhaps we need to be more thoughtful about how we raise up young leaders, offering them mentoring and support as they grow. Just sone thoughts….

    • Julie,

      Amen! I love your comments.

      It is true, we often “lay hands too suddenly” on people. Ministry can be a dangerous place for the soul of a person. And if not careful, that person can quickly move down the road of ego inflation and self-deception. This is a sad reality, one repeated in our churches all too frequently.

      I was at a pastor’s conference many years ago. Alan Redpath, then 82 or 83 years old was the speaker. It was the best conference I ever went to as a young pastor. Redpath spoke of his own ego problems in his ministry. He also spoke of how he slowly changed with age. And by the time he was in his 80’s, he was a broken and humble man. I wept through some of his messages, realizing that I, as a young minister, was caught up in myself and thought more highly of myself than I ought. It has been a long, hard road for me, and I am only 58. I pray that God would make me a better leader with each year, and with each day. Perhaps that is why we are all in this program.

  3. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Bill, I don’t know much about Bob Dylan, but if any one could, you could score an interview with him and ask him about his faith life to see how your journeys perhaps intermingle!

    I will add to my prayer list now your future meeting with this pastor. I will pray that wounds can be healed and hurt will be replaced with understanding and peace. I will also pray that he will LISTEN to you and hear your heart. You are such a good man, Bill. He will have a lot to learn from YOU!

  4. Ashley, you are very kind.

    I don’t know if anyone could get into the heart and soul of Bob Dylan, but I would sure love to know how he felt about the years he was in Christian circles. Perhaps he will go into that in the second half of his autobiography. He doesn’t say much in his first book. However, he does say something about God in an interview I heard not long ago. I think this is the link to that interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKkZcgrec8A.

    As far as the talk with the pastor goes, I will let you know if he and I ever communicate with each other. I have dealt with this situation in my heart a long time ago, so I don’t feel compelled to touch base with him. However, it would be cool to interview him about how he has changed as a leader. I am quite interested in knowing about Christian leaders who have gone from being arrogant jerks to humble humans.

  5. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Bill, your post is very insightful as always! I love the practical example you shared. You are absolutely right that change is possible for leaders who recognize their vicious circle of dysfunctional fallout and are willing to change. I too agree with you that change does not come easily; especially when we are accustomed to dysfunction leadership. It takes lost of courage and trust in God’s grace to face our dysfunction leadership and go through change process. May the Lord give us courage to embrace change so that we become better leaders. Thanks again.

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Telile.

      My prayer is that there might be a revival of good, healthy leaders in the church and in Christian organizations. So often, dysfunctional leadership turns people off from living a life of faith. Perhaps there are good leaders out there, but I haven’t met many of them in my 58 years of life. But I am not giving up hope. Perhaps it is we, LGP students, who will be some of the good leaders. Perhaps we will influence others to follow a good example. God help us to only be in positions of leadership if we know what we are doing rather than becoming leaders who hurt and damage others. There are already too many of those.

  6. Michael Badriaki says:

    Bill, what a moving post! I am continually grateful for how you share with us such relevant and real life stories about the christian culture and ethos. Your experience continues to teach and give me a perspective about Christianity, “ministry” and theology that compels me to ask more questions about God and how God desires human beings to genuinely love one another.

    You have caused me to wonder, what exactly was Dylan’s experience like with the church? I want to know more about him and will keep up his autobiography at some point. Church, oh church, as it is today can be a strange place for many and yet others find it doable. The organisation of church, what a puzzel!

    Thanks Bill!!

    • Thanks for commenting on my post, my friend.

      Dylan is a great mystery, but he is also a great case study on how we, the church, can turn people off from the Christian faith. Again, I don’t know where Dylan’s heart is at this time; nobody does. I need to find some of his most recent songs to figure that out. But the one thing I do know and that is that Dylan has always written songs that have had deep meaning and that have often lashed out at injustice. Perhaps these are the songs that we Christians need to be listening to rather than some of the self-centered worship choruses that have been written in the past few years. I know this sounds radical, but perhaps that is what we are called to be. I do know that God speaks in many mysterious ways. I also know that I need to be listening to His voice, wherever it is.

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