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.
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.”
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.” These five C’s are as follows:
- Concern: Negative Emotions
- Confrontation: The Focal Event
- Clarification: The Public Declaration of Intent
- Crystallization: The Inner Journey
- 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.
 Manfred Kets De Vries. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed. (Harlow, England: Prentice Hall, 2006)
 Ibid., 133.
 Ibid., 139-144.