DMINLGP

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

To Have or to Be……That is the Leadership Question

Written by: on March 1, 2018

This week we read Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima.  While it wouldn’t be honest to say that I have enjoyed reading all of the books we have been assigned in this doctoral program, I have appreciated all of them and, certainly, I have been able to learn something from each of them.  Having said that I have a developed a little personal rating system for how much I enjoyed a book or how many practical insights I pulled out of it.

The system is very simple, as most of the books are on kindle, you can export and download any notes you take and everything you highlight.  As you do that, the app lets you know what percentage of the book you are downloading.  So, for my scale, the higher the percentage, the more interesting or engaging the book.

For The Dark Side of Leadership I ended up with a higher percentage than I can remember achieving with any other book that I can remember.  Simply put, there was something of note and/or value on just about every page.  The quality of the content was accentuated by the structure of the book, with a review of main points and questions to respond to at the end of each chapter, the salient points were clearly communicated, reinforced and hard to miss.

Almost every aspect of this book had me examining some aspect of my own life and leadership, or recollecting a brush with a leader that was ‘under the influence’ of the dark side of leadership.  As I read through the book, and the many insights, I kept coming back to something that Rima discussed in the introduction to the revised edition:

At the core of the problem is personal ambition and the insidious desire to have or possess something that is not able to be possessed — namely, success. We live in a culture obsessed with both having and success. And this desire has infiltrated the ranks of Christian leaders as it has every other strata of American culture.  The problem arises from the fact that success is not something one can have or possess.  True success is a state of being not having. (McIntosh and Rima, Kindle location 219)
This is both an astute and succinct of the problem, not just for those of us that are leaders, but for all of us that are trying to live a faithful and healthy life in this time and place.   We are, indeed, a culture that is obsessed with success and that almost always defines that success in terms of what or how much we have.  You see this in almost every area of our culture and interaction with each other.  Social media, for example, which is ostensibly about connecting people to each other, can often devolve into a quest to demonstrate a perfect, ‘successful’ life – and to have the life affirmed by having or collecting as many ‘likes’, etc. as possible.  There is a particular insidiousness when this obsession with success as defined by  having and having more, infects Christians and especially Christian leaders.  The authors continue:
Unfortunately, many Christian leaders are driven manically to have success.  In the church, having success is measured by how many people you have attending your service, the size of the facility you have, the number of staff members you have, how many user – friendly programs you have, and the size of the budget you have.  As a result, leaders who need to have success to validate themselves are driven to acquire these things and are willing to pay virtually any price to do so. (McIntosh and Rima, Kindle location 223)
Several years ago I was attending a conference (Catalyst) and Rob Bell was one of the speakers, and this was at the height of Bell’s popularity and celebrity.  Before he went into the talk he had prepared for the event, he shared an interaction he had with another pastor attending the conference that morning in their hotel.  He said, that the pastor came up to him, shared some appreciative words about Bell’s writing.  Bell responded (graciously, I thought) by taking the time to ask the other pastor about his church, ministry context ext.  Bell said that the pastor started to tell about his situation, but only got about two or three sentences in before he stopped and looked at Bell and said, ‘It’s a good church, but it’s nothing compared to what you are doing.’

And I will never forget what Bell said next, as it has served as an almost constant reminder to me, especially when I might have been spending more time than I should thinking or dwelling on the ‘dark side’ of leadership and focussing on the wrong kind of success.  At that point, Bell looked at the other pastor and said, ‘Don’t do that.  Don’t you dare belittle the place and the people that God has called you to.  If you are where God has called you to be, there isn’t a better place in the world.’  Bell shared that story as a way of both challenging and encouraging all of us that were there that day [One unintended side-effect of a good conference is often a little bit of  church or pastor envy, as you hear about the amazing things that are happening in some churches and with some pastors].
One of the most encouraging aspects of this book for me was just how practical it was in terms of equipping us as leaders to resist this and other similar ‘temptations’ of the dark side.   This is so critical if we hope to be healthy leaders capable of sustaining ministries for any extended period of time.  When we lose sight of what success really looks like – and for the Christian, I think it could be as simple as faithfulness to God’s call on our lives, as we seek to become more and more like Christ – no matter how much we have we will still not find satisfaction and fulfillment – which as the authors note often leads us further down the path of trouble towards the dark side:
I have become convinced that the desire to have these things is not compatible with biblical concepts of church or even Christianity.  As a result, even when these leaders succeed in creating a large congregation, a large facility, and all the other markers that measure success in the twenty – first – century church, they are no closer to actually having or possessing the inner feelings of success that they have been seeking through their manic activity.  It is at this point that leaders often begin looking elsewhere in an effort to assuage their needs for personal validation and worth — needs they thought would be met by having a measure of success. (McIntosh and Rima, Kindle location 226)

 

About the Author

mm

Chip Stapleton

Follower of Jesus Christ. Husband to Traci. Dad to Charlie, Jack, Ian and Henry. Preacher of Sermons, eater of ice cream, supporter of Arsenal. I love to talk about what God is doing in the world & in and through us & create space and opportunity for others to use their gifts to serve God and God's people.

10 responses to “To Have or to Be……That is the Leadership Question”

  1. Mary says:

    “We are, indeed, a culture that is obsessed with success and that almost always defines that success in terms of what or how much we have.”
    Yes, Chip you are so right. I kept wondering what a better definition of “success” could be?
    How about the number of poor or refugees or homeless or neglected we helped this week? Wouldn’t it be something to see the churches in my community trying to outdo each other with love. Guess I’m dreaming.

    • Mary,
      I do think those would be much better things to focus on – but even those things, good as they are, can possibly just become another way of ‘having’, right?
      I think the best we can do is focus on the right things, be faithful to God’s call and trust God for all the rest.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    “We are, indeed, a culture that is obsessed with success and that almost always defines that success in terms of what or how much we have.” I too am convinced that this is the carrot at the end of the stick that drives the dark side of a leader. We have not read much about styles of leadership in other cultures—I wonder sometimes what it is that drives them and their dark side. Maybe it is that things are power and power is the drive for all humans. Thanks for a great post Chip.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Your statement “This is so critical if we hope to be healthy leaders capable of sustaining ministries for any extended period of time” resonate with me. Our view of what success is may affect our leadership style. With the statement, Rob made about not criticizing the people God assigned you is crucial but it a process of relieving grief (lol).
    Maybe we just don’t know what heaven (success) is!

  4. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Glad to hear you enjoyed the reading and it received a higher rating. Sounds like it struck a good chord with you. I really enjoyed your Rob Bell story. It actually reminded me of you as I could picture you responding in that manner to affirm while exhorting someone. Tommy Hilfiger (hang with me on this) spoke words of wisdom when asked how he reacts to other designers. He responded with: “Never compare and never compete.” This saying works with about everything. I’ve yet to find a situation of where it doesn’t apply. Your post reminded me of these sage words and I wonder where our churches would be today if leaders took this approach to never compare or never compete but to faithfully follow the voice of God and where He leads. I challenge you to find a situation where this doesn’t apply :).

  5. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    “When we lose sight of what success really looks like – and for the Christian, I think it could be as simple as faithfulness to God’s call on our lives, as we seek to become more and more like Christ – no matter how much we have we will still not find satisfaction and fulfillment”

    Yes, I think our pursuit of “success” is the hard part. As I read your post, it brought me back to Emma Percy’s challenge that being a “good enough” pastor/mother can actually be healthier for both us and those we mother/pastor, than trying to be “the best.”

  6. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “When we lose sight of what success really looks like …which as the authors note often leads us further down the path of trouble towards the dark side”

    I felt this when I was a youth minister. Whenever I would run into another youth minister, they would always ask “how many are you running on Wednesday nights?” or “How many are you taking to camp this year?”

    In church ministry, it is easy to see numerical growth as the primary measure of sucess.

  7. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I like the Rob Bell advice, Chip, especially knowing that he essentially crashed under the pressure of rising to the level of success that society demands of us and we demand of ourselves. You raise some really valid points about how we chase success that isn’t really success. Since I am not currently in full-time ministry it’s easy for me to feel ‘less-than’ when I compare my work to that of others. But I think Jen’s Tommy Hilfiger quote is one that maybe we should post in every pastor’s, student’s, artist’s (etc.) house to remind us that God puts us in unique places at unique times because we are each unique.
    Thanks for these reminders.

  8. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Chip you post was full of great reminders! What we deem as successful must include the basic obedience to our call and those we are called too. To compare and contrast in a critical fashion without taking into account the reason we do what we do is pointless. Appreciating the green grass in our own yards instead of admiring the grass in another yard.

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