Summitting Leaders

kinnon —  August 9, 2008 — 10 Comments

In the 42 months of this blog’s existence, it’s been rather evident that I’m not a fan of the theology of most mega-churches or their wannabes. This is a position I’ve arrived at – having spent years in the American mega-church world as a media consultant (not including about 18 months with a Canadian megachurch clone, part of that time as a senior staff member). I’ve come to believe the mega-church has more to do with western consumerism and the celebration of the individual than it has to do with both a biblical and an historical understanding of the church as gathered community.

BizLeaderonSummitsmall.jpg These past few days I’ve followed tweets from folk who have attended a recent summit of leaders. The well-marketed brand of American megavangelism that puts these conferences on is noted for its conflation of good business practices and church leadership – something I believe is profoundly erroneous and has led to huge issues in the church. I wrote this in the comment section of one of my posts on this topic, last summer,

As an occasional business person (I’ve been self-employed for most of the past twenty-six years), I love Jim Collins. It DOES drive me crazy, however, that I see well-worn copies of his book Good to Great on most pastors’ desks – with them trying to “get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off.” And I know way too many sociopaths in shepherds clothing who use BHAGs to keep their money making machines moving forward.

I believe that the church, the living, breathing Body of Christ is more an organism than an organization. The health of that (organism) is in its relationships – both within and without. Where management models can aid in the health of the organism, they can have some efficacy – but when the management models control the life of the church, they actually kill that life. I would suggest that there are a lot of “Dead Churches Walking” in the Western World.

My Allelon compatriot, Len Hjalmarson, attended one of the satellite sites for the summitting leaders. He comments,

* we are still enamored with leadership as a concept, yet the word is almost absent from the NT. If the questions we ask are more formed by our culture than by the Scripture, won’t the answers be similarly formed?

* the fundamental leadership paradigm at (redacted) is “heroic,” focused around individuals and their gifts and passions. The alternative lens – that leadership is a characteristic of living systems and a process in all healthy communities – is almost non-existent. Yet so long as we use a single lens, we limit what we can see and discover.

(As an aside, in my post from two years ago, What Lens? I comment on the particular lens I think guides much mega-church leadership – and it is the lens of the King. I believe the proper lens is that of the Cross. There’s great discussion in the comments on that post.)

Len does go on to make some positive comments about the event and concludes with these paragraphs,

In the end, all disciplines are composed of practices that take us to places we can’t reach directly. We do the scales so that one day we can play Bach or Mozart; we lift weights and run so that one day we can compete in a marathon. But these represent individual ends and the kingdom is a place we must reach as communities of faith. This is one reason that I think a missional order and a rule of life are ancient places we must recover. They move us beyond individual measures and practices and beyond individualist, or inward-looking lenses, for discovering leadership. And they provide a context, a covenant community, which is the soil that must exist in order for any practice to help us toward an authentic expression of kingdom life.

UPDATE: Although the caps key is broken on her computer, Kathy Escobar offers this today in Lessons from Egypt. It just seems to fit,

i have developed a strong aversion to unhealthy power that probably won’t ever go away. i don’t believe christ-followers are supposed to be addicted to power. i don’t believe in perpetuating power-laden systems that create hero-worship and an “us-them” culture. i don’t think that gifts & talents are supposed to be controlled by a few chosen people who happen to get a paycheck from the church. i think that true leadership comes from below, that the last will be first and the first will be last. the church was always supposed to be about relationship instead of structure, love instead of control, freedom instead of bondage, mercy instead of sacrifice.

NB: The business guy @ the summit image is licensed from iStockphoto and is used by permission.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

10 responses to Summitting Leaders

  1. I agree with what you write, Bill (theolgy of the cross should be the proper stance of the Church), and also with what Kathy wrote about who ought exercise leadership and the least being first and vice-versa.

    Yhe only problem with Kathy’s view is that sin in the leadership will cause it inevitablty to morph into what we have now.

    A good pastor with a theology of the cross, and a measure of disdain for the culture instead of an affinity towards it, is key. (I believe)


    – Steve Martin

  2. Bill, although I agree with you to an extent, I found Collins to be one of the most important reads on leadership, EVER. And here’s why. He posits that the basis for great leadership was deep humility, someone who did very little to stand out, instead revealing the team’s contributions. His level five leader was Jesus, someone who wasn’t interested in the show, but the relationships.

    And his concept of the bus, from an organizational perspective, is simply profound. It gives people, those who shouldn’t be there or don’t want to be there, permission to leave, without shame.

    What I wonder if you are rubbing up against is people misunderstanding and even abuse of Collins’ work for the sake of megalomania, which Collins would likely suggest misses the point altogether.

  3. Most of the modern church is simply organized to avoid Jesus. We are shallow cowards who are living lives of self-deception. We let our wealth comfort and protect us from the truth that we are empty people who are afraid to trust God’s grace. As a result, we let the Elmer Gantry’s of our time deceive us into thinking that we are special and therefore above reproach. The problem isn’t just the megachurches that tend to be conservative in theology. The same holds true for liberal churches. They live out of their own self-justified self-righteousness, believing that they too are special because they believe in justice and conservatives don’t. They are all practicing self-deception. And that self-deception is virus that has spread throughout all of American culture. Our only hope is to be honest with ourselves and begin to live into the real freedom that God gives us to live lives of impact through sacrifice and service. If we took the whole of Jim Collins work seriously, I believe we would find that what holds true for the church also is true for the business world. Ultimately, the measure of my faith isn’t my words or my church affiliation, but the character of my life. I live with that burden every day, and the peace that comes in knowing that Jesus is not deceived by my self-confidence, and yet he still gives me his love each day.

  4. Not only has the church adopted a failing marketing model as described in these posts, but it has abandoned its foundation by straying from doctrines of the Apostles. That old First Century model grew a handful of scattered believers to a complete takeover of Western Civilization. That is real multiplication. What a shame that we are in full retreat, but continue to chase a failed model.

  5. Steve,
    Thanks for the comment and your perspective.

    Whether Collins is misunderstood or not, I’m not as convinced that he’s the man to follow for church leadership models – and I’d say that Jesus was more a Level 5000 in comparison to any of the people Collins mentions in G2G as Level 5 leaders. That being said, G2G IS a very good book for business leaders. I’m going to stick to Luke 10, Matthew 20 and Mark 10 as some of the best places for Jesus-shaped leadership reading, however. And from all I’ve read of the good stuff you’ve written, Jonathan, I’d have to say that as much as you appreciate Collins – your writing reflects that kind of Jesus-shaped leading.

    The quote I used from my own comments is actually in response to you on a discussion we were having on a similar topic back then. As someone who works as a consultant to both churches and businesses, you have a very good perspective on this stuff – and though we don’t always agree, I highly respect your opinion and always appreciate your insights and comments. And I’d agree with your comments here 110%.

    Thanks for joining in on the discussion. I appreciated Ed Stetzer’s conversation about apostles in the last week. Getting back to the teaching of the apostles would be a very good place for the church to find itself in this liminal space.

  6. Bill, most of the talks at this year’s Summit, deal with some of the very issues you raise!

    For instance, from Bill Hybel’s opening talk:

    Leadership’s highest usage is to advance the purposes of God, not power… not money.

    You will never know life until you are fully committed to Christ and about God’s business. Then you will know life that is truly life!

    How about Gary Haugen:

    Injustice is about the abuse of power, to take by might from those who are weaker, things that God intended for them.

    People have a hard time believing God is good because they are in so much pain. What is God’s plan for making it believable? Us. We are the only plan! He does not have a plan B!

    Lead in the things that matter to God. People will take care of themselves when things are cheerful and easy. But leadership matters when things are depressing and difficult, even hopeless.

    or from Bill George:

    People have lost trust in leadership: in the corporate world, in politics and in the church. Leadership is about integrity not image, character not charisma, giving not taking, and being who you are. It is about responsibility. It is not about command and control but empowerment.

    Leadership responsibilities are: alignment, empowerment, serving others and collaboration.

    Chuck Colson drew us all back to being disciples, life-long learners defending the faith, not looking a “what’s in this for me?”.

    Chuck quoted a survey wherein 57% of US evangelicals say their way isn’t the only way to God. His response was a call back to the foundations of the faith.

    I could quote each of the rest of the talks as well!

    For me, perhaps the most compelling session was the final one, wherein each person in the room was challenged to give God “carte blanche” yieldedness, per II Chron 16:9, and to answer His call with “Here I am, send me.”

  7. Enn,
    I appreciate your response and am aware of the love the church where you are an elder has for WC as a Willow Creek Associated church. (Enn was the house group leader when I first became a Christian in 1982 and had a profound impact on my growth as a young believer. He’s known Imbi all her life.) I’m glad that you got much out of the Summit.

    It pains me to disagree with you, but I feel that WC has done much to propogate the “visionary senior leader” myth that has contributed to the decline of the church in the west. (Whether Barna or Pew, the stats show a decline in the church versus population growth in the US. Canada, the UK and Europe are even worse.)

    Has your church experienced significant growth in new believers – from your community? Do people in that community experience the church as the outworking of God’s Kingdom – the lame walk, the blind see, widows and orphans are cared for, prisoners are visited, the year of the Lord’s favour is proclaimed? Are the folk in the pews of your church, salt and light in the community – Holy Spirit inspired leaven infecting the entire city? Are broken relationships quickly mended amongst those within and those who have left the church? Is the “senior pastor” part of the team, or is he viewed as the Lord’s annointed – the visionary leader who shapes the direction of the church – the one who hears from God?

    This last question, I believe, is one of the primary problems in the western church and has wreaked the most havoc in our seeing the Missio Dei both worked out and lived out in our communities. It is almost impossible to support this position from the New Testament, in my not humble opinion. It is a position, however, that is strongly modeled and taught by Willow Creek – and I would suggest that this past summit has been no different in that teaching/modeling.

    I look forward to grabbing a coffee with you and discussing this further – as well as continuing the conversation here, if you’re interested.

  8. Bill,

    I’d love to continue the dialogue, both here and in person. However, you’ll have to fill me in on the Missio Dei concern…

    Our’s is an elder-led church – the Senior Pastor is one of the elders, so very definitely a team approach. He doesn’t even chair the meetings. From my understanding, Willow Creek is the same.

    Love for WC may be a bit strong, but yes, we are a member of the Willow Creek Association, and our former pastor served on the Willow Creek Canada board. And, we have served as a satellite site for three Summits now. We also look for resource and learning opportunities from other sources, not feeling the need to invent everything ourselves. We rarely take things verbatim though, usually tweaking it for our context. The Truth Project is a good recent example.

    I agree that the church in the west is in decline. I recently saw some statistics reported at the Baptist World Alliance that church attendance is stagnant or declining in 75% of America’s churches. Furthermore, 24% of churches are only growing by getting members from the declining churches – and only 1% of churches are growing from the unchurched. I don’t know that I would put the blame for this at the foot of the visionary leader concept though. I think it’s a lot more complicated than that, although the prosperity of the western world would have a lot to do with it.

    Does our church do all those things you listed? Some, but no not all, and not consistently. That is definitely one of the areas of focus for our leadership team… and it interestingly was also a theme throughout this year’s talks.

    I too look forward to continuing the conversation. You’ll have to have patience with this posting newbee.

  9. Gary Haugen’s talk was outstanding. Sadly I missed the closing talk by Hybels. The issues are complex, and I’m really grateful that we can discuss with genuine respect for one another. There is no us/them divide in the kingdom. We have to find a way forward together.

  10. btw, important and heartbreaking..

    link to


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