Releasing the UnLeader!

kinnon —  September 20, 2012 — 18 Comments

The tag line for this site is, “the issue isn’t leadership, it’s discipleship.” Just in case you missed it. 🙂

But. Though many claim to agree. The reality is that LEADERSHIP REALLY IS THE ISSUE™.

Whether a missional church plant in the heart of a major North American city, a growing megachurch in the bible belt, a male-dominated, “gospel-centered” church in the DC area or a struggling church south of Lake Ontario — the issue is leadership and the apparent solution is more of the same. Better leadership, trained at the hundreds of leadership conferences available almost any day of the week will be the key to the successful growth of your church. Let me offend as many people as possible – this isn’t just bullsh__, it’s heresy.

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that this is the story I’ve been telling for a rather long time. The last post (from over 3 months ago) was Captain America and the Gospel of Leadership

My inbox is constantly spammed by Christians pushing the next great leadership conference or offering the next great leadership book to review.

Come hear the latest megachurch pastor reveal the secrets to his amazing success — and if you buy his book(s), DVD(s) or subscribe to his podcast(s), you might just be the next one up on a stage in front of people who are just like you are now.’

The heresy is in the belief that Jesus has called you to be a leader. He hasn’t. He’s called all of us to be servants and disciplers – while being discipled ourselves. (Matthew 20:25 and Matthew 28:19—20.) If you don’t believe me, listen to someone with much greater, earned authority, Christopher Wright. (Which I’ve pointed to many, many times — in the hope that more folk will listen… and learn.)

Unleader Lance Ford’s book

All of this to say, there’s a book I’d like you to read. Written by a friend of mine, Lance Ford. It’s called Unleader, Reimagining Leadership, and Why We Must. Lance says this at the beinning of his book:

The largest church leadership conferences each year include talks from corporate business world stars and world famous CEO’s who make no claim to be followers of Christ whatsoever. The bookshelves of most pastors and church leaders are filled with a solid collection of New York Times bestselling books on leadership, authored by corporate business gurus and political figures. Furthermore, twice as many books on the subject of Christian Leadership are available on as compared to titles on Discipleship. Leadership making has not only trumped disciple making, it has trampled it and left it in the dust. Regarding servantship, look for books on it and you are up the proverbial creek without a paddle. I have not found one Christian book on serving as a coveted position in and of itself. When they do get close to it, every author in the Christian leadership field (in my research) cannot help themselves but to use the phrase Servant-leader. Leader seems to always get squeezed in. Mere servantship is considered not enough.

Perhaps the biggest snafu concerning the current leadership obsession is that Jesus himself directly contradicts much—if not most—of what is being imported into the church under the leadership mantra. Better put, much of it is expressly forbidden by Jesus. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul hosting a leadership conference for the early church with a lineup of speakers such as, Roman Governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus; Revolutionary Leader, Simon bar Giora; John Philip Maximus, owner of the Roman Traders Market (I made up this last guy). Ridiculous, huh?

Most disconcerting is the fact that Jesus himself is not our first choice when it comes to the one whom we model ourselves after as leaders. When the character and persona of Jesus is washed out through so-called strategic initiatives and sound leadership decisions a clash of kingdoms has manifested. And in large part these are the coordinates being followed by most pastors in today’s evangelical church circles. (I apologize that I don’t include page numbers as I’m working from a pre-release document.)

One of the largest peddlers of the CEO leadership culture in the church can be found in the Chicago area. I’m struck by the reality that in spite of this “great leadership teaching center” and all the other megachurches in the Chicago area, Illinois politics are some of the most corrupt in North America. I then ponder the Welsh Revival and its impact on that country’s culture — as compared to the ever growing empires of Christian “leaders” in the Chicago area — and the rather surprising lack of impact on the local political culture. Thoughts?

Where it might seem I would probably be happy taking the word “leader” out into the street, setting it on fire and then kicking it, Lance seeks to redeem it:

This book is not about eliminating leadership in the church. Far from that, it is about redefining and recalibrating leadership according to Jesusian coordinates. To borrow a phrase from my Aussie mates, “What am I on about?” It is to say that the only acceptable leadership moves we make in the church must be made by following Jesus himself. If you are stepping off the path of following Jesus in your leadership methods and means then you are not followable yourself. You may be quick-witted, smooth tongued, and a strategizing whiz kid. But if you use those skills in contradiction to the person of Jesus your leadership way is not worth following.

I’m convinced that Lance’s book is critical for the church in North America today. I’m also convinced that those people already atop the leadership heap will ignore it. But that doesn’t mean you have to. In fact, I’d suggest it’s very important you do read the book to hopefully innoculate you from the dis-ease of the North American Church Leadership CULTure. (Intentional)

Einstein has been quoted as defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. (It probably wasn’t him, but…) As we burden the church with more and “better” leadership conferences, books, etc we keep expecting different results — expecting the church to grow in love, impact and number of conversions. Allow me to let you in on this insane little secret. IT ISN’T WORKING!

Over four decades of marinating in church growth theory has left the vast majority of evangelical denominational and local church leaders wandering in the weeds of a consumer church field. It has created a clergy crop that views the church from the perspective of marketers and businesspersons, and a Christian mass that views itself as clientele.

It isn’t working because it isn’t actually Jesus-centred. (I avoid using gospel-centered as I see it too easily being manipulated into whatever the author believes the gospel to be – unless they choose to call it the King Jesus Gospel, of course. For too many, their gospel appears to be rules, commands and control — all supported by specific scripture verses, of course.)

Under the heading, Cultures of Dominance, Lance tells this unfortunately typical story. (I’ve received far too many emails with similar stories myself.)

I recently shared dinner with a young man who had just recently been fired from a church he had served for several years. He made the mistake of sending an email to the upper echelon—the “Executive Leadership Team”—that questioned the decision of following through with a costly building program for a wedding chapel in the midst of a season of staffing cutbacks. He merely requested a dialogue among the entire staff to get a consensus of thought concerning the situation. His email was written in a very respectful, and humble manner. The day after Devon19 sent the email two members of the Executive Leadership Team showed up at his office to inform him that he was being let go, effective immediately. The reason he was given for being fired was that he had “incited negative morale and displayed lack of cooperation.” When Devon asked why he had not been given the opportunity to at least discuss the situation, per Jesus’ Matthew 18 instructions on dealing with conflict, one of the two “execs” told him he shouldn’t be surprised. “If this was Sprint, or another business, it would be done just like this,” she replied.

What is the problem with this scenario? It is that the church is not Sprint, nor any other business. The church is the body of Christ and has a manual of protocol. It’s called The Bible. And if these “leaders” were following Jesus they would never consider such behavior or tactics. The thing that should terrify us is that this type of scenario is a commonly accepted practice across the landscape of evangelical churches and denominations.

Lance does not write his book as one how has never been called a “successful leader” in the eyes of our present church-leadership culture. On the contrary, we could just as easily be reading a book on building a “growing, successful church” if (as I believe) the Spirit hadn’t intervened.

It was not that I didn’t love people. The problem was that I was more into building a church than I was into building the people who were the church. Like so many other church planters I was consumed with developing my “vision” of church. And though I constantly preached that the church was the people, my obsession with developing the systems, organization, and expansion of our church betrayed what I really believed in the basement of my heart. I was a leader, not a servant. I was building a leadership culture, not one of servantship. Not one of followership.

In our attempts to create Jesus in our own image we often think of him as a great leader. Many pastors have read the Laurie Beth Jones book, Jesus, CEO. But neither Jesus nor God ever labeled him as such. No, Jesus was a great servant—the greatest servant of all—and he embraced the status of a servant.

After not writing for a rather long time, I’ve spent too much time writing a rather long post. I apologize… sort of.

Buy the book.

Read it.

Let me know what you think, if you have the time. 🙂



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.

18 responses to Releasing the UnLeader!

  1. Bill

    Really enjoyed this post – Many Amens – You’d think – with all the seminaries training leaders, books, conferences, CD’s, sermons, – Someone would have figured out how to do this leadership thingy by now. 😉

    Much agreement when you say…
    “The heresy is in the belief that Jesus has called you to be a leader.”

    That’s what I thought at one time – Thought I was called to be a leader…

    Then I noticed – Jesus taught His Disciples – NOT to be called “Leaders?”
    For you have “ONE” leader – the Christ. Mat 23:10 NASB.
    And – NOT one of His Disciples – called themselves – Leader.
    Or “Servant-leader” – They ALL called themselves – “Servants.”

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible
    Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    Mat 23:10-12 – The Message
    And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them.
    There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
    **Do you want to stand out? – Then step down. – Be a servant.**
    If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you.
    But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

    It’s a longer story – But – The questions for me became…

    Did I want to be a “Leader” – With believers, His Sheep – following me?
    Did I want to become – His Disciple – Learning directly from Jesus?
    Seeing others become – His Disciple – Learning directly from Jesus?
    Seeing others – Being His sheep – Hearing His Voice – Following Jesus?

    If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “leaders”
    and someone calls them self a “leader” or thinks they are a “leader;”

    Are they a “Disciple of Christ?”

    Why isn’t what Jesus said important? 😉

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear MY voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – One Leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  2. Bill, thanks for posting this. I have often shaken my head at the neglect of servanthood and the insistence on somehow making it more dignified by calling it “servant leadership”. I shall look up the book forthwith.

  3. And in Canada, we have Arrow Leadership to carry the Chicago-styled torch. Wouldn’t want the Chicago guys to have all the fun, eh?

  4. Boy, when you come off a blog break you really come off the break! A hearty amen to you on this one, and I fear that American evangelicalism’s imagination is so captivated by the powers and principalities that we’ll never leave Babylon even if our captors tell us we can go back into our own land.

  5. Bill, beautiful. I have recently gone on an ‘all this leadership talk is bullshit shift’, and have not offered an alternative. Servant hood and discipleship are core to it and I’m very interested in how I will let that brew and seep in to my work environment. There is one logical argument way you can get to leadership from servant hood and discipleship and that is if you are doing those things people will follow you, leadership is a result of the othe actions clearly not something to be coached toward as the calling.

  6. Gee Bill. Sounds like you just haven’t figured out what kind of a leader you are yet. Servant? Wait a minute – you’ll never build a kingdom with that attitude. Servants? Yeah, you’ll need a lot of ’em. And watch out for the ones who are always asking questions. It’s better to just throw them under the bus before you get sidetracked. Maybe you’d better sign up for some coaching – that is, after you figure out what kind of a leader you are. This may help: link to

    • UPDATE: Jet-lag caused me to completely misread Ted. My apologies for missing the humour in his comment, written in a style I should be familiar with. I’ve removed my dumb response.

  7. Bill, I have read a lot of what you have written on “this tiny node” and I appreciate it immensely. Please re-read, out loud, what I wrote above – only this time with your tongue planted firmly in cheek. 🙂

  8. So glad you’re back blogging. I’ll read the book.

  9. Bill, I have to go outside your aStore to find a Kindle option.

  10. I just finished reading UnLeader…

    I have taken part in, and have been a victim of, the leadership cult of the church. Presently I find myself unable to fellowship in any way except over a cup of tea and a sandwich at a local coffee shop. It’s been this way, now, for about 10 years. In seeking out a remedy to the mess I believe the church has become, I’ve read or at least skimmed numerous books that suggest they contain the answer. Alas, if they even come close, I always feel they don’t go deep enough. But in UnLeader I felt Lance Ford went beyond the cosmetics of the problem to muscle and bone. Finally I’ve found something that gives me hope.

    In UnLeader several times I reread the stories wondering if the author and I share some of the same colleagues and friends. I think not, though. It’s just that the horror of abuse in the church is that widespread. And Ford describes the environment well. (He nails it about people who are “deeply narcissistic”. Ch.3)

    Chapter 4, about servanthood, could have been a stand-alone book for me, worth more than the cost of the whole book. When Ford wrote of Jesus taking the rejects of the religious community and turning them into “living stones”, I felt like something was coming alive in me.

    I appreciated Ford’s attention to scripture:

    Jesus, detailing the Gentile way of lording over others, said to his disciples, “It shall not be so among you” Matt. 20:25-28 (p. 22-23) This statement by Jesus may be the strongest lasting impression I have from the book.

    The book addresses the passage that I opened to and read during what were my last few weeks as staff at a church, Matthey 23:8-11, “You are not to be called Rabbi…Do not call anyone ‘father’…nor are you to be called teacher…” (p. 50)

    Ford takes I Thess. 5:12 apart piece-by-piece— “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you” (p. 141)

    And on the page where Ford addresses I Thess., I wrote in the margin, “Hebrews 13:17?” And on page 158 he begins to address that passage.

    There is so much more that is good… Read it!

    I have never seen this model at work in a church. And honestly I don’t trust anymore that it can happen on any kind of a scale. But to see the model Jesus taught laid out took me to a better place and I am thankful!


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