The President & The Pastor: lessons from George W. Bush’s brave/reckless leadership style

In 2000, Bill Hybels invited President Clinton to speak at Willow Creek's Leadership Summit. The controversial move was based on the assumption that pastors could learn from Clinton's leadership experience - both his triumphs and his mistakes. Following this tradition Ur blogger, Andy Rowell, examines President Bush's leadership style to glean wisdom for ministers. Andy teaches church leadership at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and previously served as the Associate Pastor at Granville Chapel in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Pulitzer prize-winning NY Times book critic Michiko Kakutani reviewed seventeen recent books about President George W. Bush in her May 11, 2006 article entitled "Critic's Notebook: All the President's Books (Minding History's Whys and Wherefores)." She concludes that Bush's supporters and critics agree on one thing - that he often ignores advice and chains of command in decision-making. While this approach has the potential to bring fresh ideas to useless bureaucracy, it can also lead to poor decisions. Kakutani's article raises serious questions about the decision-making processes of the Bush administration. Still, the breadth of her reading, her attempt to make her points without partisan exaggeration, and her thorough documentation, make the article wonderful fodder for anyone (Bush fan or hater) seeking to learn about leadership.

In particular it seems that young pastors like me [I'm thirty years old] can learn much from the effects of President Bush's brave/reckless leadership style. As young pastors we can easily spot things that look outdated or overly bureaucratic. We can walk into a room and have a vision for how things could be spruced up. In some ways, young pastors are in demand precisely for these instincts. We have fresh eyes to old problems. We have fresh energy to tackle big challenges. And yet, Bush's example reminds us to take care as we lead.

Lesson 1: Be cautious before acting on our first impression.

Kakutani notes a number of Bush insiders who have indicated that Iraq was on the agenda of the administration before 9-11. They also admit that there was never a clear process by which the decision was made to go to war. The troops were sent to the region and then eventually it happened. Other economic advisors complain that Bush's staff was not interested in hearing any alternative to their drive to cut taxes. There is surely more to each of these stories than these simple characterizations but still the lesson is apparent.

June 13, 2006

Displaying 1–7 of 7 comments

Andy Rowell

June 19, 2006  10:27am

Thanks for your comments everyone.

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June 15, 2006  9:30am

Anyone with the courage to lead will also be called foolish by a large group of people. Look at history and you will find this to be true. One of our most beloved presidents was so disliked by people he was eventually assonated. Yet Lincoln had the fortitude to lead, against his advisors, against half a nation and against what many in today's world would consider moral and conventional wisdom. In my opinion one of the most overlooked aspects in the past 30 years of pastoral responsibility is the aspect of leadership. Most pastors I know have been given a spiritual gift to lead people. Yet I see many who for one reason or another fail to fan it to flame. What can we learn from this president? Courage to lead. Not every decision a leader makes is right but a part of leadership is having the courage of convictions to lead and to fail. Leadership then requires having the courage to give credit for success to God and others while taking the heat for failure. I see this in GWB's leadership. As a pastor I am called by God to lead and to be effective I must have the courage to live out deep convictions knowing that people will write anonymous notes of disapproval, call for consensus over my errors and even tell me off from time to time. If I am going to be an excellent pastor I must also take counsel, (this requires courage) I must have a deep connection to my Savior, (requires courage) I must build a team of leaders whose strengths are different from mine, (requires courage) and I must make decisions that are right and true by God's standards even when people are not in agreement. Thanks for the post.

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Graham Veale

June 15, 2006  4:03am

Church leadership is not Presidential in style. Elders are charged with guarding the Truth of the Gospel, with being moral and spiritual examples, and with being good family men - the Church being the family in question. Paul never uses political leaders as a example for elders to follow. However we can agree with George Bush Jr that humans and fish should live together peacefully.

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Shannon Caroland

June 14, 2006  3:10pm

I'm 28 and 6 years ago I dumped my dreams of planting a "Post-modern church" to pastor (and perhaps rescue in my mind) an older, traditional church. Just imagine the stories. Anyway, wonderful advice. Perhaps the most useful thing I've read on this site yet. I really look forward to more.

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June 14, 2006  7:38am

Instead of running ahead with our cutting-edge plans, we would be wise to listen to the godly counsel of those who are a few steps ahead of us on the journey. True wisdom comes from a long, deep relationship with God and years of life experience, woven together with pain and joy.

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mike rucker

June 13, 2006  7:44pm

as far as pastors go, you have to ask yourself if an issue you want to address is something you're willing to die over. most young, on-fire, optimistic, idea-oriented pastors come into situations where everything's already been tried, and getting the sheep to step in the same sheep poop again is at best trying and at worst demoralizing. i think you have to reduce things to what my buddy richard dennis miller does - being Christ in the world around him. no program can ever do more than that. we looked at 1 thessalonians on sunday - where the church there was known throughout the region. for what - their building plans? their exegesis? their commitment to inerrancy? no - for acting out the gospel they received. nothing is ever more powerful than that. preach the gospel - and if necessary, use words.

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June 13, 2006  5:51pm

Great comments Andy. This is sage advice for the emerging church at large who have thinly veiled contempt for the traditional evangelical church. Quite frankly, I must admit to being puzzled as to why any President of the United States would be looked upon for leadership within the church as the USA is NOT a theocracy.

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