The President & The Pastor (part 2): more lessons from George W. Bush’s brave/reckless leadership style

In May, NY Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani surveyed seventeen books written about the leadership of President Bush. Her article, which summarized what Bush's fans and critics have observed about his leadership style, caught the attention of Out of Ur blogger Andy Rowell. Andy is a teacher of church leadership at Taylor University and a former pastor. In part 2 of his post, he reminds us that some bureaucracy may actually be good, and he champions the value of transparency.

Lesson 3: Remember that some policies and procedures created generations before us actually make sense.

There is nothing more annoying than a policy that does not make sense to us. There certainly may be policies on the books at your church that no longer fulfill their original intended functions.

By all accounts, President Bush inherited a dysfunctional overly bureaucratic intelligence establishment. Sensing this, the Bush administration created a special office to look into the evidence for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In doing so, they unintentionally avoided experts and procedures that would have noticed and corrected some of the weaknesses in the intelligence gathering methods and conclusions.

One of the hardest things for a pastor is getting permission to do things. Often times, we have to wait until the next committee meeting to get our initiative approved. At that meeting, the issue is discussed but there is a request for more information before a final decision can be made at next month's board meeting! Frequently, we're sorry we asked! Isn't it just better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission? But sometimes these cumbersome policies and procedures help protect us from our own blind spots.

Lesson 4: Be honest and transparent about what you are doing.

President Bush permitted wire-tapping without full public disclosure because his team believed getting permission wasn't fully necessary. But when it became public he was highly criticized for it. Apparently, even National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice does not always get consulted when things are happening. For example, she reportedly was not informed about the plans to house foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

In pastoral ministry there are certainly times when levels of confidentiality and limited disclosure are called for. For example, some people will be working with a couple having difficulty in their marriage. Not everyone in the church needs to know what is going on. But in general, our desire to keep something we are doing secret is an indicator that something is wrong.

June 15, 2006

Displaying 1–8 of 8 comments

Bryan Mooneyhan

June 21, 2006  3:14pm

Being faithful has little to do with stability, but much to do with developing into all that God has gifted us for. We have downgraded the concepts of faithfulness and servanthood to mean lesser, more menial existence while the truly ambitious shoot for the stars. The truth is, without the heart of a servant and the faithfulness to allow God to work in us, we are fueled by selfish motivation. There is nothing wrong with godly ambition or moving forward at the pace of the Holy Spirit - as long as He is our motivator. President Bush has made mistakes and had successes, as we all have. The difference is that someone is following and recording his every move - as well they should in his position. To borrow a line from "Spiderman" - "with great power comes great responsibility". It would be unwise not to learn from the whole of his experience as we seek to lead the truly greatest endeavor on the planet.

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Andy Rowell

June 19, 2006  11:05am

Thanks for all of your comments. Your comments that criticize my posts for overly emphasizing caution are fair. I was reflecting on the NY Times article, which focuses on the excesses of Bush's passion so my posts reflect that tone. Perhaps teaching undergraduate idealistic Christian ministry students this year has also added to my "slow down and think" emphasis! You'll be glad to know that I also teach my students to be dissatisfied with mediocrity and to dream big dreams. I also appreciate the restraint of your comments with regard to politics. Thanks again for your comments.

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June 16, 2006  11:55am

Lesson 1: Be cautious before acting on our first impression. Lesson 2. Seek out and pay attention to qualified advisors. Lesson 3: Remember that some policies and procedures created generations before us actually make sense. Lesson 4: Be honest and transparent about what you are doing. Conclusion: Perhaps we are better off seeking to be faithful rather than seeking to make an impact. Okay, after reading both posts and the words of the original article it feels like these lessons could be found in nearly any walk of life. We could study Bill Gates, Gandhi and a high school principal and still come up with the same four "lessons" about leadership. We could also come up with four opposite lessons that sound just as wise. But that notwithstanding, it is the conclusion that irks me. The conclusion implies that GW is only interested in impact, not faithfulness. It implies that to seek impact is counter to faithfulness. Yes there is nobility to faithfulness but there is also in many places a safety to faithfulness that never pushes oneself to grow, to develop the gifts given by the Spirit of God and to dream about becoming an agent for change in God's plans. I know of a man with incredible gifts to lead, to impact lives and to be a change agent for Christ. He is faithful but never pushes himself past the place he serves right now. He could be content to spend the next 30 years doing this and we would say, how noble and faithful he has been. I would say what a waste that someone with his leadership skills and gifts settled for faithfulness in this one place when he could have done both, made impact and been faithful. Faithfulness is a requirement of following Christ but in itself is a too small goal for any person whose God is the creator of the universe. If God's intention is to redeem the world, then we should find ourselves faithful at that task. Our dreams should be to make a huge impact for Christ and then to faithfully develop our gifts, our passions, our skills and find the place where we can contribute to Christ's cause. The enemy of faithfulness is not a drive for impact but the busyness that crowds our lives. We have churches full of people whose drive for impact has been traded for being faithful at some task that they can squeeze into their busy lives. One person told me recently I have a half hour a week to serve, give me a job. My response was only if he would consider the destructive ramifications of his statement. We agreed and now he serves faithfully with a passion for impact.

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Dan Wilt

June 16, 2006  10:04am

It takes great character to step into a position of power, or great ambition. Having been a leader in various situations for a few decades now, I find I am more often than not wanting to be silent, and learn from historical leadership. While this conversation has some even-handed styling, it still leaves me wanting to be silent. Faithfulness, I agree, is the end goal of spiritual, governmental or artistic leadership. However, faithfulness, at least in this life and by our standards, is difficult to measure. The leader alone hears God's words in their own ear; to judge outcomes in the now, with an eye toward the next few hundred years, is almost impossible.

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mike rucker

June 15, 2006  1:59pm

I'm not sure I'd equate "ambition" and "fame". I think pursuing fame is wrong; in effect, you're saying, "Look at me!", and that could hardly fit in with any idea of servant leadership. But I'm not convinced ambition is wrong - in the secular world in which I work, I'd much rather be alongside someone who has in mind specific goals and achievements to attain than someone who just comes in 9-5 and takes a paycheck. I was thinking about tradition on the way in this morning, specifically listening to an Episcopal leader on NPR talking about how the church needed to apologize across the denomination for electing a gay bishop. The argument he made was, to use my own words, an appeal to "church history" and the beliefs for which it had stood for all these years. The church should always be comfortable reconsidering "absolutes" that may not actually be once-and-for-all settled. Likewise, a pastor should have the judgement to look back at decisions made long ago and the wisdom to seek out why they were made, but that doesn't automatically make the earlier decision right or authoritative for all time. But thanks for the thoughts - this was a good analysis, especially paired with a present-day example making mistakes and learning from them.

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June 15, 2006  1:23pm

I object to this form of political subjectivity (though I agree with the author) being posted in this forum. There is too much worldly politics in the church already, and this just furthers the interference. Muggins!

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June 15, 2006  10:56am

The intro to these posts reference the President's style as "brave/reckless." Perhaps this was misleading as the focus was primarily on Bush's recklessness ... would have loved to hear some positive examples from his leadership along with the negative ones ...

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Richard Dennis Miller

June 15, 2006  7:56am

Two posts worth of "reckless." Where's the brave? I decided, after reading the first post, to wait hoping that the two essays would balance out. I am disappointed but not surprised. I could go into detail defending the President. I could defend him in the cases mentioned or I could point out the many great and brave things he has done in office, both at home and abroad. But that would be political, wouldn't it? And that's not what this board is about, is it? Or is it?

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