Is Ministry Leadership Different 2: a response to Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, is interviewed in the current issue of Leadership on his leadership style. Highlights from the interview were posted on Out of Ur in March. Stanley defends the incorporation of secular business practices in the church - a philosophy of ministry that has fueled evangelicalism for the last 25 years and pollinated megachurches across the fruited plains. But church-as-corporation and the pastor-as-CEO have come under increasing criticism, and Stanley has felt this heat.

In the interview Stanley says:

One of the criticisms I get is "Your church is so corporate?" And I say, "OK, you're right. Now why is that a bad model?" A principle is a principle, and God created all the principles.

Honestly, are we really to believe that the mere existence of a principle is the same as God advocating our employment of it? The flawed logic here reminds me of Greg Fokker's assertion that "you can milk just about anything with nipples," and Robert De Niro's rebuttal, "I have nipples, Greg, could you milk me?"

Jesus said, "The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them." That is a principle of leadership, and a very popular one. But Jesus then emphatically declares, "Not so with you!" Simply because a model exists or is popular does not make it accessible to the church. Jesus calls us to lead his church in a manner that reflects his own servant method and the counter-culture reality of his kingdom. In other words, Jesus believes that truly Christian leadership is revealed in both its function and its form. The two cannot be divorced.

This is the primary flaw I see among those promoting church-as-corporation - they wish to disassociate business structures from the fruit they produce. Sure, market-driven business models can create large and efficient ministry organizations, but what is the impact on the lives, spirits, and characters of those immersed in them? After all, the church isn't commissioned to sell a product. We are commissioned to change lives that bear spiritual fruit.

Marshall Shelley, editor of Leadership, tells about Jerry, a pastor who finally told his business-minded elders to stop imposing their corporate models upon the church. With pastoral firmness Jerry said to his elders:

The next time a sentence begins, "In the business world, we?" please know that I'm not interested in the rest of that sentence. The church is not the business world. As I've observed the effects of the business world on people's lives, it doesn't produce the traits that the church is about: joy, contentment, grace, and love. I don't see the business world as a model for encouraging the kinds of lives we're called to live.
May 17, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 36 comments

Eric Jaffe

June 03, 2006  9:26am

I have been in full time ministry for 3 years now having come from a very stoggy set of Mega-Law Firm corporate environments. At times it is very natural for me to resort to corporate thinking, and I do think there are a great deal of things we as the church can learn from the corporate environment. In some ways I think mega-churches have been so successful because of our mega-big box culture of Super Walmarts, Home Depots, Mega-stores, and big gulps. It's something people are familiar with and comfortable in. In an economic sense people don't really shop at the corner dime store anymore because they no longer exist. Whether thats good or bad, I do not know. In the same way, I think there are some things that are natural about a church taking on some corporate characteristics. I think it can even be healthy when done in the right way. Take "Good to great in the non-profit sector". If your measuring the right things, and putting God First in all you do, whats the problem? Church structure has changed many times throughout history, often in response to the current conditions of the day. If people today are coming out of corporate cultures (where healthy) and applying the priniciples (the things that transcend methods) that work and are actually God First. "I believe the healthy businesses that endure actually run on godly principles without even knowing it". Then what is so wrong with that. Society is no longer an agrarian culture. Less than 8% of americans work on the farm, so Agrarian mindsets in the church are hard for most people to relate to. In essence. I think there are valuable things that can be used in pretty much any structure as long as those who are leading are putting God First in everything they do. If God is first and church inluences business, then if the reverse is also true and business people who are leading like jesus in the marketplace influence the church.. Well then God is at the center of it all anyways, isn't he?

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June 02, 2006  3:45pm

I have to be honest. Andy Stanley came off to me in that interview as self inflated. how does one flippantly declare that "pastor" has nothing to do with shepherding unless they are under the impression (delusion?) that they are speaking ex-cathedra. I think the brother should read the Word more and his press clippings less.

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Doug Resler

May 30, 2006  5:37pm

In the interests of total transparency... I am the solo pastor of a small, mainline denominational church with less than 150 members. We average about 130 in worship on a given week and are growing at a rate of about 10-15% a year. Having said that, I am fully aware that any critique from my vantage point may indeed be "sour grapes" or even worse, a full out capitulation to the sins of envy and jealousy. However, I do offer the following reflections from a 33-year old pastor trying to lead God's people. (Or as I like to say, shepherd God's sheep.) First of all, it seems to me that the true vocation of the church is to be, in the words of noted missiologist Leslie Newbigin, "the sign and foretaste of the Kingdom of God" in, to, and, for the world. If one agrees with such a definition, as I wholeheartedly do, then one would have to ask how appropriating business models for the church would help further such a vocation? It seems to me that such an approach would be very dangerous and even counterproductive in terms of producing the kind of Christian community necessary to act as the light of the world or the salt of the earth. Such models seem inherently tied to ower and market-driven success and are often defended in such terms. (i.e. Northpoint has 15,000 people attending so they must be reaching people with the Gospel, etc.) Now I am not saying that it is impossible to incorporate the "pastor as CEO" model into the church, only that I question it's effectiveness in truly helping form a community where the Gospel is lived as well as preached. After all, doesn't following such a model make us all consumers and isn't that what we see happening throughout the church in North America today? As Skye has pointed out so insightfully, what we are seeing today is the "Walmartization" of the church. Using an "outdated" metaphor, the sheep are simply moving to different pastures not giving birth to more sheep. What is the answer? I am honest enough to say, "I have no idea." It could be (and I pray that it is with all my heart!) that mega-churches are indeed having great success in forming communities where Christians are becoming more real, more transparent, more vulnerable, more generous, less self-sufficient and self-serving, where they are learning to deny themselves daily, take up their cross, and follow Jesus. It could be that the "corporate" model for leadership is helping them get there. For my part, I am just not sure.

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Carl McLendon

May 24, 2006  9:07pm

I love the work and ministries of NorthPoint, but agree that Stanley seems intent on success at the expense of spiritual formation. I find this ironic since their entire vision is to move people towards small groups where personal relationships and accountability are the methods for moving people to a deeper relationship with God.

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May 22, 2006  12:02pm

Referring to Andy Stanley's comments that: "A principle is a principle, and God created all the principles". Who says? There are plenty of cults that use principles that are not godly principles. Hitler used his principles to try to eradicate the Jewish race but Hitler's principles would not be godly. All principles are not created by God. Stanley's comment almost sound like a pragmatist: It it works it must be right or the end justifies the means.

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May 22, 2006  9:06am

It is sad to see such a one-sided attack. Since the first hint of this article came out a few months ago, I knew it was going to be an attack. This article holds the "business" model up without ever defining it and asserts, through very intentional language, that it and all pastors who use it are bad. Unfortunately, this is done at the expense of one of our pastors. I am part of a large church that has combined many business principles, but has never lost the focus on people. It can be done. I am convinced that holding a pastor or leader up to the court of public opinion is wrong. Leaders and churches must evaluate their own leadership and direction in light of God's word and decide any course corrections. We can evaluate them, but just as a pastor or leader is held accountable for their actions and teaching, so each one of us are judged by the same standard that we hold up against men like Andy Stanley. There is a fine line that must be walked here, I have often failed in being too harsh. But I have heard no other viable alternatives being offered–even "Jerry" only says he rejects the business model, but I bet his financial systems apply "business" models.

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May 21, 2006  10:00pm

So, if the shepherd metaphor is no longer appropriate for pastors, is it a dead metaphor for Jesus' relationship to his people as well? I guess a new paraphrase of the Bible which takes this view into account might be appropriate: John 10:14-15 (NIV) "I am the effective/productive CEO; I know my(clients/employees/target-market niche) and my (clients/employees/target-market niche) know me–just as the (Chairman/CFO/COO) knows me and I know the (Chairman/CFO/COO)–and I (manage and distribute both tangible and intangible assets for maximum productivity) for the (clients/employees/target-market niche).

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Brandon Johnson

May 19, 2006  12:56pm

Well said Tom. You nailed it when you said "Show me a church that has stagnated while fulfilling the great commission." Great point on the talents thing too. To paraphrase something that Andy Stanley himself said in a message: the problem with too many churches (and Christians) is that they sit around reading a book about searching and talking with each other about the need to search BUT THEN THEY NEVER GO AND SEARCH. Personally, I'm weary of any church that uses the "we're preparing/equipping our people" as an explanation for a lack of growth. If people aren't ready or equipped, then by all means, do everything to equip them. But in the meantime (while you're equipping them) encourage them to invest in the lives of their lost friends and invite them to church. Let the pastor and his leadership team handle the evangelism until people are "equipped." And while we're at it, I'm not sure how much preparation/equipping people really think they need to go out and evangelize. You don't have to be able to explain every detail of the Bible or the Christian faith. As Andy said in a message (paraphrasing again): Our job as Christians is to live out our faith and, when the time comes, to lay it down. He goes on to explain what he means by lay it down: based on John 3:16 - God LOVED, God GAVE, we BELIEVE, we RECEIVE. God loved everyone, gave his son Jesus for everyone, if we believe that Jesus' death payed for our sins, we receive salvation and eternal life. If you ask me, anyone who is a Christian should be able to explain that - no equipping necessary. Is there more to evangelism than just that? Maybe, maybe not. I'm honestly beginning to wonder if we've taken something rather simple and made it something really complex. I grew up thinking I needed to have a lot of knowledge, understanding, equipping, and "strategy" to reach the lost. Now I'm realizing I had everything I needed all along. Consequently, I missed out on an opportunity to share Christ with a number of people in my life (who are no longer around). I hate to think that there are churches out there who would make the same mistake as me.

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May 19, 2006  11:13am

I have to say that I think this whole discussion would have been better served by a second interview with Andy, rather than an opinion article which served as an attack on a couple of his statements. It is pretty easy to tear down a certain model of leadership (or even a certain leader) when he is not there to defend himself. A couple of questions worth asking Andy Stanley include: 1) Pastor Stanley, when you say your leadership is not distinctly spiritual, do you mean God has no say in how you lead, or AM I MISUNDERSTANDING YOU? 2) Where does God, the Holy Spirit, and the authority of Scripture have a place in your ministry? Instead of speculating what Andy was thinking, such questions would give us the truth. Skye's closing is a thinly veiled jab at Andy as a leader. He twists Andy's words back on themselves, insinuating that "there is nothing distinctly spiritual" about his leadership. Easy to defend this statement, since those are Andy's words, right? I know it was a clever little ending to this piece, but maybe it would have been good to be a little less clever and a little bit more respectful to a brother. I think answers to a few key questions would help Andy to clarify his position a little more adequately. And maybe give us a bit more information for deciding whether or not he is truly a pagan = ). On an added note, anybody who can read a couple of lines about a person on a blog, and then suggest in a comment that they need to resign from ministry, needs to rev down a few notches. Seriously. We owe it to God, to Andy as a fellow brother, and ourselves to actually try to understand another person's point of view before we go and start condemning them. Those are harsh words and we should know better than that.

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May 19, 2006  10:46am

Chuck- It has been a while since I've heard "attendance roll"- do you mean membership? If so, or if not, is the goal to whittle down the attendance of your church or just the members that don't attend? If you are educating and equipping your people for purposeful evangelism, are you getting converts to go to different churches? I think the natural outflow of a growing Christian is to have conversations with people about coming to church with you, right? I'm not sure that numbers are all that deceiving in churches that never change. Unless, your church has already reached everyone in the community and that would be excellent! Show me a church that has stagnated while fulfilling the great commission. Think of the parable of the talents. When Christ comes back and finds His bride, that he purchased with His blood, whittling away this opportunity to lead people to Him; I wonder what excuse we will give for not multiplying? Will he accept the reasoning that we were preparing for growth like the man that buried his talent underground?

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