5 Crucial Questions on the State of Leadership
Gordon MacDonald's concerns about the quality of leaders today.

Few books in my library have offered more quotable material than Jean Vanier's Community and Growth (Paulist Press, 1989).

Here's a nugget:

"In order to be able to assume the responsibility for other people's growth, leaders must themselves have grown to true maturity and inner freedom. They must not be locked up in a prison of illusion or selfishness, and they must have allowed others to guide them.
"We can only command if we know how to obey. We can only be a leader if we know how to be a servant. We can only be a mother - or a father - figure if we are conscious of ourselves as a daughter or a son. Jesus is the Lamb before the He is the Shepherd. His authority comes from the Father; He is the beloved Son of the Father" (p. 225).

In the order of thought in Vanier's two paragraphs, I should like to raise these questions for some of us to ponder:

1. What is "true maturity" in the biblical sense and is our Christian movement producing those kinds of persons in any reasonable quantity?

2. What does it mean to "allow others to guide them?" How are "apprentice" leaders guided in growth toward maturity?

3. Is the notion of Christian obedience still alive in our new view of discipleship? What does it mean to veer away from generally accepted cultural practices because one becomes convinced that they must first reckon with the yes's and the no's of Jesus?

4. What does it mean to be a "daughter" or "son" in Vanier's perspective? And how does that lead to becoming a "mother" or a "father" in the community of faith?

5. Might it not be profitable to take a fresh look to the relationship between Jesus and His Father and see if this is not the primary template of the true Christian life?

Questions like these nag at me because I sense that there are growing suspicions that our Christian movement is simply not producing the kinds of Christ-followers who can stand up to the rigors of this new age in which we live. As has been the case for a long time, we are a movement that can get people to cross a discernable line into faith. But once they've been on the Jesus side of the line for a while, there arises an insipid boredom and bogging down in terms of spiritual growth and service. If there is any credibility to this wild generalization, then the operational question becomes why?

Gordon MacDonald, Leadership editor at large

September 04, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 11 comments


September 10, 2007  9:32am

There is no question (for me) of there being a leadership vacuum in the US, but I'm not sure it can be laid at anyone's feet in particular. What I don't see, but have been a part of, both as a leader and as one being led, is simple, relational discipleship. It was evident during the Jesus Movement (late 60's thru mid 70's) & it is sadly needed again. But is it something WE bring about or is it something we just need to DO regardless of its appeal to the masses or if it's "catching on" or not? It seems to me it's a sovereign work of God which means we just need to be in step with Him... guided by Him... empowered by Him... submitted to Him. After being a pastor on the West Coast in the 80's and a missionary in the Philippines in the 90's and into this decade, I see 2 different kinds of leadership vacuums. In the US, we are incredibly "resource heavy", but light on genuine Jesus-like leadership. In most of the rest of the world, there are many examples of Jesus-like leadership, but resources are often scarce. One of the most needed of resources outside of the US is experienced, equipped leaders committed to discipling the nations. I'm still in the midst of a transition of ministry & life within my home culture. I only know to do what I've done before and it seems to be needed greatly. Simple, relational discipleship. I realize this may seem overly simplistic, but I've seen the fruit of it for over 30 years of ministry experience. 2 valuable books for me in this area are "The Calvary Road", by Roy Hession and "The Master Plan of Evangelism", by Robt. Coleman. They speak to me of the most basic calls on our life of walking the way of the Cross & fulfilling the Great Commission. I realize my comments may seem way too simplistic, but do we really need to find something new? Or are we just called to continue doing what we were taught by the Lord and His first disciples through the written Word? Isn't leadership the "natural" fruit of discipleship? Isn't mature leadership simply the result of the basic process of discipleship and leadership over time, as we follow Jesus? This is what I have been seeing in many of the alumni of a small Bible College/ School I started 12 years ago. I'm back in the Philippines for a couple months, and we just celebrated the anniversary of the school's founding. I am so blessed by the fruit in their lives and ministry, their vision and their leadership. Especially because it is the product of their own relationship and calling from the Lord. I'm speaking as an unrelenting "Jesus Freak", but does it really need to be more complex and sophisticated for this generation? I don't see that being the case in my small sphere of influence within my new home culture (NE Florida). In fact, I see a lot of similarities to the mid-60's. And I'm beginning to see signs of spiritual renewal/ revival, at least the hunger for it. I plan to stay the course, as simple & one-dimensional as it might seem, because it's the one the Lord has shown me. I've yet to see anything better.

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Michael Hamilton

September 09, 2007  7:13pm

The comments are true. Leaders of God, leaders known to be Christians–-leaders in the church, or society, education, the arts, business, government, organisations–-must be people of noble character and integrity, people who model the kind of character, values, priorities and love for others which Jesus Christ had and showed forth in His life. Christians are to be FOLLOWERS or disciples of Jesus. All Christians can be influencers of others, in various and significant ways. God wants this to be the case–-for His followers to be "agents of change" for Him. God uses most effectively and fully people who walk very closely, humbly, and obediently with Him, being empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit. There must be no place for purposeful sinning, or ignoring the leading of the Holy Spirit, in our lives. An excellent book on ledership for Christians is "Master Builders" by Bob Gordon, published in 1990 by Sovereign World (PO Box 777, Tonbridge, Kent TN11 9XT, England.) I think this is among the BEST books on Christian leadership, although there are many very good ones. I highly recommend the book, which is full of many powerful and essential principles of effective, Godly leadership, and is very practical. It includes this: "Spiritual leadership begins and ends with a full dependence on God. In fact, every Christian needs the Holy Spirit to work in and through him(/her) constantly in order to do the work of God. We always need to be making room for God in our lives and we need to be waiting on Him regularly...This will help them to keep Jesus as Lord of all their lives; help them to live humbly before their Almighty God who they are progressively getting to know; enable them to worship Him to whom they owe everything they are and have; and help them to live holy lives which do not dishonour God, thus enabling them to stay as pure vessels which God can use whenever He needs." Michael Hamilton (mikehamiltoninnz@hotmail.com) Recently I have been inspired by the film "Amazing Grace" and reading the writing of William Wliberforce. People like him, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, and Charles Colson help to make a difference in society, and inspiring and leading others, by knowing and stressing the need for a life of holiness, being empowered and guided by God, and speaking forth Christian truth and values. These people's lives and character emulated the messages they spoke.

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September 05, 2007  4:23pm

What you all say resonates with my soul. I would follow, if I found someone to lead me. In so many ways, as a pastor, I find myself as the point man; leading a bunch of scraggly ragamuffins through a jungle of danger, being imminently afraid of exposure and death, but longing for the trusted guide to appear and lead me back to the king. I come across many "gifted scouts" who are in great positions of leadership but who tend to be more screwed up and lost than I am. The greatest fear of all is that there is no guide. And I will die trying to lead my loved rabble home. Then, they will have to find their own way. But I hear the Kind and Benevolent King is looking for us. That gives me hope and I press on. I would like one of His Older and Trusted Scouts to stand with me. Where are the scouts of the "Order of MacDonald"? Please come and find us. (By the way the "old maps" don't seem to be working anymore.)

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J. W.

September 04, 2007  11:59pm

Answers to: #1. The very notion that one can assume the responsibility of another's spiritual growth is a flawed idea. Each person has a free-will and even God does not usurp our ability to make personal choices. When we place demands on people that God himself does not place, we've tragically missed the mark. True maturity in a biblical sense is when a believer's life and purpose is found in extending the grace, mercy, unconditional love, compassion, servitude and inspiration to those in the world around them; when doing these things takes precedence over material and financial gain, popularity, and lust for power and reputation or the need to control others. Leaders who fit such a description of spiritual maturity will be an inspiration , challenge and example to all, even beyond his congregational sphere of influence. They won't need discipleship courses and programs, they will be too busy serving while the others are helping for such trivial pursuits. #2. Leaders should lead by example. Guidance should come in the form of the inspiration and challenge we glean from those who are already serving others, being the hands and feet of Jesus to those who need Him most. The notion of aspiration toward leadership is something that should take a backseat to true selfless servitude, something that is woefully lacking in most church communities. #3. When people are engaged in true purposeful mission; when they are impassioned by meeting real-world needs of others, building hope for others with little or no hope, instead of building names and kingdoms for themselves, suddenly obedience becomes a moot point. Obedience and submission generally are problems where leadership demands a Sauline model of control over people or where ministry is left in the hands of a few while the rest of the church does little or nothing in terms of valuable work in the Kingdom aside from subsidizing the work of a few. That kind of traditional church model is problematic by its very nature and is destined to create the obedience and submission problems that plague its congregations. Traditional institutionalism is its own worst enemy. #4. While we should honor and respect our parents and elders, we should see ourselves first as children of God, even as Jesus did. My generation of believers placed far-too many expectations and dependence on our leaders. I sometimes think this is why God exposed the folly of so many of them. Our trust and dependence should be in God alone. That is not to say that we shouldn't seek Godly counsel, but decisions must ultimately be between us and God, and true leaders will do well to respect that. Ironically, leaders who do respect that in a person are the ones who earn the respect of their congregations. #5. Yes, it is quite profitable to do so. So is it profitable to take a look at the way Jesus related to his followers. I've witness far too few leaders who model themselves after these examples, sadly.

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September 04, 2007  5:50pm

Your questions have been ones that have nagged me. For me seminary and working with other pastors did what the world could not which was destroy my childlike faith in God. Now the institutions serve a purpose. But I found myself really broken. As a pastor I found myself devoid of worship experiences and experiences of having myself cleansed. The other challenge was seeing other pastors in the order not living christlike lives in some cases to cope for the emptiness they felt. It really begs the question of how the Church forms and nurtures its servants.

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Grant D

September 04, 2007  5:39pm

Sure leadership is about character, character in the leaders and character in the people. I used to think we all knew that but I wonder. I coach my son's (8 yrs) soccer team and have pushed the concept of playing as a team - the person who passes the ball to the one who scores 'scored a goal' too, just as the person who made the desperate tackle saved/scored a goal. By focusing on team and getting the kids passing we have had a great season and all but one child has put the ball in the back of the net. When you are 8 it takes character to pass the ball to someone else when you have a chance of scoring. We got beaten the other day though by a team with two good players who pushed and bulldozed their way through to score. My kids hated the game, there was tension between 'us & them' but they won and their coach and parents were proud. Their focus was balls in nets. It seems to me the church has become like this, the focus is bums on seats, whatever ways work and you can get away with rather than developing disciples. We develop attenders who are more interested in how their needs are being met (scoring goals) than laying down their life for Jesus (playing as a team). Call them churches but don't call them 'the bride of Christ', that is an insult. My focus is developing soccer players and I know I have done a better job than the other guy even though they beat us, my team is developing character and as their skills develop they will become a champion team which will easily beat a team of champions. The church of Christ desperately needs leaders who are prepared to teach and train people to lay down their life for their families, neighbors and beyond. This sort of leadership requires character to put numbers and personal profile aside and focus on those the Lord brings to us rather than those we 'attract'. Good on you Gordon for asking the tough questions, we need 'Fathers' with enough character to tell us how they see it. Keep bringing it on!

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Reese Perkins

September 04, 2007  4:27pm

Yes, better leadership is sorely needed. The biggest problem I have seen at church is people coming to Christ, but then being lost in the shuffle. No leadership to take them to the next step. Today's mantra seems to be: "Get them into small groups". The thinking is that they will grow in small groups and some do, but that is asking a lot of small group leaders who have no training. Also, I believe that most everyone yearns for good leadership. But it is that lack of good leadership that makes us skeptical of leadership in general and creats an independant spirit. Once you have been disappointed by your leaders, it is difficult to become a follower once again. It is a rare leader who really follows Jesus' example of leadership.

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Scott Marshall

September 04, 2007  3:45pm

Matthew: I agree–it's not all on me as the pastor to make sure it happens. But there's a paradox, because isn't leadership about taking people where they wouldn't go on their own? Leadership is hard, I am certainly finding that out...

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Carl Holmes

September 04, 2007  3:22pm

Leadership means humility. Absolute and true humility. With that comes the additional burden of being transparent when you are in leadership. There should be no such thing as a "private sin" in a pastors life. Humility means learning from everyone, teaching those who will be taught and modeling the behaviors that you teach will Glorify God. Especially in this "emergent" generation people are not listenting to what we say as much as watching what we do. That is what will lead a generation. What a leader, anyone really, must do all the time is ask themselves "Is this solo deo gloria?" The rest of the noise and hubub will fall away in the light of the answer to that question.

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September 04, 2007  11:13am

We need to be careful of placing all of the responsibility of a person's development on the leader's back. Leadership is leading those who want to be led. www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org

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