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Many pastors today in the U.S. have become discouraged by the past 15 years of popular leadership training in the church (and for very good reasons). Such leaders like John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren have had many great things to write and say about leadership, however, they have failed in many senses to “tell the whole story.”
INTRODUCTION: THREE LEADERSHIP PROBLEMS IN THE CHURCH
First, the church has been given a shallow and inadequate definition of leadership. For example, when the premier church leadership guru John Maxwell writes, “Leadership is influence- nothing more, nothing less.” A pastor has to ask, “Does all influence mean leadership?” If this were true (that leadership is simply “influence”- nothing more and nothing less) than Christians would have to admit that immoral dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong (who were responsible for killing over 100 million people combined) were great leaders because they had great influence!
Second, many Christian leaders cannot clearly differentiate between “good biblical leadership” and “bad personal pragmatism leadership.” For example, Bill Hybels (founding pastor of Willow Creek church and the loudest voice of the “Seeker Movement”) wrote a book titled, Axiom (with the subtitle, Powerful Leadership Proverbs), and never really delved into the life of Jesus, the doctrines of the apostles and their leadership in the church, or even the standards of a disciple set forth in the epistles. Certainly, the book contains many tested and practical things that Bill has learned over the years while being a mega church pastor but he didn’t title the book, Great Leadership Ideas I’ve Learned Throughout the Years, but rather he named the book, Axiom.
The word “axiom” according to Webster’s dictionary is defined as, “an established rule or principle.” Accordingly, how can Bill (a pastoral leader) declare axioms in the area of leadership (intended for the church) without making an in-depth and proper use of the Bible? Once again, the issue is not whether the “proverbs” he listed work, but whether or not they are biblically “established rules and principles” (axioms) in Christian leadership.
Some might think that I am going to far with my point simply based on his book’s title, however, this is exactly what the problem is with this kind of leadership style- it is haphazard and sloppy. The question many pastors are shouting back at this kind of take on Christian leadership is, “Why do popular Christian leaders continually make the mistake of equating biblical Christian leadership with personal pragmatism?” In other words, pragmatism is a philosophy that derives the truth of its principles by their ability to work and accomplish the intended goal or desired outcome. For example, if one were to be a strict pragmatist someone could affirm the use of torture with children because the principle, “tortured children behave better than non-tortured children,” could be proven true in an experiment. God have mercy! This is why leadership (especially Christian leadership in the church), like everything else in life, needs to be grounded in the morality and doctrines of the Bible- not by the personal standards (axioms) of man. King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV), “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
Lastly, Rick Warren, the “go to person” for purpose (author of the The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life), has muddied the waters by confusing the “means of ministry and the church” with the God-given “end of ministry and the church.” The “means” are how we do something; the “end” is why we do something. The means of the church is to make disciples of the nations. The end of the church is to glorify God by loving and worshipping Him forever.
Though it is important for churches and people to grow and be spiritually healthy with God-given purpose, the ultimate end of the church and all people is not “growth,” but rather the “glory of God” (Philippians 2:11). However, Warren wrote, “Every church must eventually decide whether it is going to be structured for control or structured for growth. This is one of the most crucial decisions your church will ever face. For your church to grow, both the pastor and the people must give up control: The people must give up control of the leadership, and the pastor must give up control of the ministry. Otherwise either party can become a bottleneck for growth.” (The Purpose Driven Church, 378).
Both the pastoral leadership and people must give up control of the church to grow… really? Then who is in charge? Warren doesn’t say. We can probably assume that he desires the “purpose driven process” in church to be in control via the Holy Spirit. However, even if Warren was clear that God was to be in control (which he is not in this important section of the book) how does God lead in the church… through angels? Interpretive dance? Dreams? Seriously, the reader is left to wonder what will fill this void of leadership now considered a negative “controlling” influence. Why does “growth” (quantity) have to be pitted against “control” (quality)?
As a result, because Warren has neglected to truly study and teach the Bible’s view on church growth the reader is left with trusting their own man-made process, (which is driven by growth and success under the name of “purpose”) to be the leading influence. In other words, if growing a church through purpose is our means to glorifying God but a church’s leadership never really has control over the process. A church can soon become consumed with their growth process and forget entirely about the glory of God (which has happened countless times within the modern church). That is why the Bible teaches that the apostles appointed elders and deacons (the two main offices of leadership in the church) to insure that God’s people continue to, “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3). God’s leadership in the church through appointed elders and deacons are not considered negative controlling influences but rather Holy Ghost empowered safeguards for discipleship (Matthew 28:20, (“…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”).
Certainly, church leadership must let God be God in the church, but that doesn’t mean handing the reins of the church over to a man made process for growth and saying, “Jesus, take the wheel!” Rather, handing the church over to the Holy Spirit means to do everything in the church (especially the discipleship process) for the glory of God through Jesus’ teachings and commands.
Every church leader must be careful to always oversee the people of God with the leading of the Holy Spirit so the purity and beauty of Christ is preserved in the local church. This is the very reason why Jesus gave the five ministerial gifts to the elders and deacons- so that the Body of Christ would become fully mature with disciples of Christ! Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV), “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This teaching from Paul can only be lived out when the leadership God has placed in the church guards and keeps separate the means (growing the church through discipleship) and the end (bringing glory to God through love and worship).
THE FIRST SOLUTION: A BIBLICAL DEFINITION OF LEADERSHIP
The first solution to the noted problems above is to define leadership from a biblical perspective. As a result, we won’t have to worry about our definition in the church being so shallow that it can be applied to genocidal maniacs. The following is a concise definition for leadership that gives a much more clearer and biblically literate understanding of leadership’s purpose and function, “Leadership is grounded upon loving relationships with God and people that are revealed by the Holy Spirit in serving and equipping others to reflect the image of God within their purpose for the glory of God, through Jesus Christ.”
At this time space does not afford me the chance to fully lay out all the biblical references in this definition (from creation to consummation), so I will simply show this kind of leadership in the life of Jesus, the greatest leadership example (which applies to all areas of leadership- not just in the church). First, Jesus loved God within the context of a healthy relationship. Jesus called God His Father, always obeyed His commands, and taught us to love Him in the same way that He did (Matthew 22:37 & John 14:31). Second, Jesus loved others with the greatest of love- He willing laid down His life on the cross (John 15:13). Jesus used the means of discipleship to build meaningful and transformational relationships with the people around Him (John 13:34). He also made sure to let His disciples know that He not only considered them His servants, but more importantly His friends (John 15:15).
Third, Jesus’ loving relationships with the Father and others was revealed in the way He served others. He served the human race by being our Savior, first and foremost. While on earth He served by healing the sick, casting out demons, feeding the multitudes, and blessing the children (i.e., “meeting our needs”). There is no doubt that Jesus fulfilled His own words when He said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44 NIV). Fourth, Jesus equipped all those around Him by His example and teachings to reflect the image of God within their own God-given purpose. He taught mankind to love God above all else (especially money); to love others as one’s self, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first, to obey all that He taught, and then to teach others (through discipleship) the same things He did by word and deed.
As a result, this kind of definition for leadership (as seen in the life of Jesus) is much more robust and adequate both for church leaders and those who aspire to lead for the glory of God- no matter the vocation.
THE SECOND SOLUTION: A BIBLICAL ASSESMENT AND GRID FOR CHURCH LEADERSHIP
The second solution to the problems noted above is a real and practical way to tell the difference between, “good biblical leadership” and “bad personal pragmatism leadership.” Therefore, I have made an assessment with a grid called, “The Biblical Leadership Grid,” to help today’s leaders to truly examine their leadership style in the church and see if it is more based on godliness and sound doctrine or ungodliness and heresies.
Before looking at the grid it is good to note the following on how to score on both the positive and negative sides (this will also apply to, “The Biblical Success Grid” noted in the next section):
- SCORING THE POSTIVE NUMBERS: The leader can only be given a positive score where everything is accomplished both on and before their highest rating. For example: A leader cannot be scored a “4- Loving Gift Giver” if they are not a “3- Loving Rebuker.” The last place for them would be “2- Loving Corrector” (if they are both a, “1- Loving Encourager” and “2- Loving Corrector”). The reason for this is so that the leader can clearly see the cumulative effect of true biblical leadership. If they are giving gifts but not correcting and rebuking with the Word of God- they have missed the foundation for leadership (2 Timothy 4:1-5). At the same time, if all the leader does is correct and rebuke (with the occasional encouragement) they will not score beyond a “3” even if they do consider themselves laying down their lives for others (“4”) because they lack genuine love (1 Corinthians 13:3).
2. SCORING NEGATIVE NUMBERS: In regards to scoring the negative, simply take the score of the highest mark the leader reaches (even if they do not do all the things beneath it). For example, if a leader is physical harming people they should be scored, “4- Evil Abuser,” even if they are not speaking words of discouragement. Therefore, the grid functions best in this way while scoring the negative outcomes because it shows how the most negative thing in a leader’s life can serve as a indicator of how just how far they are away from God’s image.
Below is, “The Biblical Leadership Grid,” along with the values and their descriptions:
- GODLY (BIBLICAL) ETHICS: How a leader shares the love of God with others based on the commands of the Bible.
- Loving Encourager: One who speaks biblical words of encouragement to another person. Example: “I just wanted to call you up today to share with you how much Jesus loves you!”
- Loving Corrector: One who speaks biblical words of correction to another person for their spiritual well being. Example: “I want to talk with you privately so that I might be able to help you in an area of your life I see a weakness in.”
- Loving Rebuker: One who rebukes (commands people to stop sinning) with biblical words to another person for their spiritual well being. Example: “I have seen you using foul language with your family, God wants you stop doing that today.”
- Loving Gift Giver: One who gives gifts of charity to another for their spiritual well being. Example: “I heard that your wife was laid off of work, my family wanted to give you a gift card to your local grocery store.”
- Loving Sufferer: One who literally suffers for the benefit of others, like in the example of Jesus dying on the cross and Paul suffering physical persecution for the churches. Example: “I will meet with you for the next year to disciple you- no matter the cost to my comfort zone and my schedule.”
- UNGODLY (UNBIBLICAL) ETHICS: How one promotes spiritual death to another person.
- Mean Person: One who speaks words of discouragement to others. Example: “I think you are stupid and will never amount to anything.”
- False Judge: One who speaks false judgments over people. Example: “God will never forgive you because of what you’ve done to me.”
- Immoral: One who is immoral by their action to others- liar, thief, pervert, etc. Example: “I need you in my life to satisfy the sexual needs my wife doesn’t fulfill.”
- Mental Abuser: One who is mentally harming a person through control, manipulation, and threating words. Example: “If you ever leave me God will curse you and let you burn in hell.”
- Physical Abuser: One who physically harms innocent people. Example: “You deserved to be physically punished when you disobey me.”
- DOCTRINAL: How a leader believes in the “Seven Evangelical Fundamentals” (“SF”) and makes disciples to make new disciples (i.e., “fulfilling the Great Commission,” Matthew 28:18-20). The “SF” from the National Association of Evangelical statement of faith are; (1) The Bible is the inspired and only infallible, authoritative Word of God, (2) God exists eternally in three person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, (3) Jesus, God in the flesh, died and rose again physically and then ascended into heaven for the salvation of mankind, (4) Salvation for all people is only through the new birth of the Holy Spirit that Jesus offers by [faith in the gospel], (5) The present day ministry of the Holy Spirit in all believers, (6) The resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation, and (7) The spiritual unity of all believers in Jesus Christ.
- Believer in the Seven Fundamentals (“SF”): Believes the “SF”. Example: “I believe the “SF” are true!”
- Teacher of the “SF”: Teaches clearly the “SF,” both publically and privately. Example: “Today I will be doing a Bible study on the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment of all people.”
- Disciple Maker of the “SF”: Makes disciples that follow the “SF”. Example: “Join me in a weekly discipleship class where I can instruct you on the foundations of our faith.”
- Discipliner of the “SF”: Disciplines and corrects those who do not believe and live by the “SF”. Example: “I’d like to talk to you about your belief in the non-bodily resurrection of Jesus and help steer you back to the truth.”
- Pacticer of Disfellowship: Avoids and cuts off from Christian fellowship those who claim to follow Jesus but deny the “SF”. Example: “I am sorry I cannot have you in our church claiming to be a Christian until you repent from believing and teaching that God is not triune.”
- HERETICAL: How a person denies the faith of the apostles and substitutes it for the teachings of demons.
- Compromiser of the “SF”: A person who doesn’t believe “Christians” should be disfellowshipped in the church for not believing the “SF”. Example: “I’m not going to stop fellowshipping with John just because he believes other religions lead to heaven.”
- Disbeliever in Any of the “SF”: Someone who does not believe in one or more of the “SF”. Example: “I don’t believe Jesus is fully God- I think He is a lesser god.”
- Heretical Teacher Against Any of the “SF”: Someone teaches against the “SF”. Example: “Come to my church (or Bible study) and learn how damnation is not eternal but only temporal.”
- Deceived Disciple Maker Against the “SF”: Someone who teaches and makes new disciples to teach their false beliefs. Example: “Now that I’ve taught you that the Trinity is a pagan doctrine, go and teach your family and friends the same thing.”
- Damnable Divider Against Those who Believe the “SF”: Someone who teaches that if a person believes the “SF”, they are lost. Example: “If you believe in the doctrine of the Trinity you are going to hell.”
Now consider the following four religious figures and their high scores in each area:
- John Wesley (+5/+5, “Loving Disciple Maker”): Wesley suffered in love by giving up of his comforts in life to make disciples and preach across the world. Also, he practiced disfellowshipping in the context of discipleship.
- Charles Taze Russell (+5/-5, “Loving Heretic”): The founder of the Jehovah witnesses seemed to be a nice and godly man who was willing to suffer for the good of the people, however, he believed and taught damnable doctrine.
- Matt Baker (-5/+5 “Evil Disciple Maker”): From what we see it seems Pastor Baker did a decent job at being a Baptist pastor, yet he murdered his wife in 2006 to cover up an affair he was having with a member of his church.
- Jim Jones (-5/-5 “Evil Heretic”): Jones was a horrible leader that both taught damnable doctrine and caused the deaths of hundreds of people in his mind-controlling cult.
This assessment and grid is not meant to be all-inclusive but it is meant to help leaders see themselves in a more clear light. Also, it can help followers to be able to rightly test the leaders in their lives to see if they are truly reflecting the kind of Christ-like leadership that Jesus displayed while on the earth.
Much could be written at another time on how to assess leaders (by the leadership definition given in this project) in the secular world. However, at this time I believed it was best to keep this project focused on church leaders. At the same time, it can be easy demonstrated how one could use my definition of leadership given here to make a new kind of grid to apply to secular leaders.
For example on the top it could say, “Loving God” and to the right it could say, “Loving People.” These would serve as the positive values by which secular leaders would be judged. In other words, how well does any kind of leader (regardless of their position) inspire people to love God and people? For the negative values below “Loving God” it could be “Loving Idols.” These values would refer to things that people put before God like false religion, power, money, fame, etc. Below “Loving People” I could list the numeric values of “Harming People.” This would include creating low self-image in others, manipulation, control, etc.
As a result, it was my desire to give a biblically sound way for leaders in the church to assess and evaluate themselves and those they are following in the context of “Christian Leadership.” Therefore, the goal should be for all leaders to score a +5/+5. Thus, whatever area the leader scores lower than +5 they should make the necessary changes needed to increase and maintain the highest level of successful biblical leadership because John said, “In this world we are like Jesus!” (1 John 4:17)
THE THIRD SOLUTION: A BIBLICAL ASSESSMENT AND GRID FOR CHURCH SUCCESS
The last and final solution to the problems listed in the beginning is to insure our means (growing true disciples) do not overtake our end (bringing glory to God). “The Biblical Leadership Grid” has been made to help leaders know and understand the difference. Once again, since this particular assessment is dealing with the subject of church leadership, likewise, the intended audience is for the “church.” What I mean by church is the organization of the organism of God’s people. Below is the grid and the assessment with their values:
- GROWTH (QUANITY): How effective the church is expressing the love of God by growing each year in disciples through the Great Commission (not attendees on Sundays, but those registered in growth classes, accountability and mentoring).
- 1-10% Increase
- 10-20% Increase
- 30-40% Increase
- 50-100% Increase
- 100% or More Increase
- DECLINE (DYING): Tracking the decline of disciples in the local church. This happens when the church is losing more disciples than it is making on a yearly average.
- 1-10% Decrease
- 10-20% Decrease
- 30-40% Decrease
- 50-60% Decrease
- 60% or Decrease
- BIBLICAL METHODS (QUALITY): How the local church is actually making disciples that make disciples to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission.
- The Church Has a Discipleship Process
- The Discipleship Process Has Moral & Doctrinal Requirements For Discipleship
- The Discipleship Process Teaches Christian Service & Personal Evangelism
- The Discipleship Process Practices Discipline
- The Discipleship Process Successfully Makes New Disciples That Make Disciples
- UNBIBLICAL METHODS (BAD QUALITY): Indictors of how the local church has failed at making disciples and fulfilling the Great Commission.
- Lacking a Discipleship Process
- Does Not Teach Both Christian Service & Personal Evangelism
- Lacking Church Discipline
- No Moral or Doctrinal Standard For Leaders
- Allows Leaders to Remain in Ministry (Choir, Sunday School, Pastor, etc.) While Living in Sin or Doctrinal Error
Now consider what the maxim outcomes would look like in each area:
- The Quantity & Quality Church (+5/+5): This church like the one in the book of Acts is doubling each year while using the biblical methods of discipleship.
- The Growing & Bad Quality Church (+5/-5): This is the kind of church that is growing in Sunday attendees but doesn’t have a biblical method of discipleship to grow the church in a way that glorifies God.
- The Dying & Quality Church (-5/+5): Though it seems hard to believe, it is true that some churches can be full of quality methods of discipleship but because they don’t have a means of growth or heart to accept new believers into their flock they are dying and losing disciples.
- The Dying & Bad Quality Church (-5/-5): This church is both dying and using unbiblical methods.
Hopefully this grid can serve as a real indictor to whether or not a church is making growth its end or simply using growth as a means to the end of bringing God glory. Also, this grid enables a church (like many in the U.S.) to see if their growth is really based on the biblical method of making disciples or simply making attendees. For example if a church is growing by leaps and bounds each year (maybe doubling at over a 100% growth rate) yet they have no discipleship this should serve as a wake up call to grow the church Jesus’ way. Also, if that same church is experiencing explosive growth in Sunday attendance yet their discipleship growth rate is far less, this should serve them as a reminder to prioritize discipleship and not just attendance.
CONCLUSION: THREE CONCLUDING REMARKS
As we have seen from the beginning of this project I addressed three major problems in church leadership in the modern church in the U.S.; (1) A faulty definition of leadership, (2) Personal pragmatism over biblical leadership, and (3) Confusing the means of ministry (making and growing disciples) with the end of ministry (glorifying God). Therefore, I offered a new and more direct definition of leadership that makes it impossible to confuse “bad leaders” with “good leaders.”
Next, I made an assessment with a grid to help leaders to see how effective they are as leaders according to the Bible. “The Biblical Leadership Grid” makes it clear that one must have both godly ethics and sound doctrine to be considered successful in leadership. Lastly, I set forth another assessment with a grid for the purpose of showing how to track true biblical success called, “The Biblical Success Grid.” This grid uses the values in the assessment to show church leaders if they are truly being the kind of church Jesus commanded us to build.
Now with these things in mind I would like to end with three concluding remarks that will prayerfully challenge and encourage the reader: First, be a disciple of Jesus. First and foremost, the best kind of leader in any place in life is going to be the person that is a disciple of Jesus Christ- especially in the church there is no excuse to do otherwise. All Christian leaders must seek to “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus,” (Matthew 16:24). For lost humanity to bring glory to God they must repent and become a follower of Jesus (Philippians 2:11).
Second, be a disciple that makes disciples. One cannot simply be a disciple in theory and cognitive belief only, to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ one must make new disciples both in word and deed. From the very beginning of Jesus’ leadership He made this clear to His disciples, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” (Matthew 4:19). The best leader in the church will be one that is both a fruitful disciple and one that is fruitful in making new disciples. For a disciple to bring glory to God they must follow Jesus and bear fruit! (John 15:16)
Lastly, make a church of disciples that make disciples. For the church to be the kind of church that Jesus said He would build it must be built upon disciples like Peter who know Jesus and make Him known. The way a church brings glory to God is by being a church of disciples that make disciples of the nations! (Matthew 28:18-20)
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- Hybels, Bill. 2008. Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Maxwell, John. 2010. Leadership is Influence: Nothing More, Nothing Less. Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/july-online-only/090905.html (accessed January 8, 2016).
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- Warren, Rick. 1995. The Purpose-Driven Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.