Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good to Great to Godly

Quotes from Article in Christianity Today by Mike Bonem
April 2010

[Jim] Collins discovered that strategic direction was less important than having the right leadership team. If you have the right people, they will help define the future direction of the organization. If they’re in the wrong positions but have great potential and fit well, you can move them to a “different seat on the bus.” But when someone is wrong for the organization, whether due to personality clashes or lack of ability, hanging onto that person can drag the entire enterprise down. Collins concluded that we should focus on senior staff as a top priority.

I know the tendency of many churches to make excuses rather than confront underperforming staff members. I remember thinking, Wouldn’t the church be much more effective for the Kingdom if we got the wrong people off the bus?

Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: “We don’t need technicians and church programmers; we need God. He is not looking for smart people, because he’s the smart one. All he wants are people simple enough to trust him.

Apply constituency thinking to a church, however, and your head starts to spin. In business, the three groups are mostly separate and distinct. In a church, a single person or family can be customer, employee, AND shareholder. You may not relate to these terms, but change the language to members, volunteer workers, and contributors, and the overlap becomes obvious.

Lines blur in ministry, such as whether to focus on those currently in the church or those who have not yet been reached. The priorities and emphases that fit one group my not fit the other. Of course, businesses must try to attract new customers while retaining existing ones. But in the corporate world, a cost-benefit analysis determines whether the expected profits justify entering a new market….In the church, the “bottom line” is life transformation, which defies simple cost-benefit analysis…So we wrestle with priorities and resource allocation, trying to make the right choices as we pursue a goal that is sometimes vague and elusive. What kind of leadership is needed to move from blurriness to clarity, from seeing through simple business lenses to seeing more as God sees?

…there is Jim Collin’s theory that “legislative leadership” is most appropriate in the non-profit arena. In contrast with “executive leadership,” he says that “legislative leadership relies more upon persuasion, political currency, and shared interests to create the conditions for the right decisions to happen.” Is effective congregational leadership limited to this legislative style? Collins goes on to hypothesize that “more likely, there will be a spectrum, and the most effect leaders will show a blend of both executive and legislative skills.” My experience is that church leaders—senior pastors, other staff, and laity—need a style that transcends both of these, a leadership approach that is spiritual and situational (sometimes legislative, sometimes executive) … the “best practices” from business have much to offer regarding decision making, but they omit the greatest asset available to congregational leaders—the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Jim Collins’ monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors has an interesting line before the title: “Why Business Thinking Is Not The Answer.” Is Collins right? Yes and no. It’s clear that the unfiltered, wholesale adoption of best practices from business is not the answer. The church is not a business, and if we run it like one, God might end up as just one of the constituents to be considered, not the One for whom the whole thing exists. And while it is not a business, we’re foolish if we ignore the reality that a church has many characteristics that can be made better with organizational wisdom. We can’t read Jesus’ parable about counting the cost before building a tower (Luke 14:29-30) without hearing the down-to-earth decisions to be made. Or see Jethro advising Moses to appoint officials to share the leadership burden (Exodus 18), and not recognize the need for a sustainable organizational model. Then there are the lists of qualifications for deacons and elders (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1), which clearly show that it’s important to have “the right people on the bus,” leading our churches.

Business thinking is not the answer, but it is part of the answer. For me, the most important lesson…of my leadership journey has been discovering the other part of the answer. Or perhaps I should say it’s been acknowledging that the biggest part of the answer is beyond me.

Too much reliance on business practices can mean too little reliance on God. I’ve learned to savor the moments when God gives a profound insight, and I’m much more willing to give credit to the Source when this happens. I’ve gradually become more comfortable saying, “I don’t know the answer” and slowing down so that I can wait and listen.