The Dark Side of the Seeker Sensitive Church Part Three Unbiblical Leadership Principles

Part Two can be read here

Peter Drucker (1909-2005) was the author of over 30 books on leadership and management. He was not an evangelical Christian (Bob Burford, Drucker and Me, Worthy Publishers, Tennessee, 2014, p 150), yet his non-Christian management ideas have helped shape the seeker-sensitive church movement. Bill Hybels has described him as a mentor (Drucker and Me, p 183,Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership, Zondervan, Michigan, 2009, p 171).

In Drucker and Me, Bob Burford writes about the influence of Drucker’s ideas,

“His influence was widespread. By the 1980s, about three-quarters of American companies had adopted a decentralized model that Peter had championed in his 1946 book, Concept of the Corporation.” (Drucker and Me, p 133)

When I think of American corporations in 1980s, I think of Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street saying, “Greed is good.”

As this clip from the 2003 documentary The Corporation explains, corporations have the characteristics of a psychopath.

Applying leadership principles which produce institutional psychopaths to churches – what could possibly go wrong?

Churches and corporations are not the same. The purpose of a corporation is to make money. Some might it hard to believe , but the purpose of a church is not to make money. It is worship God and edify and equip Christians. Nevertheless, the seeker-sensitive church movement assumes they can just take the leadership and management principles of profit-centred corporations and apply them to running churches. They do it in such a way that benefits them. In a secular business the boss or leader pays the salary of the employees. They work for him and must do what he says. In a traditional church the congregation pays the salary of the minister. He works for them. In a seeker-sensitive church the congregation pays the salary of the minister, but they work for him and have to implement his vision.

Jesus said that Christian leadership values and non-Christian leadership values are different, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27)

What God looks for in a leader is not the same as what the secular world does. When  Samuel had to anoint David as the next king, God told him, “Do not look at his appearance or his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as a man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at his heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Those, who God wants as leaders, are not necessarily those who are impressive and successful according to the non-Christian world’s values. God may choose those who are weak and inadequate, so that His grace and strength can work through then and empower them to do what they otherwise could not (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

In an essay “When Leadership and Discipleship Collide” Bill Hybels acknowledges that in the Gospel of Mark he “noticed several occasions when Jesus seems wilfully to violate well-known, widely accepted laws of leadership.”(Bill Hybels, “When Leadership and Discipleship Collide” in Bill Hybels, John Ortberg, Dan Allender, The Call to Lead, Zondervan, Michigan, 2008, p 11) Hybels also acknowledges that there have been occasions in his ministry  that the Christian thing to do was to violate the supposed laws of leadership (The Call to Lead, p 19).

I would have thought that the logical conclusion for Christians here is that if Jesus did it differently, then the so-called laws of leadership must be wrong.

If someone were to say they were the leader of a church, I would think there is something wrong with them and their church is on a slippery slope to becoming a cult. “Leader” is not a Christian term. “Leaders” of evangelical churches are usually called ministers or pastors because their role is to minister to and pastor the congregation, teaching them the Bible. The emphasis is on service to others, rather than leading them.

Nevertheless, in his 1995 book Rediscovering Church Bill Hybels argued in the next seven paragraphs that the church should have leaders who are not the same as teachers to fulfill the traditional role of the minister or pastor,

“Unfortunately, there has been some confusion about leadership in recent Christian history. Local churches generally haven’t been directed by leaders but by teachers and these two species have distinctively different behaviour patterns and areas of emphasis. As a result, a lot of churches are well taught; very few are effectively led.

Please don’t get me wrong. The church needs great teachers. Preaching is the core ministry of the church, and lives will not change without powerful and Spirit-led teaching from the Word of God. Without gifted teachers, we might as well close shop, because they’re critical to fulfilling God’s vision for biblically functioning communities.

And yet there are distinctions in the way teachers and leaders operate. I’m not saying one is better than the other, only that their approach to ministry is different. For instance, when teachers stand in front of people, their chief desire is to accurately and compellingly communicate biblical truth in the hopes of impacting lives. But when leaders have the microphone, there’s another agenda. Usually, they have a purpose, mission, or cause, that they want people to get fired up about.

Over a period of time, teachers tend to attract learners who agree that, yes, the communication and understanding of Scriptural truth are crucial for believers in order to change their lives. Teachers educate and edify, which are both very necessary. Yet leaders inspire and motivate. They tend to pull people into action and involve them in the mission that they’re spearheading.” (Lynne and Bill Hybels, Rediscovering Church, Zondervan, Michigan, 1995, p 149)

“Also, it’s common for teachers to become so immersed in their biblical studies and message preparation that they don’t pick up on subtle kinds of corrective steps that should be taken in the church. programs may be starting to deteriorate, the financial base can be slightly eroding a congregation’s morale could be slowly sagging, but teachers might not quickly discern the need to take prompt action.

But when a person with a leadership gift walks around the church, mental warning buzzers go off all over the place. His or her mind is racing with thoughts like We need to pay more attention to this and We need to resolve that and We need to get his back on track and We’ve got to figure out why we’re still doing this when it’s no longer working and We’ve got to start a new program to accomplish something else.” (Rediscovering Church, p 150)

“Yet for the most part, teachers don’t gravitate towards strategic allocation of resources. While they know this is an integral part of ministry, it generally isn’t an exercise that they’re passionate about. On the other hand, leaders look at the church’s finite pool of resources and enthusiastically envision it  as kingdom capital that can make the difference between a church stalling out or taking the next hill. As a result, teachers and leaders look at the church budget from an entirely different perspective. To a teacher, the budget is sheer drudgery: to a leader, it’s laden with opportunities.” (Rediscovering Church, p 150)

These passages suggest that Bill Hybels does not appreciate the difference between the minister/pastor/teacher and the deacons. In Acts the Jerusalem church appointed deacons who took on the administrative roles so the apostles did not have to  and they could focus on “prayer and ministry of the word” (Acts :1-6). If ministers are going to take on management and leadership  roles, they will have less time to put into pastoral care and sermon preparation. And it shows in many seeker-sensitive churches. The day-to-day administration and management of a church, including its resources and budget, is not the responsibility of the minister/pastor/teacher. There should be other people in the church, the deacons, treasurer and other staff, who take care of all that, so the minister/pastor/teacher can focus on preaching and teaching. If there are people in the church, who believe they are “leaders” and want to manage things and ensure that the church is running smoothly, perhaps they should think of themselves as deacons rather than ministers and let the minister preach and teach, but I suppose being a deacon is not as glamourous as being the leader of seeker-sensitive mega-church.

At my old seeker-sensitive church we did not have leaders walking around the church with their minds racing about identifying and fixing problems.  When my wife tried to talk to the ministers about a problem, they ignored her. She tried to speak to the elders about it. She was told she would not be allowed to the elders because there was no problem. When I tried to discuss another problem about conflict and competition between ministries in the church, I was also told there was no problem. For all the talk about leadership, even hosting the Global Leadership Summit, there was a lack of leadership when it was needed in dealing with problems and managing people. If they want to be leaders, I wish they would lead, rather than just expect people to agree with them

To be continued in Part Four

Author: Malcolm Nicholson

I am a small business owner and I live in northern Tasmania. I am a graduate of the University of Tasmania and I have a Master of Arts in Early Christian and Jewish Studies from Macquarie University. I am a member of the Churches of Christ. I have been a teacher librarian, New Testament Greek teacher, branch president and state policy committee chairman of a political party, university Christian group president. My interests include ancient history, early Christian history, the Holocaust, Bible prophecy, revival, UFOs, peak oil and science fiction.

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