Thursday, September 30, 2010

Visionary Leadership vs. Cult of Personality (updated)

UPDATE: I just ran across the following video presentation on Steve Jobs and Apple Computer. It has a lot to say about the cult of personality verses a culture of vision:

One of the things I struggle with in my own ministry is how proactive to be in my leadership. I've seen (mostly evangelical) churches where the pastor (or, sometimes, the pastor and his wife) are front and center in advertisements and promotional materials, and it is very clear that this is "Pastor X's Church." Among the many difficulties with that is that when the pastor moves on or, God forbid, has some moral failing, that loss has an incredibly huge impact on the congregation, much more so than it might if the pastor were just another staff member. How do you have Pastor X's Church without Pastor X? On the other side, it is quite clear that the pastor of any church has enormous impact in all areas of church life--spiritual, financial, programming, etc... Leadership does matter, and as much as we talk about delegating authority and broadening our leadership base, someone has to be the point person and say "We're going THERE!" Committees don't do that nearly as well as a single individual.

The other issue with a single leader versus a shared leadership model is the cognitive dissonance that people go through. On the one hand, people crave clarity and stability and so are often happy to follow a leader who is self-assured and at least appears to have a good grasp on things. On the other hand, there is a deep distrust in our country of people with any sort of power. We can see it at work in our national politics, with the warnings of people "taking over" or "ramming things through." We seem to be intellectually more comfortable with distributed power and shared leadership, but our hearts know what our brains often forget--there is no substitute for a clear vision and direction and a visionary leader to cast that vision and support it.

As we enter October, the church moves from the rush of the beginning of the program year to thinking about what is variously called stewardship season, the Fall Pledge Drive, or any number of other names. It is a time when we quite literally ask people to buy into a vision, to support it with both their money and their time. The more specific and compelling that vision is, presumably the easier it is to achieve such buy-in. Yet this is not my church, it is God's church and the congregation can do far more collectively than I can do individually. So we are back to the conundrum--do we make the pastor the focus in the interest of having a more focused vision or do we have a more distributed leadership in the interest of sharing power and inviting more participation? Like anything else, it is a delicate dance...

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