In 1955, author and writing consultant, Rudolph Flesch published what would become his most provocative book, Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It. The volume was a critique of the “look-say” method for teaching reading and compared reading education in the US unfavorably to other advanced countries.
In 1976, leadership guru Warren Bennis wrote his attention grabbing, The Unconscious Conspiracy: Why Leaders Can’t Lead.
Estimates from Gary McIntosh, Paul Bordon, Gordon Penfold, Aubrey Malphurs and others agree that about 10 percent of evangelical pastors have the strong leadership skills needed to transition congregations from ineffectiveness to effectiveness, about 70 percent have some skill in this area and are teachable and about 20 percent have minimal leadership effectiveness and are not interested in improving their skills.
So why can’t “Pastor Johnny” lead? The following are suggestive, rather than exhaustive, but should generate some good discussions:
- He’s focused on the fellowship of the flock, not the mission of the flock.
What are churches for anyway?
It goes without saying that churches that fulfill such a mission need strong, action-oriented leadership. But the default lifecycle of human organizations involves devolving into a source of comfortable fellowship.
After studying the reference to fellowship in Philippians 1:5 I concluded that the kind of fantastic fellowship experienced by the Philippian Christians can only be attained by focusing on mission, not by focusing on fellowship. The best fellowship is enjoyed by men and women who are passionately, prayerfully, on mission, together.
- He’s focused on the comfort of the sheep.
Let’s face it: churches (like other organizations) so easily become inward focused because WE are inward focused. “We have turned, every one of us, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:5). It is natural, and wrong, for us to want the pastors of our churches to work as ministers (servants) who serve us.
The easiest way for any pastor to be loved by the sheep is to focus on their comfort. But is being loved by the sheep a worthy goal?
- He’s focused on individuals, not the flock.
One of the quickest ways to ruin the missional effectiveness of any congregation is to put individuals over the health, well-being or effectiveness of the group.
We can’t hold Pastor Bob accountable because he’s the founder of our church. We can’t confront his daughter about her bad behavior because she’s the founder’s daughter. We can’t confront Elder Pete about never actually doing anything because he’s related to half the church. And so it goes. It doesn’t take many unaccountable individuals to make a dysfunctional church.
- He’s addicted to human approval.
It’s not wrong to be addicted to approval if the approval that we are hooked on is God’s alone. See the heart of the Apostle Paul, turned inside out, in I Corinthians 3 and 4: “I don’t care what any man thinks of me.”
Becoming addicted to human approval is deadly and easy. Ultimately, it’s more “worldly” than smoking and drinking and gambling because it brings us the pleasure of human strokes, in this life, at the expense of Jesus’ approval at the judgment seat.
- He wasn’t trained for it.
Christian universities and seminaries are increasingly focusing on the value of leadership. In my day, however, leadership was something you heard about from time to time in chapel, but there were no classes in leadership.
- He wasn’t hired for it.
They want someone to comfort them, to pour oil on their wounds and to encourage them. Those are legitimate desires, but they are best met by teams of lay persons, not the senior or solo pastor, who is desperately needed as a leader, not a chaplain (and it’s very hard to be both).
- He’s confused about servant leadership.
When Jesus taught his disciples about being servant leaders (as in Mark 10:35-45), he wasn’t giving them a ministry description for leadership. He was talking about the heart of leadership, the attitude of the godly leader.
The context of Jesus’ life and ministry makes this clear. Jesus served His disciples by leading them. He was the undisputed shepherd-leader of their little, mobile congregation. There were no votes or congregational meetings. Jesus didn’t apologize for His leadership either.
- He’s not being coached for it.
As pastors, we need help with many things which we do. Older and wiser coaches who have been where we are now are invaluable. In no area is this more true than in our role as leaders. Great pastors find and take advantage of great coaches with whom they can talk and pray through their last moves and their next moves.
- He has a guilty conscience.
Here’s one more reason (did we need another one?) to clean up our lives and get our bad habits and secret sins out of the way. A guilty conscience stifles our prayers as we kneel before God and strangles our confidence as we stand before people.
- He has a false understanding of humility.
Would-be leaders from certain cultural backgrounds are plagued by this one. In my Midwestern, Norwegian Lutheran, rural background, humility – which was seen as the almost all-important virtue – pretty much precluded leadership. Anybody purporting to stand in front of a group and say “follow me to a better place” (the essence of leadership) was seen as having a “big head.”
This, of course, is not what the Bible teaches about humility, but it is deeply imbedded in my psyche to this day. As we’ve seen, the humble Jesus led. So did Moses. So did David. Eventually, the humbled Peter led effectively as well.
- He is haunted by past leadership failures.
Just about anyone who has led successfully has also led unsuccessfully. You know what I’m going to say next: pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, go back to the drawing board, try and try again. Winston Churchill famously said that “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
- He believes that leadership and dependent prayer are incompatible.
More than likely, Pastor Johnny got this idea from a well-meaning speaker or author who said something like the following: “I was deeply into reading and learning about leadership but I was still failing. When I got serious about prayer, God starting using me greatly and I repented of my interest in leadership.”
This is unfortunate. Leadership, for a Christian worker, is a spiritual ministry. That means that it’s powered by prayer. Praying for the success of our leadership doesn’t preclude offering God’s people good, wise, informed, bold leadership.
When God sends revival, somebody starts praying passionately. In His own good time, God responds by sending down, among other things, effective leaders. Good leadership and dependent prayer are not incompatible.
- He believes that his temperament precludes it.
There is some truth to the concept of the “born leader.” Some of us find it much easier to become good leaders than others do.
The solo or senior pastor who doesn’t possess leadership skills can acquire them. The solo or senior pastor who refuses to acquire leadership skills should find a new, and, for him, more fulfilling way, to serve God.
- He thinks it’s not Biblical.
Besides his concerns about humility and prayer, many a Pastor Johnny believes that the Bible’s clear statements entrusting the governance of churches to elders (Acts 20:17ff; I Peter 5:1-4; I Timothy 5:17ff) preclude the possibility of one of these elders serving as the leader of the group.
But there’s nothing incompatible about this. Wise elders know that “groups don’t lead, groups are led” and that churches which become effective are almost always led by capable pastor-leaders.
The team of elders doesn’t need to give up its authority and responsibility to entrust the leadership of the group and the supervision of the church’s ministry leaders and staff to a godly, competent pastor. It can hold unto the reins of authority and hold the pastor strictly accountable for his life and ministry while also allowing him the latitude to lead the board and direct the work.
- He thinks that congregational unanimity is essential.
Unity is important but 100% unanimity is a dream. The truth about human nature is that some people are always going to resist the proposals of their leaders, no matter how worthy they are and no matter how carefully they have been presented.
The pastor who will not present the proposal until he’s sure of a 100% positive response will simply never present the proposal.
So let’s talk about it:
- Are you a Pastor Johnny who has not been able to lead for one or more of the above reasons?
- Which of these is the biggest detriment to your leadership effectiveness?
- Which of these is not really a problem for you?
- What can you do to overcome your leadership challenges?
- Do you have a leadership coach?
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