The Church Doesn’t Need Any More Leaders

Depending on who’s providing the definition, a leader is…

– “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country“;
– “a person who leads“;
– “the person who convinces other people to follow“; or
something more complicated.

Here’s something a leader is not: a description of your true mission in life.

I apologize if you are a head of state, a cult leader, or a tyrannical CEO surrounded by a spectacularly competent staff–in that case, being a leader actually is your job description, at least for now. I’m talking to the rest of you, who might lead in various ways but who were not put on this earth simply to lead. Being a leader is not the only–or even the primary–reason you are here.

Now, leadership is important. I take it seriously, and I appreciate good leadership skills when I see them–particularly when I sit under them. I consider myself a person with leadership skills, and I enjoy using them. Bottom line, anytime an organization of human beings wants to get anything done, leadership must emerge or the whole thing will sputter and come to nothing.

But in our cultural obsession with leadership, things have gotten out of hand. People who don’t feel like leaders feel unimportant. Organizations push people into leadership roles they aren’t well suited for; narcissists build their personal kingdoms on sand (with land mines underneath); leaders become so enamored with their own visions of success, they overlook the people they’re supposed to be leading.

Leadership doesn’t stand on its own as a sole pursuit. After all, if leading is all you do, you lose your credibility to lead. If your life and your work are all about getting other people to follow you, you won’t lead them anywhere they couldn’t have gone without you. If your ambition is simply to lead, at some point you will become the kind of person many people would rather not follow.

There’s a difference between a healthy, humble leader and a self-serving LEADER who leads for the sake of being in charge or achieving popularity. Being a leader means wielding influence to effect action or change. Being a LEADER means finding and building your identity in being followed. And being a LEADER is not a healthy preoccupation.

This is a problem throughout our society, but I find it particularly troubling in our churches. While many people in church ministry simply recognize they are in leadership roles and try to develop skills that will enhance their effectiveness for the sake of their calling, we have too many who have become convinced that LEADING other people (somewhere, anywhere!) is their calling, their one and only job. They are focused on building their empires, to the neglect of what people most need from them. They’re hurting people and building hollow legacies that will crumble when they’re gone.

Leading is healthiest and most effective when balanced with other ambitions: doing, serving, caring, listening, growing, changing, confessing, repenting, learning, making sacrifices. Oh, and following. The best leadership is intentional yet incidental; it’s a complement to a person’s primary calling. Self-focused LEADERSHIP builds pedestals and walls that keep unwanted people away. Healthy leadership includes meaningful and personal interaction with others, including the most needy, the least attractive, the people who disagree, and the ones who will not help build your personal brand. God’s ancient prophets proclaimed his message regardless of how many listened–or followed. Nehemiah worked alongside the rest of the people who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem. Even Moses spent decades as a shepherd and trudged through the desert with everybody else. Too many pastors have bought into the ego-stroking idea that they are here to LEAD, losing sight of the much harder tasks of doing ministry among people.

Frankly, when people really need pastors to do what they are truly called to do, glittering visions, personal charisma, and snazzy LEADERSHIP skills are largely irrelevant. People don’t look to CEOs or celebrities for help and hope when they’re hurting. The church doesn’t need any more LEADERS in our pulpits. We need pastors. We don’t need more people who want followers; we need shepherds who follow Christ. We don’t need more people who are listening to the latest hot voices on LEADERSHIP trends; we need people who listen to their congregations and to the voice of the Holy Spirit with quiet souls.

Pastors, you are leaders. By all means, become better ones. But LEADING is not your job. You are here to serve a kingdom of priests who are not here to follow you. And please recognize that your best shot at developing leadership effectiveness is not in attending the next trendy leadership training seminar. It is in developing the part of you that doesn’t care how many followers you have.

© 2016 Amy Simpson.