Leading and Following: Getting Attention Is NOT Leadership!

So much for writing a blog on leadership every day. No matter…we’ll just start here.

My wife taught middle school when I began as pastor of our first church. Around 2000, she assigned her students to write a paper on the person that they most admired. One of her students, who happened to be a girl in our youth group at church, wrote about Britney Spears.

Needless to say, my wife was a little disappointed with the choice. This girl had great parents, a great family, and great teachers/friends/coaches around her. Yet, she chose the most popular, cutsie, sexually exploited 18 year old on the planet. No matter how many good people surrounded her, she chose the person who was best at simply getting everyone’s attention.

We have far too many Britney Spears in Christian leadership these days. And too many people who are willing to fall for it.

I read a lot of blogs about Christian leadership. Most of them are 50 miles wide and less than knee-deep. It’s the same basic stuff that I’ve been reading since Rick Warren wrote The Purpose-Driven Church. Five purposes…10 things to improve your spiritual life…four ways to make staff meetings better…etc. (One example:  harvestministryteams.com).

It’s not that these suggestions are bad; in fact, I read some of these articles and follow some of the writers on twitter. But it’s nothing unique or original, and these should be prompts to a deeper study of leadership. Yet people just continue to consume the same regurgitated information because it’s easy and it’s popular.

Then we have the likes of Mark Driscoll. He is an conservative, Reformed Calvinist pastor at a megachurch in Seattle. He’s known as “the cussing pastor” because he loves to toss four-letter words and tell dirty jokes from the pulpit (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/magazine/11punk-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). This supposedly makes Driscoll and his church “relevant”.

Other pastors in Mark Driscoll’s “camp” have followed suit, telling people “you suck” or “your stupid,” and dismissing criticism with videos that say “Haters gonna hate.” (Really, we’re going ICE-T on this?).

Then there is the other theological extreme in the Emergent or Progressive Christian movements. While these so-called movements claim to be grassroots, they have a few primary voices. And those voices are not afraid to use bad language (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/02/04/should-we-trust-ray-lewiss-conversion/) or make somewhat outlandish statements (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/01/24/7998/).

This is the Middle School Mentality that seems to overwhelm Christian leadership. One side tends to be the “cool kids” who say and do whatever they can to be popular.

Then we have the “too cool for school” kids, and a number of these are pastors. They’re cool because they have faux-hawks and holes in their jeans and videos on YouTube. And they cuss and tell dirty jokes in their sermons, so they must be awesome.

They even have an entire “cult” devoted to pointing out their faults (http://fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com/ and www.apprisingministries.org) that they are more than happy to unapologetically berate and dismiss as “haters”.


On the other side, we have the kids who decide to dress in black and all get together to show how “different” they really are. Some have abandoned the church in search of true faith (whatever that is). They spend their time at conferences and gatherings and blogging all the time. (Okay, unlike SOME of us, they churn them out every day…but they have all day to blog!)

And they pride themselves on being cutting edge, criticizing the “cool kids”, and making outlandish predictions about the death of that kind of Christianity.

Funny…they seem so different, and yet they practice the exact same kind of leadership. They say whatever they can to get as much publicity and attention as possible.  And just like middle school, those of us in between are lobbying to choose between one or the other.

Let me suggest that we need to change the way that we lead, and the way that we follow.

These guys and girls (only included on the Emergent/Progressive side) may truly believe everything they say, but they put a lot of energy into finding outlandish ways to say it. We need to remember that the ability to get attention does NOT make someone a good leader! 

Just because someone has a big congregation or a lot of followers on twitter does not make them a good leader. Even a dedicated group of followers does not necessarily define someone as a good leader, and we need to stop defining ourselves as leaders based on the amount of love that we get. We need to strive to say things that are worth saying rather than just wrapping meaningless words in a good package.

Some of the best leaders say the least and often go unnoticed. The best leaders promote the greater good rather than promoting themselves. The best leaders may have a limited sphere of influence, but they have a maximum impact on that sphere. If you want to be a solid leader, seek substance instead of headlines.

Work less on your style , and more on your substance. And look for leaders who do the same thing. Otherwise, you might find yourself following the Christian version of Britney Spears.


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