What’s in a Word?: the problem with “Leadership Development.”

I’ve been in the market for a ministry job I have had lots of opportunities to read job descriptions from various churches. Curiously the language of discipleship has all but disappeared from many of the pastoral jobs. Instead, churches talk a lot about ‘leadership development.’ If these were the same thing then there is no harm in new nomenclature. But while ‘leadership development’ and ‘discipleship,’ may look similar they operate from very different conceptual frameworks.

Before you dismiss this as your typical Gen-X Christian rant against leader-driven seeker-sensitive church (why can’t I be nice like kids these days?) let me just say I have read my fair share of leadership literature, listened to talks, gone to workshops and have taken copious notes of ‘leadership’ presentations. I believe in leadership and I certainly want leaders to develop. Personally, I will continue to read and look for ways to develop my own leadership and if you are a leader, I hope you do too.

But the problem with leadership development, is if that’s all you got, you are elitist. When we talk about discipleship, we are talking about followers being formed in the way of the Master. We are helping people follow Jesus with their whole lives. Discipleship is walking with people through their lives and it can look very ordinary and mundane. It also is where the hard work of life transformation happens. Discipleship describes the process of helping people grow in character and in faith in Jesus.

Conversely, when you talk about leadership development our fundamental aim is to help people become better masters not better followers. When we emphasize leadership, we help people be better managers, shrewd and effective. We teach them ‘best practices’ and bottom lines. We challenge people to take entrepreneurial risks and expand their influence.

Everybody wants to lead and no one wants to follow, so discipleship has fallen on hard times. It has none of the glitz of ‘leadership development’ which promises that if you master a set of skills and increase your aptitude you can impact larger groups of people and organizations.

At best, leadership development is a part of discipleship. Clearly we want disciples who will lead others into more of what Jesus has for them. The problem is that leadership has become the whole enchilada. But the problem isn’t just that we lost the language of discipleship, we were confused about discipleship even before our leadership fetish. The discipleship machine which shaped me as a young Christian, told me I should invest in ‘discipling’ (not an actual verb) those that were FAT: Faithful, Available, Teachable (not sure of the origin of this acronym because it is fairly widespead. I know I’ve read it in something Howard Hendricks wrote, but I’m not sure if it’s original to him). Makes sense right? Invest in those who offer you the biggest pay off. Isn’t that what Jesus did?

No. Jesus didn’t do that. He did the exact opposite:

  • The disciples were unfaithful. When adversity came they were scattered like sheep without a shepherd. At Jesus’ arrest the disciples turned and ran.
  • The disciples were unavailable. Jesus did not go pick up some day labors who were waiting for something to come their way. He told a group of fishermen to leave their nets and follow him. He told Levi the tax collector to follow him as he sat at his desk. He took an otherwise engaged group of guys and had them leave their life behind.
  • The disciples were unteachable. Can anyone seriously argue that these guys were teachable? They were arrogant, proud, obstinate and they just didn’t get it. Think of the number of times that Jesus has to drill the idea of humility or service into these guys. They did not learn well or easily.

If the disciples could ever be described as Faithful, Available and Teachable it was because the Master helped them cultivate those virtues in them (with a good dose of the Holy Spirit’s work!).

And it is the same with me. Long before I was a developing leader, or an elite disciple, I was unfaithful, unavailable and unteachable. That I am actively pursuing God’s call on my life today is because people invested in me when I didn’t merit or deserve it. I thought I knew everything, and was pretty resistant to people’s attempts to help me grow in Christ. Lucky for me I had a few friends and key mentors who invested in me before I was leadership material. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.

The kind of discipleship which turns lives around is what are churches need, not just bigger and better leaders.

Sometimes Church Don’t Feel Like it Should: Book Review and Book Giveaway!!!

If you are part of a church (and you should be), sooner or later you are bound to experience a ‘church hurt.’ Everyday wounded people leave the church never to return because of their woundedness and others’ jerk-face jerkiness. Trust me, I know. I have struggled to not be bitter at big-ego-pastors, manipulative back-stabbers, gossips and dismissive deacons. All too common and par for the course for many churches. I could tell you stories, my own and friend’s stories, about how churches discriminate, dehumanize and destroy people. Clearly there are major problems.

In Stephen Mansfield’s interesting book, he quite intentionally doesn’t address any of the problems we find in church. You could read this book and the circumstances at the First Church of Senior Pastor Overcompensating may actually not change at all. Mansfield’s purpose is a little more basic: he wants to help you heal and fix what you can inside of you, so you could rejoin the fold of God’s people. From his own experience of church hurt and that of others he interviewed, he discovered:

No matter how petty the cause is, every religiously wounded soul I encountered was in danger of a tainted life of smallness and pain, of missed destinies, and the bitter downward spiral. And every soul I encountered had the power to be free, for each of them, no matter how legitmately, was clenching the very offense or rage or self-pity or vision of vengance that was making life a microcosm of hell (10).

So he wrote this book to help people move past their wounds, their pain and anger, their church hurt, to a place of healing, forgiveness and freedom.

Mansfield examines examples of betrayal and hurt from church history, the Bible and his own experience and reflects on how to manage betrayal and wounds without letting it poison your personal and ecclesial life. He offers helpful advice, provides questions to help people sort through how they are handling their wounds, and help them learn from the experience and he attends to possible spiritual dynamics and directs people on how to re-engage the church after experiencing wounds (possibly a different church, but not necessarily).

I wouldn’t say that this is the most insightful book, but I really appreciate Mansfield’s focus on helping people move on and not let their ‘church hurts’ keep them from giving and receive love in the body of Christ. Certainly at different points in my own journey, a guide like this could have been helpful and may have guided me through some difficult circumstances.

Sounds Great James! How Can I Get This Book for Free?

So glad you asked that. As it so happens, I have a voucher for a free book which you can redeem from your local bookstore or directly from Tyndale. I will happily mail this to one of you. In order to get your free copy, please comment below (you have to provide a valid email address so I can contact you, but that won’t post publicly). As I am free to arbitrarily pick the winner, tell me a little bit about why a book like this would be helpful to you.

Regardless if you win this book, my hope is that you will find a way to navigate past your hurts and re-engage in church, feeling the joy of fellowship.

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me (and maybe you) with a copy of this book for the purpose of this review/giveaway.