Years ago I heard Bill Hybels speak on Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power.” The occasion was the Sunday Morning service at the end of a pastor’s conference. Pastor Hybel’s words rang true then and now for ALL ministry leaders.
Bill Hybels on “Leading a Church”
I believe that the church is the most leadership intensive enterprise in society. And, this is not obvious to the casual observer. I have a friend who runs a company with about 3000 employees, and he says when he settles down after an early retirement, he’d like to lead a church. He says it doesn’t have to be a great big Willow Creek style church, just 5000-6000 to keep him from getting bored. And, I tell him that he’s in for the shock of his life. I tell him this is going to ruin his retirement years, because I think the church demands a much higher and more complex form of leadership than business does.
Now, running a business is challenging, but the leader of a company has a fairly obviously defined playing field and enormous leverage with his employees. He delivers his product or his service to paid staff who get it done, or they just get replaced by someone else who will. But, the church doesn’t operate that way. It can’t, and it shouldn’t.
How many of you have read books about the phenomenal leadership exploits of military commanders? I’ve read stories about Napoleon and De Gaulle and Eisenhower and MacArthur and Patton, and I don’t want to minimize their capabilities or their courage, but I wonder as I read these stories what it would be like for some of these leaders to work with deacons before they charge up a hill. I wonder how these leaders would act if they had to subject their plans to a vote involving the very people they have to lead into battle. Or, the topper, I wonder how the whole system would work if you took away the leadership leverage of the court-martial.
Even I could build a church if I had that kind of leverage. “Teach Sunday School, or go to the brig.” And, the offering plate goes by, and you check and you say, “You call that an offering? You drop down and give me 50.” I mean, that’s leverage, isn’t it? I don’t have that kind of leverage. You don’t have that kind of leverage.
As I walk around my campus, nobody salutes me. They do gestures once in a while, but I guarantee you, it’s not a salute. I’m telling you, leadership in business and leadership in the military is challenging, but it’s different and it’s less complex. It’s easier doing that than it is leading a church.
1. The church is utterly voluntary. In the final analysis, we have virtually no real power over anyone. I mean, we have to cast out the Gospel message and hope and pray that people will respond to it. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they who labor will labor in vain.” And, unless people voluntarily jump on-board at our church, spiritually motivated and willing to follow the vision and the mission and the purpose of our church, we have no power to get them to do it otherwise. So, the church is utterly voluntary. It’s much harder to lead a voluntary organization than it is one with just paid staff.
2. Second, the church is utterly altruistic. It took me a long time to figure this out. When you lead a business, you can hire a bright, energetic, young employee – you can seek to hire one – and you can say, “Now, here’s the deal. Here’s our vision. This will be your part in it. Here’s your salary, your perks, your car, your phone, your fax, your computer, your secretary, your office, your vacation plan. If you work real hard, in five years we’ll make you a partner. We’ll give you some profit-sharing. You’ll make lots of money, and lots of perks; you’ll have more time off. And, when we sell this company fifteen or twenty years from now, we’ll all walk away transcendentally wealthy. Are you interested? Who wouldn’t be? What’s not to like?
What do we get to tell perspective church members? Well, we start by saying, “You’re a depraved, degenerated sinner who is in trouble for all eternity, unless you get squared away with Jesus Christ.” And, we call that the good news. And, then, we say, “If and when you get squared away with Jesus Christ, then we’re going to ask you to commit five or six hours a week to service, two or three additional hours a week for training and discipleship. We’re going to ask you to join a small group where your character flaws are going to get exposed and chiseled away at mercilessly. We’re going to ask you to come under the authority of elders, give a minimum of 10% of all your earnings. You get no special parking place, no special privileges, no voting rights, no vacation benefits, and no retirement program. But, trust us, God will make sure it all comes out in the end in eternity. Form a line.”
Can you see the difference here? People can. I’m overstating the case a bit to make the point. But, sometimes, we just have to come to terms with what we’re really up against when we’re trying to lead and grow and build churches. It’s hard. Sometimes people in business in our churches will give us free advice on how we should be doing it right.
How we need to just “get a grip” and all of these kinds of things. And, with no malice in my heart, sometimes I just say to folks in business in my church, “Friends, it’s not that easy. This is a voluntary organization. This is a church. People must be motivated altruistically. There’s no leverage. It’s different from business.” I really believe that local church work demands a higher and more complex form of leadership than any other enterprise in society.
And, just a little P.S. here: Most of us who are leading churches can’t even devote full-time effort to doing so, because along with leading our churches, we’re expected to give one or two slam-dunk messages every week and a few marriages and funerals and baby dedications on the side. And, so, we can’t even devote our full efforts to it. It’s hard, friends. And, sometimes, if you find church leadership hard, just back off and exhale and say, “Maybe it feels hard because, as a matter of fact, it is hard.” And, maybe you can just kind of relax in that for a time.
Copyright Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.