the shape of leadership

How to Use Business Models of Leadership Biblically

Marketplace advice and ministry application

Darnell K Williams on August 24, 2020

Spiritual leaders sometimes wonder what to do with secular leadership books like Good to Great by Jim Collins, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, or The Practice of Management by Peter F. Drucker. As ministers, we want to grow our capacity and enhance our skills. But we also know the priorities and perspectives of the Church are distinct from those of corporations.

These tensions often lead to conflicts. It’s easy to write off as unspiritual issues like organizational effectiveness, team collaboration, strategic planning, and staff coaching. This seems like the territory of CEOs, executives, and business school thinkers.

Nevertheless, spiritual leaders face a subtle frustration. Ministerial education does a great job of preparing students for preaching, but sometimes leaves them ill-equipped for administrative, managerial and visionary roles.

Ministers may seek out the trusted spiritual voices of such authors as John Maxwell and Sam Chand, leaders who have seemingly bridged the void between the sacred calling and secular responsibility. Yet there can also be wisdom in secular leadership material.

The question is, how can ministers strike the right balance of gleaning valuable insight from the corporate world while staying focused on a Kingdom vision?

Here are three best practices:

Seek Truth

Look for points of convergence, where the secular resource aligns with biblical truth. For instance, in Managing the Nonprofit Organization, Drucker notes that relying solely on charismatic influence while neglecting character development hurts leaders and their followers.

This is clearly a scriptural principle. While Drucker brings the what to the surface for all leaders, the spiritual leader knows the how is in God’s Word and the work of the Spirit.

Look for points of convergence, where the secular resource aligns with biblical truth.

Use Discernment

In Good to Great, Collins famously advises getting “the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

As the leader of a spiritual community, I’m not sure how this works. Do we have some subjective litmus test to determine who we will and will not welcome? Does this apply to staffing hires? What about volunteers? Is it OK for us to create a culture where someone who needs to grow and develop has margin to fail?

As Karl Vaters noted in Small Church Essentials, “There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ people, just our people, our resources, our options, and our bus.”

It takes discernment to see what is applicable to our unique context and what is not.

Practice Vulnerability

The Church is God’s primary means of reaching people with the good news. Each local church has missional objectives and a Kingdom purpose. Each church is also an organization — with a distinct culture, dynamics, systems, structures and realities.

As leaders, we can develop blind spots to things that are hindering our organization or feeding unhealthy elements within it. In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni identifies the first dysfunction as the absence of trust. He explains that when team members don’t trust one another, dysfunction grows.

It’s easy to assume all is well with the team we lead. But Lencioni advises assuming your team is dysfunctional until proven otherwise.

Being vulnerable enough to entertain the notion that there is room for improvement is often the first step toward creating a culture that recognizes and overcomes dysfunction.

While we certainly can find wisdom in secular books, it’s important to remember the Bible is the greatest volume on leadership ever written.

Recently, while scrolling through Twitter, I observed an exchange between Marcus Lemonis and a follower. The follower asked Lemonis, CEO of Camping World and host of the reality television show The Profit, to recommend a great book on business building and leadership.

Lemonis responded, “The Bible.”

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