Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The problem of personality-driven leadership

In a post inspired partly by the controversies surrounding Mark Driscoll, Miles Mullin at The Anxious Bench argues that personality-driven leadership is a problem and not just a problem in mega-churches:
.... The reality of charismatic, personality-driven leadership functions at all levels of ministry in American evangelicalism, including the level of the local congregation.  With some exceptions, evangelical laypeople choose a church based upon the pastor. Denomination and doctrine matter to some extent for some people, but the person of the pastor matters most for most people.  Those who prefer an affable, personable leader choose a church with an affable, personal pastor.  Those who like a somber, serious-minded preacher choose one that suits their tastes. ....

This systemic reality functions to empower the people while simultaneously putting them under the persuasive power of a charismatic pastoral leader.  In evangelical churches, such leaders often accumulate significant power over time.  At first, this power comes through their personal charisma and powers of suasion.  However, as the congregation grows numerically, procedural and governance practices that protect the pastor from criticism and critique are implemented.  ....  The growing scope of the ministry “demands” efficiency and these changes provide the pastor freedom to act decisively, leading quickly and efficiently.  At the same time, they exacerbate the problems latent in personality-driven leadership as they create an echo chamber around the pastor, isolate him from the people, and eventually set him up as an untouchable celebrity.

A perfect solution to this challenge does not exist.  More hierarchical structures bring their own problems.  Yet there are steps that can be taken–by rank-and-file evangelicals and their leaders–to help mitigate these challenges.  First, no matter how much they love their charismatic pastor, evangelical laypeople need to insist on the transparency of governing processes and accountability for leaders in their congregations.  Second, local church leaders need adopt a long-term vision that looks beyond their tenure by putting into place structures of accountability that will work to guarantee integrity and accountability in their congregations–even if it means less efficiency for them in the short-term.  This takes an incredible amount of fortitude, patience, and humility.  After all, what charismatic leader wants to spend time on developing processes that slow down the implementation of their vision? And yet, by doing so, His kingdom is best served–even if theirs is not. [more]