“Christian Leader” Myth #4 – It’s a Business

I’m not sure what it was like being a “leader” in a Christian setting before the 1980’s, since I hadn’t led anything before then. But I clearly remember the 80’s and 90’s being full of teaching on “the business of leadership.” Most of my pastor and ministry friends were constantly reading books by businessmen. “From Good to Great” by Jim Collins or anything by Tom Peters, Jack Welch or other successful business leaders was held in the highest regard by my Christian ministry friends – and, therefore, by me.

Maybe it was needed as a helpful correction to some sloppy business models within the church – very possible. But even the Christian ministry guys who wrote books on leadership all wrote about strategic business planning and other models gleaned from Wall Street, the Silicon Valley or even Hollywood. If “they can do it – then we can/should do it better” was a mantra I often heard. “They” being the secular for-profit world. It seemed like we were feeling insecure about our ability to be as good as “they” were. Our Christian music was cheesy compared to “real bands.” Our church architecture wasn’t state of the art like it was back in the Renaissance, and our weight in the political world had never recovered from Martin Luther’s bashing of the church and state marriage 500 years ago. We seemed to be coming in 2nd in all the major spheres of influence.

I can remember pastors admitting they were reading “business” and “success” books more than the Bible. I think there were years in my life (the 90’s) where that would have been true of me as well.

And…like all partial truths – there were some helpful things that I gleaned from those years. Like:

1. Having a plan.
2. Learning the importance of communicating the plan/vision clearly to my team.
3. Keeping financial things in order.

And, probably many other things. I’m for sure not down on running our ministry and service projects well. Or having our churches in order so that the stated mission of that church is effective. Those things need to happen.

But the myth that I’d bought into was that my “ministry” needed to be run like a business. That it was about the bottom line. In my case the bottom line was something to do with people. So…how was I doing? I remember a big business owner in Denver asking me – “Carl, what’s your bottom line? What do you want to have happen when you’re done?”

Taken aback a little by this direct question I stammered out something like “Uh, well, I guess I’d like to see the whole Middle East transformed by knowing Jesus.” (Which was and is my actual answer, I suppose).

He replied “And so, how you doing with that? How many Middle Eastern people have had their lived ‘transformed by Jesus’ because of you?”

I answered with a relatively (very) small number to which he gruffly retorted “Well then, you should be fired.” And he wasn’t smiling when he said it. And…he was probably correct – if we’re talking business.

That’s the business model of “Christian Leadership.” It counts numbers. Success. More of… Things started – and still going. And while some of this can be helpful some times – it’s mostly unhelpful most of the time.

Otherwise, Jesus wasn’t very successful. Here he was – God in the flesh. The best plan of God to reach humans. And he gathered 12 guys – and one didn’t turn out so well. Maybe he had 72 or even 120 after his 33 year sojourn here on earth. Let’s say it was 120. Imagine – here’s the best man for the job – Jesus himself. Emmanuel – God with us. And he finds 120? Really? That’s it?

Lose your life to save it. Be last to be first. The servant of all in order to lead anyone. Focus on a few. Invite 12, but since that’s a lot, just spend most of your time with 3. Once you’ve been announced to the world and your grand ministry is starting – disappear for 40 days. Spend most of your main three years of ministry taking long walks for hours down dusty paths and then having leisurely dinners reclining at the tables of those of ill-repute. Then die. Then disappear.

Hmmm? Doesn’t sound like much of a business model to me.

I want to be wise, for sure. And thoughtful. And glean what I can from those around me who are good at what they do. For sure! But I mostly want to pattern my life after Jesus of Nazareth. And his Kingdom – his way of doing life. It was so counter-intuitive. I want to be sure I’m not focused on the wrong bottom line. That loving God and loving my neighbors really is the greatest thing I’m doing. And I’ll let God be the judge of my “success.”


  1. tkbeyond says:

    I appreciate this Carl.
    I left SoCal in 1990, and though I came back on periodic furloughs, I was mystified by the state of the church (in general) when I came off the field in late 2005.
    I finally realized that personal, intentional discipleship wasn’t practiced too much, at least in the mainstream churches.
    Why oh why do we think we can improve on how Jesus did things? I don’t know, but we sure try!

    1. ourpragueblog says:

      Hi Carl.

      First-time reader here. Great post and it really made me think.

      Can I suggest that maybe you just need to change your desired outcome? Instead of, “I’d like to see the whole Middle East transformed by knowing Jesus,” you might actually want something more like what Jesus’s legacy at his death resembled. “I’d like to lay the groundwork for a Christian transformation in the Middle East.” And then you would measure that by the tracking specific things you have done to cultivate the area for transformation.

      I am a firm believer in being able to do mission, whether humanist or faith-driven, while providing your donors an accounting of how their gifts are being used. I don’t think those things ever have to be at odds with each other, as long as we have a clear understanding of what we really want to do and what is really achievable. I think you might just be going through a re-evaluation of those two things.

      That’s a beautiful thing. Congratulations on the growth, spiritual and programmatic, that it will surely bring.

      All the best,