Reccently I attended a conference for Christian leaders preparing for the future. It was well presented, well attended, and impressive. When they asked for my evaluation, I pointed out that the material presented was the same material I had presented years before in speaking to the presidents’ conference of the American Management Association. It was good management and leadership methodology but not spiritual. No one at that conference discussed maintaining the spiritual vitality of the leader, the most important element in Christian leadership.

The new methodology does not depend on the presence of the Holy Spirit but upon research and human leadership. The church is a spiritual organization, not a human one. Human methods work in business but eventually drain the power and effectiveness of a spiritual endeavor. Human methods can grow a church, build an impressive facility, create exciting programs, and develop strong leadership, but not spiritual leadership. If we define the church’s success by human criteria, then human methods work, and work well. However, if the church’s success is measured by new birth, not new members; by maturity, not activity; and by fellowship, not by member entertainment, then scriptural leadership is necessary.

God is as interested in the method as he is in the results. Human methods assume Christian leaders are ranchers, not shepherds. But those called to be shepherds are not equipped by gift or ambition to be ranchers. The danger is that the call will turn into a profession, that the spiritual leader will possess the same motivation, personality, and skills that the corporate executive does. Human leadership is motivated by power, prestige, and money (including perks). The system is set up to provide these, which are not the motivations of a spiritual leader.

Most pastors do not have the ambition, competitiveness, or toughness of most CEOs, and their master is the Lord, not a board of directors or stockholders. I have spent many years in American industry, both as an officer and a board member, as well as serving many years as chairman of several national ministries. The purpose of the corporation and the purpose of the church are very different. The church is not a corporation. The church exists for relationship with God and other believers, not for profit. It is more a living organism than an organization. The members are not employees to be hired and fired based on their efficiency.

Let me define power, prestige, and money as motivation: the power to perpetuate the leader’s control as well as the life of the organization; to institute programs and procedures and see that they succeed, penalizing those who fail; to arrange people by results and reward loyalty; to combine with others in mergers or acquisitions; to influence one’s successor and, ultimately, to control one’s personal destiny. In prestige this type of leader gets recognition, respect-for himself and his organization. This person is catered to, often attaining celebrity status. Prestige gives him social and political inclusion among the elite. He can join the best clubs, be elected to positions of power, honor, and influence. With financial reward he finds security as well as “the good life,” meaning comfort and often luxury, which often rewards such a leader much more than he deserves because he, in reality, controls the system.

Power, prestige, and money appeal to most of us, and to use methods that produce these will continue to be a temptation. I have seen spiritual leaders seduced into leaving their calling and becoming professionals in the American religious industry, which utilizes these same motivations and rewards. Unfortunately, they become ambitious, egotistical, metallic, and remote, only interested in people who advance their agenda. Self-love has taken over. Those promoting this methodology predict dire results for those who stay with “old-fashioned, out-dated” methods. Others predict that only the megachurch will survive-that small churches may not be viable.

 But I think history shows small flocks will always be effective. The church’s basic functions have been and will be the salvation of the lost, the maturing of the saved, and the fellowship that encourages Christian living. This can be done in a small group as well as in a large one. The church still faces, no matter its size, two basic questions: 1) Can Christ be Savior without being Lord? 2) Are members customers or distributors?

 This article was reprinted with permission from The online archive of Fred Smith, Sr.

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