Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hero Boycott

A few years ago I was at a leadership seminar near Denver, Colorado. One of the leaders of the leaders was leading one of the sessions, when he said, "If you're going to lead your people, you've got to model for them. Modeling is so important! They've got to see you doing it before they will do it themselves. They need to copy you, and that's how leaders lead." (Did I use 'lead' enough for you?)

Raising my hand during Q&A, I asked, "If what you, the leader, is most concerned about is that people are watching your leadership style, so you'd better do it right so they can copy you, doesn't that make you very self-centered? And doesn't that simply induce people to copy you, rather than assist them toward transformation? Doesn't that make ministry about copying, rather than about the Spirit's ability to live in us and through us, making of us what He wants? The way I see it, that kind of leadership sets people up to be your groupies, not the people you serve so that they may grow in Christ. It seems to make the whole thing, well, fake; a put-on, rather than who we really are."

If one were to gage the acceptance of my remarks by the look on the leader's face and the discussion which followed, I failed utterly. Except with one youth leader, who shot me a look of, "My God! I agree!" Looking back, I'm not certain my line of reasoning was appropriate for the occasion. I might have been wrong to have brought it up. . .maybe. However, I was becoming weary of hearing how ministry is about copying the most successful, 'duplicatable', user-friendly method available, and about modeling and teaching others to do the same. After all, I reasoned, why would you need to know God for that? Further, wouldn't that cheat those around you from knowing Him, too? Yes, it would.

And it does.

Look, I don't mean to say that we shouldn't have mentors and heroes and leaders we admire and such. But if those leaders induce us to copy their style of ministry or their style of leadership, and that's the sum and substance of what we get from them—choose another. Leaders who tell you and show you how to know God and how to let Him do what He wants with you are the ones we must choose. That's what makes life genuine, and not an external put-on or a show-off. It's all about transformation, not imitation. The former is what God is now doing with you and me; it's what's now most natural and invigorating because it has to do with life—His life, real life for which you were designed.

Anything less is a distraction.

Just below is an excellent article along the same lines as the rant above. I think you'll benefit by the reading.

Leader's Insight: Hero Boycott
Why the big-name celebrity leaders are turning me off.
by Angie Ward, Leadership contributing editor

A few years ago I attended a large ministry conference that included breakout sessions featuring a variety of speakers and "experts" on all things related to ministry and leadership. At one point during the conference, I was waiting in the lobby when one of the speakers (we'll call him Mr. Jensen) walked by, surrounded by at least 25 groupies who hung on this man's every word, nodding their agreement. I actually like this man's writing and philosophy, but was struck by the groupie mentality. A friend who was with me observed, "You know, I like what Jensen says, but God save us from the Jensenites."

Sadly, I've seen that "Jensenites" are becoming the rule rather than the exception. I've heard dozens of pastors speak breathlessly and reverently about their ministerial and spiritual heroes, reading their books and their blogs, listening to their podcasts, following them at conferences, hoping just to get a glimpse of them or to touch their robe so they can receive some magical leadership or teaching power that will result in overwhelming ministry success and their own fame.

It's like comedian Steve Martin said long ago in a standup routine: "Repeat after me: 'I will be different. I will be unique.'"

It's no different today than it was in the first century, when Paul noted in his first letter to the Corinthians that the Christ-followers there were dividing themselves over who they followed. "I follow Paul," said some, while others countered, "I follow Apollos."

Today it's the same story, just a different millennium: "I am of Hybels." "I am of Warren." "I am of Maxwell." "I am of Stanley." "I am of Moore." "I am of Groeschel." "I am of McLaren." "I am of Driscoll."

Others play the same game, but go back a few centuries, as if attaching yourself to an older (or dead) personality is somehow more spiritual: "I am of Calvin." "I am of Arminius." "I am of Augustine." Or impress others with their intellect: "I am of Irenaeus." "I am of Tertullian." "I am of Clement of Rome."

"Stop it!" Paul says, in essence, in 1 Corinthians 3:5. "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task."

I have nothing against any of the leaders I mentioned above. They are doing what God has called and gifted and assigned them to do, and they have all made a significant impact for the Kingdom. Many of them are worthy mentors and models. But they are also just servants, just like each of us who follows Christ. My problem is not with the celebrities, but with the groupies who have made them such.

These groupies try to become clones of their heroes, instead of becoming who God has made them and ministering in a uniquely personal way that no celebrity could ever attain. Instead of claiming their standing in Christ and asking what He wants of their leadership in their unique situation, they settle for a trinkety-bracelet approach to ministry: "What Would Hybels Do?"

I have a friend who goes to an Anglican church because, as she put it, "I kinda like the personality taken out of my church experience." What a contrast to the celebrity mindset so prevalent in our culture.

Believe it or not, ministry celebrities do not hold mystical powers or keys to success. All of them stumbled repeatedly in their journeys, and continue to struggle with the temptations common to every man and woman, except that now, they also have to deal with the trappings of celebrity and cult followings. Each was assigned by God to till the soil in one corner of the Kingdom and faithfully invest the talents entrusted to him or her. Are we doing the same? Or are we so busy mining tips for success in the latest book by our favorite author that we ignore our own calling?

Who do you follow? Is it Paul, or Apollos, or some other megachurch pastor or missional prophet? This may come as a surprise, but I believe that it is actually much easier to imitate your hero than to be yourself: to claim your own identity and calling; to wrestle with your own brokenness; and to struggle minute-by-minute with God to figure out what is the best way to lead in your context.

For just one season, forget the celebrities. Get in touch with God's unique design for your life and ministry. In the words of Fernando Ortega and Anne Graham Lotz: "Just give me Jesus."

Angie Ward is a church leader, ministry coach, forward thinker, ministry spouse, and follower of Jesus living and serving in Durham, North Carolina.


  1. Anonymous2:28 PM

    Terrific post! Thanks!

  2. I am happy to provide it. . .and thank you.