The Seductions of Leadership

The church needs leaders. The church needs good leaders. The church needs leaders who will make other leaders. Smarter people than me have written a lot (a lot) about that reality, so I don’t presume to have anything to add to the conversation. But because leadership in the church is so important, it might be a good idea to think for a moment about its shadow side, about the ways in which in which it can go wrong. Now here I just might have something to say, because my branch of the Christian family tree believes in sin more than it does God—which means that from a tender age I’ve been taught to think about the ways humans can mess up. The list of ways that church leadership can mess up is long, but let’s look at just three of them.

The first relates to what I’ll call movement-based leadership. Movements happen when an extraordinary need or opportunity arises, and people are drawn together, usually quite quickly, to respond to it. Sometimes the movement doesn’t need or want a single leader, but more often an individual serves as the starting point or eventual focal point of the movement’s energies. That person almost always possesses a charismatic personality, and the members are drawn to that personality at least as much as to the issues or insights the leader articulates.

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