I recently learned a great deal about leading a church from someone who has never led one.
Jack Welch, the salty former CEO of GE, sat down for an interview with Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, for the 2010 Leadership Summit and served up more truth and wisdom in 30 minutes than most seminary classes give over a semester.
Some of you just had an aneurism.
Hang with me, even if you're on life-support.
There is a deep-seated feeling among some that embracing technology, innovation and best business practices are inherently wrong - and even dangerous - for the church.
"The church isn't a business" is a common refrain, and the line "Pastor as CEO" is a label of derision. The prevailing idea is that the church is an altogether different kind of thing than a business, with different values, structure and mission. Even further, that borrowing anything from the corporate world is inherently compromising.
Some of that is fair. The church isn't a business. It has a business side to it, but it's not a business. And the pastor is not merely a CEO. There are CEOish duties and responsibilities which increase with a church's size, but that is only one slice of their role. And there are certain practices which, if borrowed from the corporate world, would without a doubt be compromising.
But when we say such things, are we saying that we can't learn anything from outside of the cloistered halls of a seminary for our efforts? Are we saying that Jack Welch, one of the great business leaders of our time, has nothing to offer us as we attempt to lead? Or that an academic thinker as incisive as Jim Collins, or an athletic team leader as successful as Tony Dungy, are irrelevant to the tasks of church leadership? Are we saying that we can't borrow anything from other organizational worlds where leadership, management, technology and innovation are being manifest?
I would hope not.
To say that the selective, discretionary use of best practices from the business world automatically undermines our integrity as a church simply because they come from the business world is easily suggested, but not easily demonstrated.
I'll go further.
All truth is God's truth, which means it's truth wherever it's found. We know that when it comes to philosophy, theology and the arts. It's also true when it comes to organizational leadership.
So bring it on, Jack.
Most pastors are biblically and theologically grounded enough to think as critically about what you and others have to say as they are a movie, novel, television show or website. Most can determine what is and isn't appropriate to the church setting, and what is and is not reflective of biblical values.
If anything, our problem is that we haven't been listening to what's out there enough.
James Emery White
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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