Daniel Darling Christian Blog and Commentary

Killing the Jerk Gene in Leadership

  • Daniel Darling
    Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). For five years, Dan served as Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is the author of several books, including Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, and his latest, Activist Faith. He is a weekly contributor to Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Journal. His work has been featured in evangelical publications such as Relevant Magazine, Homelife, Focus on the Family, Marriage Partnership, In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley. He has guest-posted on leading blogs such as Michael Hyatt, The Gospel Coalition, OnFaith (Washington Post), and others. He is a contributing writer for many publications including Stand Firm, Enrichment Journal and others. Dan’s op-eds have appeared in Washington Posts’ On Faith, CNN.com's Belief Blog, and other newspapers and opinion sites. He is a featured blogger for Crosswalk.com, Churchleaders.com and Believe.com, Covenant Eyes, G92, and others. Publisher's Weekly called his writing style "substantive and punchy." Dan is a sought-after speaker and has been interviewed on TV and radio outlets across the country, including CNN, 100 Huntley Street, Moody Broadcasting Network, Harvest Television, The Sandy Rios Show, American Family Radio, the Salem Radio Network, and a host of other local and national Christian media. He holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College and is pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He and his wife Angela have four children and reside in the Nashville area. Daniel is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Literary Agency
  • 2012 Jun 19
  • Comments


In a defense of polarizing NBA superstar Lebron James, sportswriter Rick Reilly wrote this: 

You think of the great athletes of our generation -- Jordan, Woods, Lance Armstrong. They all had a bit of the jerk gene in them. James is missing it. He is loved by his teammates, not feared. So sue.

I'm not a big fan of Lebron James or the Miami Heat (if you've read my Twitter feed, you'll most certainly know this). I'm a Bulls fan that who feels it is a moral imperative for the Miami Heat to continually lose. That heavy bias aside, Reilly's piece was spot-on. Lebron is hated by sports fans, in many ways, because he's not a jerk like Michael or Woods or others. He's not cutthroat. 

The question is this: must you have a "jerk gene" to be a great leader? I've heard this conversation, not simply about athletes, but leaders of all stripes, including pastors. I've heard it said that this trait is indispensable for a successful coach or CEO or pastor. 

But I beg to differ. Not only do I think a "jerk gene" is unnecessary. I think it's unhealthy, and as I read more of what Jesus and Paul and James and Peter say about leadership, unbiblical. Sadly, there are certain circles in Christian leadership that highly prize the jerk gene. Of course it's not phrased this way. We speak of "toughness" or "willingness to take a stand." Often what we mean, however, is an authoritarian, "my way or the highway" style of leadership. I've been in pastoral gatherings where pastors traded war stories of the people they "told off, " one-upping each other on the various ways they used the Bible to deliver a creative and sarcastic comeback to some ignorant parishioner. Thankfully none of these men were my models. 

To be sure, there is a place in Christian leadership for strength, for rebuke, for confrontation, for resolve. To lead well takes courage. But if you read every passage about Christian leadership in the Bible, you will inevitably find words like "gentleness, servanthood, kindness." You will find warnings against things like "brawling, contention, division." You will hear Jesus say that the world prizes authoritarian leadership, but the Kingdom model is something different (Matthew 20:25-28). 

I have heard pastors or their fans excuse their out of control behavior by saying things like, "Well, all great leaders act this way." And to an extent they are right. But again, are we not supposed to be different? The world says that the "jerk gene" is necessary for greatness. Jesus says that servanthood is the way to greatness. How can we spiritually lead our people if we use worldly leadership models? The truth is that we can't, at least effectively. We may browbeat people into submission and create a culture of fear. It may "work" but it may not be what God intended for His church. 

There is a place in leadership for firmness, for being resolute, even times when controlled anger is necessary. But the point of our courage shouldn't be to defend ourselves or our authority, but in service of the body. In other words, our leadership should not simply be about us and who we are, but about what we are doing to build up Christ's body. 

I dare say that every human has a "jerk gene" in them, innate selfishness brought about by the Fall. It is this fleshly nature Jesus came to kill and so we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in putting our ego to death and replacing it with servanthood. 

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