Hot, Sexy Christian Leadership

June 13, 2012

Internet rule #34: if it exists, there is a fetish for it.

That’s a real saying, one I didn’t make up.  And even if you have never heard it, chances are you don’t have a hard time believing it.  People seem to have no shortage of talent when it comes to taking good things and turning them into obsessions.

Rule #34 is no less true for Christians either.

One of my posts from long ago in the archives is still my favorite, where I described how prosperity preaching resembles pornography.

More quasi-leadership buzzwords, please!

But, I have discovered a new Christian fetish, one for those of us whose engines just don’t get revved up by prosperity preaching.  We celebrate it.  We gather by the thousands to get a glimpse of it.  We idolize and glamorize and fetishize it above all else.

It’s leadership.  

I can sense pupils dilated and palms sweating just reading that word.

Amazing Leadership Beauty and Style Tips

The church has a problem.  It’s the hyper-idolization of leadership.

Hollywood celebrities provide no shortage of made-up, airbrushed, not-quite-real standards of beauty for the rest of us to try to live up to.

And Christian Hollywood (which is a term I just made up) has no shortage of beautiful, glamorous leaders.  They are images, perfectly coiffed, touched-up and fashionably dressed.  They are perfectly poised and confident.  They have huge audiences and book deals and DVD sermon series.  The title minister is passe, and I suspect the word pastor is soon to be too.  No, these perfect Christian celebrities are leaders, and they make leadership look glamorous and desirable.  

So the rest of us idolize these images of leaders, and we try to be like them.  We go to their conferences.  We buy their books.  We listen to their podcasts.  We try to absorb every leadership beauty tip they have for us.  We are desperate to look like them, and we are always coming up short, so we keep buying their products and listening to their talks.

Five Leadership Moves That Will Drive Them Wild

The result of all of this is that Christians are no longer focused on ministry.  We’re focused on leadership.  

We no longer know the difference between leadership and ministry.  Our churches are becoming over-led.  I see tweets from pastors all the time that are about nothing but meetings, strategy sessions, “killing it” (if ever there was a dumber cliche, I haven’t heard it), drinking coffee, “workflows” and other nonsense.  Of course, they tweet this, because they want everyone to know they are living the glamorous life of leadership.

And leaders are taught to create, you guessed it, more leaders.  Leaders, leaders, leaders.  I forget, were Jesus’ parting words to create leaders of all nations?  If you want a top-heavy, over-led church that focuses on little more than growing the organization hierarchy, then get yourself some more leaders.

How To Satisfy Them and Keep Them Coming Back for More Leadership

The funny thing is, we don’t usually see celebrities at home, in their sweatpants, without their makeup.  They aren’t so glamorous then.  We just get the idolized, fetishized image.  It represents just a fraction of their real lives.

And like pornography does not represent real sex, the idolized, fetishized “leadership” we’re being peddled is a waif-ish, skinny, unrealistic version of ministry.

A minister is not glamorous.

A minister is in the trenches, not always in the spotlight or in the conference room.

A minister is nudging from behind as much as he’s pulling from in front.

In other churches the priests do the work of leadership, while the “laypeople” watch.  The rest of us think we’re so enlightened and free from that old hierarchy because we have a hip, relevant church.

Then we do the exact same thing.  We put leaders up on a golden pedestal and watch, glassy-eyed, wishing we could be that beautiful.

Am I right?  Do we have a problem of too many leaders and not enough ministers?  Do we glamorize leadership at the expense of the real dirty work that needs to be done?

29 responses to Hot, Sexy Christian Leadership

  1. You make such a good point! I live in Europe where the big name US pastors are far less well-known and so if they make a statement it is not pored over for days on blogs and twitter. It seems like people take far too seriously the works these leaders are saying and follow the gospel according to (big name pastor) rather than Jesus. I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh but it’s my take on it from this side of the pond!

  2. It’s not just the church that does this. I kind of wonder if this is another one of those examples of the secular world spilling over into the church’s realm.

    As an example, I couldn’t help but be reminded of being a pre-med student and trying to apply to med school. Professors and guidance counselors were always harping on “leadership”–that was apparently all that admissions folks were going to be looking for on your CV right after the test scores. This resulted in kind of a cutthroat environment where everyone was gunning to be the officer of SOME sort of organization, whether they were really suited for it or not (I was certainly as guilty of this as anybody.) In the end, it was more about making your CV *look* as though you’d accomplished something, rather than what you actually did. I’d imagine the rest of the job market looks a lot like this as well.

    “Being in the trenches” and “nudging from behind” doesn’t really cut it in the secular world–it seems that the church winds up having that tendency too.

    • Yeah, trenches and nudging doesnt cut it. But I seem to remember Jesus saying something about the pagans lording authority over each other, but the disciples were supposed to somehow become less important. :) or something like that.

  3. I went to John Maxwell conference years ago and watched the wannabes snatch up his discounted $450 leadership library in droves. I am tired of being ME! I wannabe john, joel, rick, steven, craig, max, charles or andy…anybody but ME! They have it made, their every word is written and published and the rich get richer, the leaders get leaderier. Why hasn’t God blessed me? Why do I have to still visit hospitals, tend to the grieving, clean up at suicides? Why can’t I lead a conference and have the adoring masses grovel at my feet?

    I honor those who have “made it.” But I am not them. Most of those guys are A type personalities; I am not. I am glad for their success but that is not the template for the rest of us. Once again culture has bled into the church with this franchising of churches and leadership. Great work for God is done by insignificant people in insignificant places.

    • Brian, while I perfectly understood that you were being tongue-in-cheek in the first part of your post, I couldn’t help wondering, when you asked, “Why hasn’t God blessed me?”, if some of those great leaders might end up getting blessed a lot less than leaders like you in the next life.

  4. I completely agree with you and have thought this for some time. I put on twitter once that Pastors are not CEO’s and got a lot of push-back.

    Pastors talking about ‘intentional branding’ and using the word “organization” more than “church” leads me to believe pastors want to be seen more as leaders than pastors.

  5. I recently read Viral by Leonard Sweet, and he notes that if you read the Greek New Testament, you could read and read and read and read and never ONCE come upon the Greek word for “leadership.” Heck, in 4 semesters of Greek, we never once mentioned the word.

    But you know what one of the first words Greek students DO learn? Servant or slave.

    I think that says all we need to know about where our focus should be.

  6. Well said, Matt. I believe we will see a new trend I the church. My generation (the 40+ crowd) started leaving the church over perceived stuffiness, irrelevance, and judgmentalism – note I said perceived – today’s generation I believe will start an exodus from the modern mega churches when they realize they aren’t really building communities, but instead, fan bases. they’ll things like, “they wouldn’t let me lead”, or “they judged me because I didn’t fit their marketing demographic”, or “because I didn’t have a dramatic testimony they didn’t show my baptism video during worship.”

  7. Silly leaders! Jesus said that the last would be first. Paul said he was a servant, not a leader.

    We need leadership because we like spectator Christianity. We like someone else to preach, and someone else to play meaningful worship. But we have completely missed the message of Paul; church is about the participation of all the saints. Each one bringing a word or a song or some type of revelation. The leader’s job is to encourage it, and bring it some wort of order. (1 Cor 14)

    I am leader in my church and I spend all my time trying to encourage and promote other disciples no matter how long they have believed. I don’t care if I ever get another chance to be in the pulpit. I do care if everyone feels free to bring something to the meeting for others, instead of being a spectator expecting their needs being met followed by coffee and fellowship.

    The best Christian leaders are the ones that don’t need a title on their business card, a reserved clergy parking spot, their names in the bulletin, or public thanks for whatever they did “for the Kingdom.” They are the ones that simply do the work, and people give testimonies about what Jesus did.

  8. Well known work reference is having too many chiefs and not enough indians. This is the problem with the church right now. It is not enough to simply be a Christian and living it day to day. Everyone and their mother has to be a super cool hip, starbucks drinking, skinny pants wearing, hair highlighted, leader with a book deal.

    • “too many chiefs and not enough indians” – right, and these pastors want everyone to lead until you start questioning their leadership skills. So, really, want they’re asking for is a bunch of leaders who will follow the pastor…irony?

      • Completely man, completely ironic. Of course if you try to say anything you get slammed [insert Driscoll reference here]. Denominations and the like are more corporations than anything else these days.

  9. One Sunday morning not too long ago, one of our pastors got up and told our congregation that “If you are a leader raise your hand. EVERYONE should have their hand raised. You are all leaders.” Right. Then who is following?

    I thought Jesus was our leader, and the rest of us are just His body.

    • yes Leslie! Jesus warned us that many will come telling everyone to follow them, and deceive many. He also warned that the path to heaven is narrow. hmm.

  10. I think the term “leader” is getting a bad rap for the same reason “religion” gets one. It’s been used by some incorrectly often enough that people cringe when they hear it. A leader, according to Jesus’ teaching and actions, leads through serving others. He doesn’t lead through delegating everything and “casting vision.” A husband leads his wife by serving her, just as Jesus did the church. When a leader serves and puts those following him as the priority, “followers” don’t have a problem following.

    Religion gets a bad name, and it’s so very cool to hate religion, but what is it really? It’s taking care of the poor, the widow, and the fatherless. Serving other people, putting their needs first, and taking care of the helpless, broken, and forgotten sound like great ideas. I’m pro-religion and pro-leadership, but only if it’s by the Bible’s definition. I don’t need 21 laws to tell me what it looks like.

  11. Great warning Matt and I can definitely relate to what your saying and see it a bit in myself. Thanks for the wake up call.
    However, I know two guys who are very passionate about leadership and for them it looks different. The leadership their interested in starts with Christians being enabled to lead themselves and then equiping other christains to lead themselves (By lead themselves they mean follow Jesus.) They don’t look to lead lots of people…in fact, they always look to step back from leadership as much as possible.
    I don’t think they’ve got it all right but that seams like the kind of leadership I want to follow…and lead. Would love to know what your thoughts are on that.

    • I’m glad to hear there are men and women who have it right, as I have no doubts.

      It’s just that so often, one kind of leader rises to the top of the fame pile, while another toils in anonymity, regardless of who would be a preferable role model for others.

  12. Good message! I just wonder if the desire to be leaders is related to the message people hear that they are super special, precious lambs that can do anything they set their minds to do.

    I think if more people read James 3:1, which says that leaders/teachers are judged more strictly than other folks, they would be less interested in being leaders. It is a verse that strikes fear in my heart in regard to homeschooling my kids whenever I read it.

    My husband always likes to say that it is the people who don’t think they are worthy that make good leaders.

  13. Hannah (culture connoisseur) June 14, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Speaking of of glamourizing leadership-

    Yes, that’s for real. And I think it really reinforces your point about the widening gap between leaders and “lay-people.” Now, not only does the lay person seem to lack what it takes to lead, but he/she is also lacking the correct wardrobe for a leader…


  14. Matt,
    Thanks for articulating well what I think is one of the greatest dangers in young, American, evangelical Christianity. For the sake of the health of the American church and the growth of young pastors, we need to continue to communicate the difference between biblical ministry and leadership and the “the idolized, fetishized “leadership” we’re being peddled is a waif-ish, skinny, unrealistic version of ministry.”

  15. I am nauseated with the “hip” business lingo making the rounds in church meetings. I am sick of “embracing” stuff and “unpacking” it. Give me a break. If I want to unpack something I will go on a trip. Can’t we just “explain” something anymore? Can’t we just “Get used to it?”

    Church Inc. is everywhere. Once we train all these leaders who are they going to lead? It reminds me of a quote from the movie The Incredibles: When everyone is special no one is.

    Good post as always, Matt.

  16. For me, the test of a great lead minister is if the church would continue to thrive if said minister were to leave–either temporarily or permanently. Part of being a good leader is recognizing that it can’t be about you. Of course, I live in Houston, where that’s not a problem at all…

  17. We forget that being a servant leader means serving people, not leading them.

    Just saying.

  18. 2 Timothy 4:3

  19. Funny you should mention “beauty”. I happened to write a post about it, on my own blog.

    But anyway, I found the definition of minister to mean a person acting as the agent or instrument of another.

    So, technically, we are all ministers. Those of us who have accepted Christ as Lord, are now living witnesses, and can be ministers and witnesses to the good things that God has done for us in our lives.

    But I understand what you mean, Pastor Matt. Some “ministers” and “leaders” have taken the call of God on their lives, and ramped it up into something else.