Last week I shared a story from Bob Iger’s book The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, today I’d like to share one statement that Iger makes that has been following me around ever since I first read it. As Iger is contemplating his coming retirement, he says this:
I’m comforted by something I’ve come to believe more and more in recent years—that it’s not always good for one person to have too much power for too long. Even when a CEO is working productively and effectively, it’s important for a company to have change at the top. I don’t know if other CEOs agree with this, but I’ve noticed that you can accumulate so much power in a job that it becomes harder to keep a check on how you wield it. Little things can start to shift. Your confidence can easily tip over into overconfidence and become a liability. You can start to feel that you’ve heard every idea, and so you become impatient and dismissive of others’ opinions. It’s not intentional, it just comes with the territory. You have to make a conscious effort to listen, to pay attention to the multitude of opinions.
One of Chemistry’s core beliefs is that we need to extend the average tenure of ministry staff from the current average of 3.5 years to 5 years. Our entire team is convinced that this will help create healthy, thriving churches. We are committed to creating a healthy, long-term fit between pastors and churches. That said, I think Iger is onto something when he suggests that there is a danger in being somewhere for too long.
Several years ago I sat with a small group of church planters listening to a well-known pastor share his thoughts on leading the church. The man had brought a group of interns from his church and as he shared his opinions on the right and wrong methodologies of leading a church he would make cutting, borderline inappropriate, comments about those who he felt were doing it wrong. As these comments were made, his interns would chuckle and egg him on. I remember walking away from that gathering feeling conflicted: there was a wisdom to some of the man’s thinking, but the arrogance and meanness left me questioning his fitness for the pastorate. It was obvious to me that there was no one around him who could pull him aside and challenge him to reconsider his actions.
The biggest danger of spiritual leadership is that we play a significant role in the development of the people that we lead. Because of this, we can be revered by those who surround us and inadvertently placed on a pedestal. The likelihood of this happening only increases the longer that we are in place. As this happens, people grow less and less likely to challenge our thinking, to suggest alternative courses of action, or to call us on our bad behavior. When this happens, the end of our church’s productive ministry begins.
The onus is on us, as ministry leaders, to surround ourselves with people who will push on us, challenge us, and take us to the woodshed from time to time. I am not suggesting that we surround ourselves with jerks, but with people who love us and the church that we lead and want nothing but the best for both. The courage and self-awareness that it takes to do this are rare, but are incredibly important for our health, and the health of the churches we lead.
Who do you have in your life that has the permission to challenge your thinking and call you on bad behavior?