great pastors, great churches

In the past day or two, I ran across this article from Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal from the Spring. It’s an interview with Jim Collins, author of the immensely popular book Good to Great. The interview mentions that he has written a shorter companion piece focusing on the social sector. Good to Great has also been well received by pastors. The interview zeros in on Collin’s thoughts about how Good to Great might be applicable to the work of a pastor and the life of a congregation.

I confess I have not read the book…yet. Folks I know who’ve read it like it and it sounds like a good book, but alas I have yet to read it. Just the same, here are a couple of highlights from the interview. It is a short article, worth the time to read it. For the United Methodists out there, what might Collins’ thoughts mean for pastors? For congregations? For Annual Conferences and for the General Conference, since we are a connectional church?

On what makes an organization (churches included) great:
1. Superior performance on its mission.
2. Distinct community impact – “What would be missing if our organization (or church) ceased to exist? Would it leave a hole in our community?”
3. Endurance over time.

On becoming great:
CT: How does a good church begin moving toward greatness?
JC: By getting the right people in key seats. These right people then ask, “What are the brutal facts we must confront?”

Finally, he points out the unique challenges of pastoral leadership in congregational ministry:
“A church leader often has a very complicated governance structure.”

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7 thoughts on “great pastors, great churches

  1. Collins speaks of getting the “right people on the bus.” He writes (p. 41), “The execs who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and THEN figured out where to drive it.”

    As pastors this looks pretty challenging (I haven’t read the social sector book yet – it should arrive any day now). Some of the challenges I see:
    1. That “very complicated governance structure.” We think church governance is all about representative democracy.
    2. Most of our churches are dead set against having a leader who can put people off the bus. Taking people off the bus is not only exclusionary (the chief of sins in some circles) but downright evil.
    3. We not only stand agianst particular leaders from time to time, we also often argue against any kind of leadership at all. We want complete consensus before we proceed and we want people to feel good.
    4. If “Good to Great” assumes the organization is Good to begin with, many of our organizations don’t fit. We need “Dying to Surviving,” & “Mediocre to Good” before we do Good to Great.

  2. Lots of truth here–thanks, Richard.

    “We want complete consensus before we proceed and we want people to feel good.”

    While it’s legitimate to take people’s feelings into account, I’m continually amazed at how much more important it is these days for people to feel good than to be good.

  3. guy

    my big question is whether Collins is thinking through any theological frames or if it is mere pragmatism– i.e. what is proven to work. for instance– what does he mean by “the right people?” is it the best and the brightest. . . . . . . or is it the “God chooses the weak things to shame the strong and the foolish things to shame the wise,” kind of people?

    It seems like the modern mega-church is executing quite well on Collins’ ideas, but so what. . . . . . what real difference is it making in the kingdom? in so many cases they have adopted the wrong definition of growth it seems.

    i think you are more onto it in your comment above– the real move for the american church is from great to good. or at least we should say– from the quest for great to the pursuit of good. our self actualizing era has produced a movement of self-actualizing churches– all seeking greatness. isn’t that the wrong pursuit? greatness? isn’t greatness something that others decide about you long after you’re dead? heroes are great. . . . saints are good. . . . .

  4. of course, churches of any kind (mega or otherwise) in America today are tempted to act more like the Rotary club than the People of the Living God. We’re more into member-making or attender-making or product-consuming than disciple-making.

    I’m with the impulse of your reminder/critique on uncritically engaging business models for church organization and leadership. But at least in this interview, or the parts I’ve highlighted, there is much that is useful and appropriate because it doesn’t seem to make judgments that rule against a theologically-driven assessment. They seem to invite the church to assess itself against the appropriate guidelines for itself.

    The “right people” doesn’t, on its face, presuppose any particular feature except that they will be interested in engaging a church truthfully, even if that is difficult to do. The “right people” may well be the over-looked, the “weak,” and those who are acutely aware that they are clay pots. But, says Collins, they must be interested in pursuing the “brutal facts we must confront,” which I could reasonably paraphrase: interested in pursuing the “uncomfortable truths about God, themselves, and their relative faithfulness to the gospel mission.”

  5. i’ll second for the critique of a business plan for the church. we’ve had a recent incident of a local megachurch whose founding pastor was removed by its elders for many abusive practices to a church, abuses that looked much like general practices of a family business. when the pastor was fired he was forced to sign a non compete clause for his severance package. i’d say collins, although i know the church doesn’t qualify for the longevity part of his criteria, he would have called this church from going good to great, but it’s lost its mission as some people understand themselves as the church & disciples of Christ, others are disciples of the pastor (shown through the uprise of actions after the initial firing, subsided after forced town hall meetings where the elders unclosed information behind the decision).

    collins remarks in the article that you highlight don’t raise eyebrows and are actually decent thoughts, but the problem is his audience. when you speak to a mass of people who work in the business world you can’t use business language and not expect them to use it as it. it is difficult to change over to a gospel language which is anti-establishment/riches/exclusion/etc. that is difficult for pastors, let alone laity..

  6. for the sake of learning via discussion, I’ll play “devil’s advocate” and raise some questions related to comments above.

    JD said: “isn’t greatness something that others decide about you long after you’re dead? heroes are great. . . . saints are good. . . . .”

    And yet sainthood is assessed and attributed well after you’re dead. I’m not positive, from this article or from the first couple of chapters of Good to Great that I’ve read that Collins is using the term “great” in the same way you’re employing the term. While the book looked at businesses and measured their performance in the market over a period of time, in the interview he clarifies that the standards for a movement from “good to great” are properly determined by the context being considered. So, “good to great” may be considered “value neutral” in and of itself as a phrase–gaining a value depending on how “greatness” is defined. In this framework, “great” means whatever we would assign to it as the best, the ultimate, etc, including a church offering authentic worship and engaging in true discipleship, gospel ministry, and kingdom-building.

    Gavin said: “i’d say collins, although i know the church doesn’t qualify for the longevity part of his criteria, he would have called this church from going good to great, but it’s lost its mission as some people understand themselves as the church & disciples of Christ, others are disciples of the pastor (shown through the uprise of actions after the initial firing, subsided after forced town hall meetings where the elders unclosed information behind the decision).”

    From my reading of the article and the first couple of chapters of the book, according to what you’ve said here, the church would not qualify to be called a “good to great” organization.

    One key here, lifted up in the interview is “superior performance on the mission.” I paraphrased. I think it actually says something like: “superior performance relative to its mission.” This criteria inherently requires that the mission be assigned by the organization that is evaluating itself.

  7. fair, assessment, i understood how collins could say what he did and relate it to the church and it work. however i’d reference my second paragraph/thought that people can’t separate out the messages of business and gospel. thus you have an example that i lifted up..

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