The Problem of Method

I’m an academic introvert by nature. I love to learn and would be happy off by myself reading. At the same time, I have a call to ministry. My greatest gifts are in teaching and preaching. I’ve learned that teaching and preaching aren’t enough to make churches grow – to help people become followers of Jesus, grow in their disciple relation to him, and to come together to share in his mission. Recognizing my weaknesses in the area, I started reading leadership books about 10 years ago.

In the past 10 years I’ve enjoyed reading and learning from people like John Maxwell, Jim Collins, Peter Senge, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, John Kotter – and many others. Though I’ve learned a lot, and think I’m a better leader than I used to be, I know I still have lots to learn.

I notice, however, that I’m not the only one who is studying leadership. The folks at Al Qaeda are studying leadership also. I lead an organization. So do they. I have big goals (BHAGs). So do they. I have to focus on leading my organization through trials by developing a shared vision. So do they. I have to deal with limited resources. So do they. I have to face real opposition. So do they.

Of course there are a few differences between my leadership (in and through a church) and Al Qaeda’s. At the very least (and most obvious, I hope), we do not consider any use of violence to be an acceptable means of achieving our ends. Other than that, one might think (as I’ve heard some atheists & secularists claim), we’re pretty much alike. We both want to make a god happy. We both want that god’s ways to be reproduced on earth (on earth as it is heaven…). We’re both willing to learn from the amoral discipline of leadership studies to help us accomplish our goals. We each have a method – a way of doing things – aimed at being effective.
But method isn’t enough – either to reach our destination or to proparly discern a movement. I take the satisfation we have with abstraction (in this case a “common” method) to be a mark of modernity. (It’s for this reason that I wich John Wesley had picked another insult to name his movement. As long as we’re “Methodists,” not only know how to pigeon hole us, but we also retain a propensity for doing things the way we’ve always done them. Even “Bible Moths” would have been an improvement, silly as it sounds. At least it has the advantage of raising questions in people’s minds.)

You can look at modern organizations the world over and see them trying to apply the abstaction we call leadership. But what about the substance? Surely method (or form) isn’t all there is?

Because we follow Jesus – who is a concrete person who lived a particular life in a particular historical and social setting – we are bound not only to the universal (abstracted) maxims of a Great Teacher, or Exemplar of True Humanity. We are saved by his death and resurrection, called to live under his lordship, and walk as he walked. Sometimes that fits with Leadership, sometimes not.

However much I’d like to be a great leader, I’d much rather follow Jesus.

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This entry was posted in church growth, Current events, Leadership, Local church, Theology, United Methodism. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Problem of Method

  1. Revwilly says:

    I wonder why you see being a great leader and being a follower of Jesus as being contradictory? Was not Jesus a great leader? Paul? You seem to think it is an either/or thing with which you are faced. Why not a both/and?

  2. rheyduck says:

    My point was not that being a great leader was bad. Rather, I wanted to say that leadership science/art not only isn’t enough. but also sometimes is opposed to the ways of Jesus. Sure – sometimes leadership science & discipleship can go together; but sometimes not. The problem lies in abstracting leadership from its particular social/historical contexts and then transferring it to other social/historical contexts.

    I guess I need to work on clarifying what I’m talking about. Thanks RevWilly!

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    I was at a leadership training conference for Christians, where the key conference organizer opened with this helpful word: The Bible says a lot more about following than it does about leading.

    Learning leadership “method” can be of great value if you keep things in proper perspective.

  4. WaltDe says:

    Keep up the great work on your blog. Best wishes WaltDe

  5. Florian says:

    Hi,
    I found your blog via google by accident and have to admit that youve a really interesting blog 🙂
    Just saved your feed in my reader, have a nice day 🙂

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