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The Good to Great Church

In 2001, Jim Collins produced the book Good to Great. His book was drawn from the world of business and intended to answer the question "Can a good company become a great company and if so, how?" The fact is that some companies have continuing, sustained growth in comparison to similar companies in the very same field. This factor captivated Jim Collin’s imagination. “Why are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? What are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?

Good to Great has become a defining management study beyond the world of business. It didn’t take long for people to discover that the key discoveries had a direct application to Church life. As an example, the first discovery that they made was that a “great institution” was built upon a unique sort of leader – the Level 5 leader – marked by a blend of two distinctive traits: personal humility and utter persistence. It’s not hard to read the description of a Level-5 leader and see the epitome of a servant leader. As Jim Collins writes: Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.

In researching Christian Leadership Studies, I have encountered a number of presentations drawn around the outline of discoveries presented in Good to Great. It’s no surprise that in the five years since the publication of his book, Jim Collins was to pick up on that similar discovery. As expected, his study produced a significant number of invitations to address leaders in business – at conventions, in board rooms. What came as a surprise was the sheer volume of interest he received from what he calls “the social sectors”… in particular, the Church. Most notably, he was invited to participate as a speaker at the Willowcreek Leadership Conference. What he discovered was that while he was generally categorized as a business author, over a third of his readers came from the non-profit sector.

This interest intrigued him and prompted him to look beyond business and into the world of “the social sector.” What he discovered was that within the social sector [read: the Church] exists the possibility of true greatness. Simply stated, he discovered that “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”

That statement is made in his latest writings, an appendix to the book: Good to Great … and the Social Sectors. He begins his monograph with a statement that may bring a smile to many: We must reject the idea – well-intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” Most businesses – like most of anything else in life – fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are great … why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors?

While his study heads in a different direction, what he discovered touches on the truth. There is a resource of motivation that runs deeper in the Church than it does in the world of business. It is in the enterprise of ministry that people go beyond product lines, production quotas, and the accumulation of net worth. It is in the Church where work is worship, and service is substantial. It is through ministry where people activate the new creature that is coming [II Corinthians 5:17] It is in the “business” of ministry that Gifts are expressed, passions discovered, purpose defined, and God is honored. And, it is through the labor of ministry that eternal transactions are made, and the “product” endures forever. At least that’s what it could be, should be, and would be if we employ another discovery.

As Collins reflected on the difference between “the good and the great” he uncovered a critical element, a culture of discipline created by conscious choice. He called it a relentless culture of discipline – disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action. Greatness comes from a culture that transcends business practices, and one that is created by the conscious, deliberate choice made by people of conviction.

Over the last several months, I have been doing research to prepare for the Convention Workshop: Best Practices for Leadership Culture Churches … and the Pursuing God’s Heart Workshop expanding the same issue. Over the last year it has become evident that Churches struggle with leadership development. Among the churches that have participated in the Best Practices for Church Boards, Leadership Development was the third most common issue identified as a critical concern.

As Churches seek to unlock the potential for greatness that God has invested in His people, this element of discipline becomes the key. Certain words keep appearing as Churches with a healthy leadership culture. Words like: Conscious – well-understood, commonly acknowledged values; Deliberate – well-planned, well-resourced processes; and Intentional – focused commitments. When disciplined people are galvanized by disciplined thought – it produces disciplined actions – that’s not just the theory described by Good to Great. It’s a pattern designed by God where People who are Disciples are galvanized by the teachings of Discipleship which produce a world inhabited by more Disciples. After all, isn’t that the definition of the Church’s mission: Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit., and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you… [Matthew 28:19-20] The big questions: How well is the Church taping into this well of greatness? How intentional is your Church in creating deliberate processes to empower Disciples? How conscious and aware are the people of the processes designed within the Church that would allow them to go as far as God leads them? Churches with a healthy culture of leadership development are churches aimed toward something great.

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