Monday, May 12, 2008

Refuting the Irrefutable (A New Olympic Sport)

Alright, let's do this. For fun I thought it would be interesting to try to refute John Maxwell's "Irrefutable Laws of Leadership", so I'm going to post them here and invite you to help me out.

The original reason why I thought this might be a useful (or at least cathartic) exercise is because I am so repelled by:

1) Books that sell themselves as the secret to success,
2) especially those on "Christian" bookstore shelves,
3) and especially when they claim to be based somehow on biblical principles (as if the Bible was written so we could then distill it into irrefutable laws, ripe for the easy application),
4) and especially when they get picked up and used so easily by Christian leaders as if there is almost a one-to-one relationship between pastoral leadership and business-world leadership.

I think this book, now 10 years old, qualifies in every area. Is this to say that it doesn't have good things to say? No. I think these are probably really good laws for business leaders to mind, and some, perhaps many, of them are probably really good for church leaders to mind as well. In fact, I probably agree with many of them.

But irrefutable? C'mon. Its like you are daring us to refute them.

To be fair, I don't know if John Maxwell sees these as irrefutable for church leadership or business leadership or both. I don't particularly care to discuss their relevance for the business world. I'm interested in refuting them as principles which carry over to the church world, especially in an "irrefutable" way.

Whether Maxwell meant them that way or not, he allowed the publicists to sell it with the recommendations of famous pastors such as Jack Hayford, who praises its "fidelity to our Creator's timeless success principles", or Bible College president Samuel Chand, who recommends its "eternal laws" to the world.

Timeless success principles? Seriously, these people are daring us to blog about this. I've sat in too many conferences where statements like this, presuppositions and all, are thrown out and accepted without much theological questioning.

So I hereby initiate a bit of satire. Satire allows us to explore and joke about the thing tongue in cheek, half-meaning what we say, and half just "throwing it out there". So join me. Could be fun. Let's be fair to the author, of course. Let's not create 21 new irrefutible "anti-laws" either.

I just want to see how these stand up to testing, particularly as it concerns church leadership. So here we go. I'll post the 21 laws, and then open it up to comments. If you want to "refute" one, or even just question its presuppositions (implied or otherwise), just cut and paste it into your comment and go from there. I'll put them all up and then try to weed my way through them for the next week or so. If we could "refute" all 21 for the church, that would be awesome!

1. Leadership Ability Determines a Person's Level of Effectiveness
2. The True Measure of Leadership Is Influence---Nothing More, Nothing Less
3. Leadership Develops Daily, Not in a Day
4. Anyone Can Steer the Ship, But It Takes a Leader to Chart the Course
5. When the Real Leader Speaks, People Listen
6. Trust is the Foundation of Leadership
7. People Naturally Follow Leaders Stronger Than Themselves
8. Leaders Evaluate Everything With A Leadership Bias
9. Who You Are Is Who You Attract
10. Leaders Touch A Heart Before They Ask For A Hand
11. A Leader's Potential Is Determined By Those Closest To Him
12. Only Secure Leaders Give Power to Others
13. It Takes A Leader to Raise Up A Leader
14. People Buy Into the Leaders, Then the Vision
15. Leaders Find a Way for the Team to Win
16. Momentum Is A Leader's Best Friend
17. Leaders Understand That Activity Is Not Necessarily Accomplishment
18. A Leader Must Give Up to Go Up
19. When to Lead Is As Important As What To Do and Where To Go
20. To Add Growth, Lead Followers---To Multiply, Lead Leaders
21. A Leader's Lasting Value is Measured by Succession

Some will be more difficult than others to refute. But pick your favourite and have at it! My hope is for some humour, perhaps in the end some affirmation of a few things, and ultimately some deeper thought of the ideas involved as they regard the church and its leaders.

15 comments:

jon said...

1. Leadership Ability Determines a Person's Level of Effectiveness

This is, of course, very important if effectiveness is our bottom line. But what if an organization exists where visible effectivenss is not necessarily the bottom line? And what if an organization actually exists where it could be dangerous for a leader to stand out too much or be too reliant on his or her abilities?

Surely there isn't an organization like that out there is there? And if there was, surely this book would not sell to such an organization?


I could go on about this one, but that gives you the idea. Feel free to interact with mine or make your own. Remember that all of this is in fun and good faith, so d I don't want anyone reading in (or writing in) anything vitrolic or abusive. Thanks.

jonathan said...

I took a stab at #14 on my own blog.
http://web.mac.com/pastorjonkramer/Jons_Site/Deep_and_Shallow_Thoughts/Entries/2008/5/12_Vision_Casting.html

Tony Tanti said...

5. When the Real Leader Speaks, People Listen

Does this one work in reverse? In other words, is there an implication here that a test of leadership is simply having listeners? People listen in huge numbers to Benny Hinn, Jack Van Impe... for people like this I would argue that much harm is being done to the Church.

Also does it mean that a person isn't a leader, or isn't right if they have a hard time finding listeners? Don't people hear what they want to hear?

jon said...

Couldn't follow jonathan's link? Try http://web.mac.com/pastorjonkramer/Jons_Site/Deep_and_Shallow_Thoughts/Entries/2008/5/12_Vision_Casting.html

He is tackling #14, that People Buy Into the Leaders, Then the Vision. His point is that a good leader will actually help the vision emerge from the community. It is already there. Especially in a Christian community, which is already gathered around a vision.

I would add that when Maxwell's law is put into effect in a Christian setting we easily find the cult of personality running the place in lieu of, say, a biblical mission or a Spirit-led team. The more the focus is on the leader, the more problems I think there will be with the vision. If the leader is bad, this is a problem. If the leader is good, this is potentially even more of a problem.

This goes along with my point on #1. If so much rides on the ability and buy-in that a leader can conjur up then we are soon talking about an organization that Paul would likely write 1 Corinthians to. At worst, at the end of the day the vision (for all its biblical language and good intentions) is leading to a person other than the ascended Christ.

I like your points on #5, tanti.
Fantastic.

jon said...

2. The True Measure of Leadership Is Influence---Nothing More, Nothing Less

So if I sit at a light for a long time even after it has turned green so that no one gets through except me, does that make me a leader?

What if the best move for a leader is to let things pan out without interference? To let something fall through the cracks so that the organization realizes it needs the team to step up rather than leave it all to the hero? Is that influence? Is that leadership?

What if the particular group that I'm the leader of puts a value on presence, and communion, and not necessarily always moving or shaking in some way?

What if the best way to honour the values of the organization is to make an unnoticed sacrifice? To let another take the credit? To NOT influence a situation in order to steer it just the way you think best, but to let a dynamic take place that is perhaps messier and less directed but is more authentic and involving of others?

If an organization existed where leaders faced decisions like these and wanted to be self-giving and lovingly sacrificial, trusting and patient, would the irrefutable laws be the best guide every time? Or is it possible that leaders in these scenarios should be thinking of doing more, or less, than simply influencing those situations in certain direction?

jon said...

Back to #1 for a second. Leadership ability DETERMINES effectiveness? Wow.

Surely those with a theology of the Holy SPirit would not recommend this book? I guess they max out at whatever the leader is capable of. I bet you if the church started buying this book for their leaders we'd see lots of burnout & disillusionment on one hand or heroes & best-seller "irrefutable" strategy books on the other.

Dave McG said...

#9 Who You Are Is Who You Attract

If you are turning this kind of thinking toward leadership I see huge problems with this law. A true leader should have the ability/charisma to attract more than just people who are like them. Though this might explain the cookie cutter typecasting that prevails in the modern church. Most people there are upper middle class family folks just like their pastor.

Tony Tanti said...

#9 Who You Are Is Who You Attract

Further to dmcg's point, is a leader defined by their followers? That conclusion has some scary ramifications for leaders of all types who don't really control all of the people they attract.

If a white supremicist claims to be a Christian what does that say for Christianity if law #9 is true? What if that racist also attends a church and loves the pastor, does that condemn that pastor?

jon said...

21. A Leader's Lasting Value is Measured by Succession

David wasn't succeded very well, but seems fairly valuable. Even if we say Solomon was a good successor, his legacy is huge but his successors were devestating.

And the presuppostion here is that a leader is only valuable if his or her work or ministry endures. What about the leader that takes an organization through an important shut-down, or merger, or gets them through a very strenuous time intact, keeping things around for a future leader to build on. That seems like something God does all the time, but if the church accepts Maxwell's irrefutable laws, we essentially interpret these interim leaders and desert-years leaders as failures, of no lasting value.

Is there an element of truth in this law? Sure. In fact I think it balances out the other laws I've already addressed which set the leader up as a hero unto him/herself. But surely the church wouldn't accept Maxwell's 21st law as irrefutable ? Surely no one would claim it was founded on timeless biblical principles? (You are catching my sarcasm, I hope).

jon said...

I'll add to that and challenge the notion that a leader's lasting value can even be measured at all. This is a venus fly trap just waiting to catch us in the clutches of depression, disillusionment, and an unhealthy craving for visible fruit in our lifetime that does not do justice to the patience of God and the reality of our eschatalogical longing. Seems to me that this lust for the measurable value of our leadership was David's OTHER great sin of lust. Of course, we don't talk about that one. It is too close to home. Bathsheba we can villify him for. But this lust for quantifiable leadership value, this we can forgive him.

This 21st law chaps my hide the more I think about it.

Freezer said...

#16 - I read about this guy who everyone thought would one day be the King of Israel, he even had 12 'mighty men' just like the great King David. He had people cheering, the establishment reeling, and then he died and his 'mighty men' ran off and disowned him.

Jesus' death and resurrection created momentum, but no one guessed that the inertia caused by those actions would result in the church as we know it.

#6 - Do the mistakes of today disqualify someone for leadership tomorrow? Where is mercy and grace in the maturing of a leader. The expectation that someone in leadership will never betray our trust creates a expectation too high for humanity.

jon said...

I'm with you on number 6 (Trust is the Foundation of Leadership), there, Freezer. I understand that trust is huge in leadership, but when you turn this into an irrefutable law, especially for the church, i think you are only feeding an already unhealthy habit amongst parishioners that says--no matter whether their has been a carefull selection process, no matter if the Holy Spirit has brought this leader to us--that this leader has to earn MY trust before I am going to listen to a thing he or she says, let alone follow them anywhere.

This severely downplays any sort of sense of God's calling on a leader for a given time and it puts a huge burden on that leader to be a real salesman of him/herself. Being a pastor becomes a lot like being a politician. Spend your first year shaking hands and kissing babies, they tell you.

Yeah there is a decent principle here, but as an irrefutable law this has some devestating consequences for the church.

Power games become par for the course, as the leader seeks to gaing the trust of the powers that be, manipulation is all too easy, as the leader learns just what sermons to preach and visits to make in order to gain that "trust-capital".

Yeah, I realize Paul was a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks. There is some common sense here, but the further you take this irrefutable law the less and less this sounds like Christ-ian leadership to me.

The power is all in the hands of the leader's salesmanship and the individual church-member's buy-in (which, let's face it, could just as easily be given because the pastor complimented "the wife's" pie in the bake sale as for any other, perhaps better, reason).

jon said...

15. Leaders Find a Way for the Team to Win

This isn't condoning a "ends justifies the means" mentality is it? That wouldn't translate to the church very well, I daresay.

Regardless, it sort of assumes the point of the church is the results, and not so much the process. One could only begin to accept this law as "irrefutable" if one began with such a presuppostion. Therefore, in order for the law to be irrefutable, the presupposition itself would have to be as well.

I reject the presupposition as irrefutable for ecclesiology. However, giving the benefit of the doubt, even if you take a long-term approach to victory and see the return of Christ as the "win" at the end, the law does not stand up, for this would not be a case of pastoral leaders "finding a way", unless by that is meant "finding (and leading) people to the Way of Christ."

Even if this were way the law were normally translated into the realm of church leadership, because the way of Christ involves the self-sacrificially loving way of the cross, the law would then refute itself.

ErinOrtlund said...

I haven't read the book, but looking at your list, it seems the author thinks all leaders will look and act a certain way. If you look at the Bible and church history, God has used so many different people, many who didn't seem at all like natural leaders (ie. Moses). I'm sure the book has some good advice, but the church isn't a business--who is to say how God might choose to work and who He might use?

jon said...

Well, thanks for the participation and for playing along. Loved those points. Before I move on, let's finish these bad boys off in rapid succession. . .

3. Leadership Develops Daily, Not in a Day

Dang! And here I thought all I had to do was get these 21 irrefutable laws down. You are telling me there is growth involved here? Crafty, slipping this one in. You must be setting me up for a sequel, or maybe for the "21 irrefutable laws in 365 7 minute readings" KJV hardcover. No wonder the publishers and Christian book stores love you.

4. Anyone Can Steer the Ship, But It Takes a Leader to Chart the Course

This seems like nonsense, but I guess it means that vision is one thing, but it is strategy that gets you there. Once again, when this is translated over to the church, the ascended Christ and th preesent Spirit can quickly take a back seat. Its all about the programming, baby. We don't need preachers, we need CEOs.

7. People Naturally Follow Leaders Stronger Than Themselves

And, naturally, the church should adopt whatever comes naturally. If the Bible said anything about the wisdom of the world or the definition of strength or the human nature maybe we would have to think twice about this law, but I don't know of any texts like that, do you?

8. Leaders Evaluate Everything With A Leadership Bias

Unless of course they have people in their lives that they listen to.

10. Leaders Touch A Heart Before They Ask For A Hand

Wow. So before I ask someone to help me move soem chairs for Sunday School I need to wine and dine 'em? Or I need to sing them a certain Ray Bolz song? Or I need to tell them the story about Mother Teresa? This law is rather unfortunately pretty true, and needs to not be fed. We don't want preachers and worship leaders, we want motivational speakers and song-smiths. But that doesn't mean we should get them.

And by the way, I, for one, respond more quickly to a call for help when it has been explained in a way that clicks in my head. I'm not saying I'm everyone, but I think there are enough people like me that this law is nowhere near irrefutable. May not even be the majority. I guess if you fill your church with "heart-first" people it becomes irrefutable pretty quick. But everything is unanimous eventually if you focus on one target audience long enough.

11. A Leader's Potential Is Determined By Those Closest To Him

So who is the leader then?

12. Only Secure Leaders Give Power to Others

Or manipulative ones.

13. It Takes A Leader to Raise Up A Leader

Yeah. Timothy had Eunice and Lois, and I'm pretty sure Eunice was the President of Yahoo and Lois was on the board at GE.

16. Momentum Is A Leader's Best Friend

Of course, if the leader has a conscience of any kind momentum can also be the worst enemy. And, need I add, that anyone can ride a wave. Ride 'em enough and you realize that you aren't really leading anyone at all.

17. Leaders Understand That Activity Is Not Necessarily Accomplishment

Nor are either always the bottom line.

Incidentally, this law is why we have the 7 minute devotional Bible for leaders and not the 5 minute one. Leaders know they can afford those two extra minutes.

18. A Leader Must Give Up to Go Up

This must be why the momentum rule was so important.

I must confess that I find this one and the next one tough to dispute from a Christ-centered perspective. Even then, however, there is no way they can be irrefutable laws. That implies that giving up is to be done in every situation. Ridiculous.

19. When to Lead Is As Important As What To Do and Where To Go

I have no sarcastic comment at this time. But if a leader decides not to "lead" at some point, isn't that leading? And if it is a necessary aspect of leading, doesn't the point seem sort of nonsensical?

20. To Add Growth, Lead Followers---To Multiply, Lead Leaders

So look for the people who fit your paradigm of leadership and focus on them, and all those people with servant hearts who don't self-promote can hopefully benefit from the trickle-down.
Oh, and don't forget: Numbers---That's what its all about.



Okay, I think I got my sarcasm out of me for awhile. Truthfully I think Maxwell has some decent points. If he had called his book more truthfully "21 decent points for leaders" and released a different version for church leaders I might be even more enthusiastic. But that wouldn't have sold. And THAT is my major critique here, because THAT tells you what just might be leading the church these days. And I don't mind a week of sarcasm if it can remind us to give that a second thought.