Seminaries for Evangelicals
Taylor University Tragedy

Andy Stanley Says There is No Such Thing as Distinctively Spiritual Leadership

Here are my comments on the article: Is Ministry Leadership Different? Andy Stanley and Jim Collins in an unexpected point-counterpoint by Eric Reed at Leadership Journal's Out of Ur blog:

Andy Stanley, pastor of the third most influential church in the nation with more than 18,000 in attendance, is right in urging pastors to practice competent leadership regardless of its source. He says: “I grew up in a culture where everything was overly spiritualized . . . A principle is a principle, and God created all the principles.” He is right in saying that too often churches have permitted abuse, waste, and ineptitude in the name of forgiveness, family, and niceness. He is also right in declaring it makes sense to learn from others. We should be reexamining Scripture for wisdom as well as sifting through leadership and business management books for wise insight. (See my list of recommended business management books that are helpful for pastors here).

But Christian leaders are different from other leaders because of their Christian character (as Andy tacitly indicates in his words about the importance of prayer, counsel, and integrity when he speaks to church leaders). If leaders are not formed by Scripture, prayer and counsel [Eugene Peterson calls these the three angles in his book Working the Angles)], their vision and leadership will ultimately be shallow and self-serving. So I think Andy overstates the case when he says “There’s nothing distinctly spiritual [about the kind of leadership I do].” There is such a thing as spiritual (pleasing-to-the-Holy-Spirit) leadership that is often different from secular business leadership. Spiritual formation will actually change the way we do leadership. Some practices which would violate Scripture cannot be used even to meet seemingly good goals. In other words, Scripture restrains the use of some means. The ends do not always justify the means.

Eric Reed is right in pointing out that many young people are attracted to Andy Stanley but that he does not fit with the “emerging” leader profile which is also popular among young people. Reed writes:

“Stanley is becoming the model for the next generation of large church pastors [note Reed’s adjective large] . . . Because Andy connects well with younger leaders, who in general are bent more toward spiritual formation than church growth . . . I thought I’d hear something that backed up the pendulum swing we have heard prominent emerging leaders identify--that younger leaders don’t buy all the church growth stuff, that the models that built megachurches worked for boomers, but for Gen-X and younger? Fuggidaboudit.”

Many young suburban white young adults are attracted to Andy Stanley. He is what they want to be: attractive, making-a-difference, young, confident, and articulate with a gorgeous facility and a talented staff. But Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger describe in Emerging Churches a different set of young people who don’t want to copy management principles or accept megachurch assumptions. They want to emulate Jesus’ practices – wandering around talking to people, without a building, praying, telling stories, and helping people. Seeker churches like Stanley’s, on the other hand, want people to “meet Jesus” through getting them through whatever means to sit in the seats of their church.

My comments on the Gibbs and Bolger book Emerging Churches are here.

Most of the college students in my classes at Taylor University are attracted to both Andy Stanley and the Emerging church conversation. They are attracted to young charismatic leaders regardless of their ministry approach. Rob Bell and Erwin McManus are probably the two most popular among them since they have all the things Andy Stanley has (attractive, making-a-difference, young, confident, and articulate with a large facility and a talented staff) but also embrace some of aspects of the emerging churches: art, attitude, informality, stories, urban culture, and justice.

See my list of sermon audio links to listen to Stanley, Bell and McManus here.

For a scholarly presentation of how the apostle Paul dealt with secular ideas of leadership when they began to appear in Corinth, listen to New Testament scholar Bruce Winter's lecture "Secularization of First Century Christian Leadership - Inroads of Secular Models." Here is the synopsis.

Bruce Winter questions the word "leader" as the name we use when talking about church ministers. He says Paul intentionally does not use the Greek word for leader to describe the ministers in the early church. Winter also says Paul intentionally rejected the braggart, money-making, attractive orator image that was readily apparent in the culture at the time.

This must cause all of us to pause as we think of the kind of Christian leaders that are so often held up as "making a difference" in our culture. Most often they get famous as successful pastors because they are great speakers and attractive. Perhaps this is always the way to fame and there is no preventing it. But that does not mean we need to try to emulate the famous (as is so natural).

Jeffrey Fox lays out "the rules to rise to the top of any organization" in How to Become CEO. Here are a few out of the 75.

  • Keep Physically Fit
  • Dress for a Dance
  • Be Visible
  • Learn to Speak and Write in Plain English
  • Say Things to Make People Feel Good
  • Look Sharp and Be Sharp
  • The Concept Doesn't Have to Be Perfect But the Execution of It Does

I am quite sure that Fox is right that if we applied these we could rise to the top of any organization including the church. The Corinthians would have sent Paul the book. "Work on your appearance, Paul. Don't do manual labor. Charge higher fees. Try to be a bit more polished."

We could work on those things or instead we could learn to pray the Psalms.

1 Sam 16:7. But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things human beings look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (TNIV).

May God give us wisdom to do our tasks well - gathering wisdom wherever we may find it - from secular and Christian mentors and books. But may God also form us as people after his own heart so that we do the right tasks in the right way.