You Can’t Lead Your Employer, Can You?

January 13, 2010 at 2:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was called to lead.  Every cell of my being has been honed from the same DNA.  The experiences of my past have taught me to ignore the bastards, damn the torpedoes, and to charge forward with fresh memories of the Nazis bombing Pearl Harbor!  It’s what I I’ve been called to do.

In the past several years I’ve been a part of a movement within Adventism to restructure the administrative, bureaucratic, and leadership systems of the church.  It has been fun, and challenging.  In a nutshell, this involved moving from a democratic system, to a leadership-driven system.  To move from an elected board that sees itself as the boss, to a board that provides accountability and boundaries to the leader.

Where this has been done, outside of Adventism, it has worked well – sometimes.  However it requires senior leadership to be well differentiated and to not have a failure of nerve.  Both of these are a lot to ask.  In fact, this is quite a battle, and those with whom I was working with have all suffered a lot of setbacks.  Our general was removed from his position and is now in exile in SE Asia.  His assistant is learning to keep her head down and not make eye-contact, while she continues to tweak the system from the sidelines.  Several of us field officers have either been removed, or voluntarily left our positions.  It doesn’t look like the battle is being won right now.

I was talking to a friend the other day and as we talked about and around these issues, he mentioned that the reason he left his previous church is because he didn’t see this “mixed system” working.  I paused a long time as I tried to absorb the import of what he just said.  “What did that mean?” I thought.

This morning, I awoke with a thought.  I think I figured it out.

You can’t lead the people who employ you.  You may have the illusion that you lead them, but as soon as you try to hold them accountable, they will turn on you and you’ll find yourself unemployed.

The New Testament model of church leadership is apostolic.  Christ, as the head of the church, which is His body.  Jesus left the 12 apostles in charge, and through their leadership, teaching, and spiritual discipling, they led the church forward.  Neither Old Testament, or New, the church has never operated on a democratic model.

If Christ gives the leader, or pastor, a vision of where He wants the church to go, it is up to the pastor to carry that out.  In most cases, as long as these ideas and the pastor’s leadership are not too radical, everything will be fine.  In fact, many church congregations will give the illusion that they are following.  Yet as soon as the pastor begins to lead differently, outside the normal channels, or even in a radical way – the members and lay board will have some tough choices to make.

Will they continue to follow, or will they stand up and exercise their power?

My experience this past year was just this.  Upon hiring me, they told me they wanted a leader and they agreed to my terms of leadership.  But when things got outside of their comfort zone, they wrested leadership away from me and scoffed and the very idea that a pastor would be their leader.  They asserted that it was their church and they are the leaders.

As this debated continued on over the next several months, some of these core lay leaders grew impatient with my unwillingness to surrender to their demands.  Not only was I not called to be a puppet, but I was called to correct the issues prevalent in this congregation.  It would be immoral for me to abandon the people I was fighting for – and leave them in the hands of this proud lot who were ignoring these invisible and discarded people.

I don’t mind a bit of conflict, in fact I know that healthy conflict can lead to better, more intimate relationships.  I was content working through the issues, but as I mentioned in a recent post, at some point the men I was in conflict with chose the nuclear option.  Instead of staying in the discussion, they went to my employer – and the employer, instead of working through healthy conflict mediation, chose to eliminate what they saw as the problem – me.

That’s really too bad, because no matter how badly Imy family and I were hurt by this, ultimately, the church we were leading suffers the most.  The people we were standing up for were hurt, but once we get our feet back under us, we can still serve and empower them.  It is those who missed the opportunity to grow, missed an opportunity to serve others, and missed an opportunity to see things differently – they are hurt the worst.  In their ignorance, they will continue to muddle along – but ultimately, and spiritually, they are the biggest losers.

It’s quite sad – and it helps me to understand why Jesus wept as He looked down on Jerusalem the week before He was crucified.

The wise person will listen to those they aren’t required to listen to – no matter how painful the message.

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  1. Rod Scherencel said,

    Leadership is a complex process.

    Part of leadership requires assessing the assets and weighing them against the liabilities. The most basic requirement for leadership is that the leader has followers, so a leader must constantly calculate how far he can bend the status quo for an honorable purpose without breaking the will of the followers or their desire to follow. Sad to say, this often means wise compromise on the part of the leader so he does not alienate those he is trying to influence.

    It does not mean disregard for the high values it simply means choosing when to move to the next phase of unwrapping them. Jesus was a master at this. Misjudging the speed of change is something all leaders do periodically and it always results in an expenditure of credibility. The most skilled leaders are masters at timing change accurately. However, a major misjudgment in timing; a major demand for change can result in the immediate loss of leadership credibility and total separation between the leader and those he intends to lead; including superiors.

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Rod, this is the most clear and concise couple of paragraphs I think I have ever read in my life. You are exactly right.

      As things began to unravel, I realized several key mistakes I had made – I admitted to these and asked forgiveness. First, I misunderstood how to pastor a traditional church – I didn’t understand this until it suddenly dawned on me that was the situation I was in. Second, I was moving at a different velocity than most churches are moving. As an innovator and church planter, I was ignorant of my need to down-shift and let off the gas. And finally, I lost my cool at a board meeting and said a lot of things out of anger. For many, this was most likely, the last straw.

      As you may have surmised, this blog is my attempt to process and decipher what has been an entirely confusing and disheartening two years.

      So, I understand the above – what you explained. And hearing it from you, a neutral, third-party, whom I trust – I can accept it really well. But here’s the deal – why didn’t my employer say this?

      Instead, they accused me of being a lair, of not loving people, of (and this is a new one I just heard from a mutual acquaintance) of violating confidences. In fact, when I last met with them, I still couldn’t get a straight answer.

      And, what I’m really coming to recognize is that when we arrived from our last post, we were burned out. We gave our heart and soul to the task there, and we were spent. Then, with the added pressure of a cross-country move, the loss of good friends, the separation from family, and some of the medical issues we faced in the first year here… Well, we were just broken.

      In just the last couple of weeks I’ve come to realize that this is the real issue. We needed a break. Like soldiers back from the battlefield, we needed some time to get our feet back under us. But the church doesn’t really have a system to deal with that.

      Tight budgets and other issues make it difficult for the church to deal with this very real issue. Indeed, I began to seek advice and input from the very first few months I was here, but no serious attention was given to my questions and concerns until the laity raised concerns about my leadership style. And even at that point, the questions I’d originally raised were now used against me to demonstrate my lack of love.

      It wouldn’t have taken much to help resolve these conflicts. It wouldn’t have taken much to help my family over some rough times. And it certainly wouldn’t have taken much to salvage a dedicated employee. Thousands of dollars were invested in my training and employment – to throw that away (not just in my case) seems like such a waste.

      Either way, I’m glad I’m out. I really don’t want to work for an organization that can’t acknowledge their own areas that need improvement, and that treats employees like disposable commodities.

  2. Rod Scherencel said,


    Sometimes things get really convoluted during crisis; besides, not everything is truly the same as it is perceived by almost every individual involved. And who, besides God himself, knows the true conversion of any man regardless of status within the church? For that reason why don’t you just decipher your own actions and weigh the intentions of your own heart in comparison to God’s will? Judge your own motives and behavior, evaluate how other people reacted to things you did, take responsibility for yourself, know in your heart the things you did right and ask forgiveness for the things you did wrong, learn and grow from the experience and let the rest fade into the muddled past. Remember the concept of self-differentiation? You have no control over other people – only yourself.

    I too have been hurt in the past by the decisions of my superiors. To this day I am convinced with supporting evidence that the decisions made about my life and ministry were a mistake; however, I have had to come to grips with my own ability to forgive and move forward. With God’s convicting grace I have been able to do that and can now sit and talk with those who made the decisions without malice in my own heart and with genuine love. This is a huge testament to the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s patient love for me. True forgiveness comes when you can pray for the goodwill of those whom you need to forgive.

    If you have truly been called by God to do His work, then your work is not over; it has simply taken another fork in the road. But you can determine whether or not you are going to remain faithful in all things to the calling that you received from him whether or not you can see where He is leading you (Abraham). If you are truly a leader, as I believe you are, you will rise above this setback and influence people for Jesus Christ in whatever capacity He places you.

    Now for some hard, challenging words spoken in love with every honorable intention: If, after spending some months grieving over and healing from the process you have just emerged from (grieving that we all seem to be entitled to by God) you do not stand up and stumble forward in the cause of Jesus Christ – albeit gingerly at first – like Moses, Elijah and others, then you are not worthy of the calling that has been extended to you by God.

    I am praying for you. Take courage.


    • Tabor Vistas said,

      This is what I’m trying to do. Sort out my part, the Lord’s part, the local church’s part, and the denomination’s part.

      As one who who saw great immorality in this church, and who believes I was called to address it, I can’t stop addressing it just because they fired me. Can I?

      Luke 7:39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

      I can overlook the alcohol, the shading viewing habits, the dismissing of family needs because of workaholism, and at some level even the inability to manage one’s family because of debt and anger – but when the marginalized and invisible people of the church are dismissed, disempowered, and denegrated – well, I can’t ignore that.

      What I saw happening in this church is similar to what Jesus saw in the story above. It is similar to why Jesus wept as he viewed Jerusalem from the hilltop. It is like the woman who crawled through the crowd to touch Him – everyone else ignored her, Jesus didn’t.

      There was a powerful clique that had overtaken this church, they were stifling it, squelching a large group of people who were barely hanging onto their existence. I couldn’t ignore that. And yet, the more time I spent with the misunderstood of the congregation, the more I got a reaction similar to what Jesus got in Luke 15:1-2. One of the elders actually asked/told me: “But what about us!?” – speaking of the semi-affluent young families. When I quoted Luke 15 – which I had also brought up in my interview – I got a blank look.

      Apparently, we, as a church, have given people the impression that the pastor is there to take care of those who pay his/her wages. For, if we don’t take care of the tithe-payers, there would be no church.

      So yes, I made mistakes (as did Moses, David, Jacob, and others) – and yes, God knew I would make those mistakes before I arrived. And yes, I feel badly that my ministry was diminished because of those failures. However, that doesn’t mean people should use those mistakes as an excuse to terminate someone whose message they don’t care for.

      Yep – as the serenity prayers taught me years ago, I can only accept the things I have control over (which is very little); I have to let go of the things I have no control over (which is much); and I have to seek serenity in Jesus – for all things.

      I’m just trying to figure out what those are – and how they correlate to my calling???

  3. Glenn said,

    I struggle to appreciate and relate to your comments when the individuals you seem to hold up as heroes are the very ones who did to me – in the name of their restructuring – what your recent employer did to you.

    I’ve seen what the end of their ideas will do to people. I’m afraid of what holding them and their ideas on a pedestal will do to you.

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Your comment initially confused me, because I didn’t remember holding up any individuals as heroes. In re-reading the post, I can see how you would get that impression. It wasn’t really the individuals that inspired me, but the concepts and ideas. Frankly, I wasn’t very impressed with the implementation of those concepts by our mutual employer. In fact, had those ideas been implemented better, I might still be living in your neighborhood. As you may recall, leaving wasn’t exactly an easy experience – or by choice.

      Also remember, those ideas didn’t originate with the individuals you “name.” But from other sources. I brought those ideas with me – and they had a big part of what got me terminated. As this post talks about, I was operating with a leadership model, but those being led, rose up and rebelled. Ultimately, they showed me that they didn’t want to be led.

      Doe this make any sense?

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