Objections Christians Might Raise to Jim Collins

Jim Collins Note 02:
I read quite a few of the most important leadership authors. Every year I still read 20+ new books on leadership. Many of these books are written by secular authors who have no interest in spirituality, or particularly  - the Christian faith. 

I have many conversations with Christian leaders who wonder how appropriate it is to use the insights of these non-Christian authors. Jim Collins is not exempt from their questions. In fact, the very popularity of his ideas makes him the subject of some "concerns" raised by "some" Christian leaders. 

I will briefly raise and answer three questions/objections that are good questions and worth considering. Two of them in this post, and  one in the next post.

Question ONE:

Here is a frequently raised question. Why take the time to read secular authors? After all, the Bible tells us everything we need to know about leadership. We can fully trust the Bible's teaching. The secular authors have many assumptions and core beliefs that are at odds with the Bible. Be wise and just go to God's revealed truth.

Response ONE:
I certainly understand this concern. Yes, there are secular authors who have assumptions, values and biases that are quite at odds with the Christian faith. Discretion and discernment are needed. Nevertheless, I believe, with some careful work, there are great benefits to be had from engaging with these authors.

(1)  All truth is God's truth. I first came across that idea from Christian philosopher - Arthur Holmes, in his book by that title. It turns out this idea goes back to the towering theological giant of the Christian faith - Augustine. Augustine understood there is General Revelation and Special Revelation. The Bible is God's special revelation of truth that would only be known through God's deliberate work to reveal that truth to us. But general revelation is truth that God has "built" into creation itself. That truth may be discovered by a Christian or an atheist. The Law of Thermodynamics is one example. The Law of Gravity is another. Similarly, there are "truths, principles, ideas" about the nature of organizations that God has placed within creation.  When someone "discovers such a truth" it is a gift of God to us.

Augustine all truth is God's truth quote

(2)  The Bible is certainly THE CORE TRUTH that judges and evaluates all other truth. When there is contradiction between what the Bible says and what another author says (whether they are Christian or Atheist) the Bible is given normative status. 

(3)  The Bible rarely presents models or systems where truths are arranged and discussed. For example, while we can find ideas and principles about how teams should work, you are hard pressed to find a model for team building clearly prescribed in the Bible. What interpreters do is collect various ideas, gather and arrange them into models that have explanatory power. Back to the idea of teams. Patrick Lencioni has written a fine book - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In this book, Lencioni creates a very useful systems model that is sequential and progressive. None of the ideas are opposed in any way to the Bible. I could make a case that the Bible affirms and supports each one. But, the Bible does not present these ideas in the system and order that Lencioni does. In this way, an "extra-biblical" and useful model has been created that is congruent with the Bible.

Question TWO:
Isn't there a danger is using predominant themes of leadership that are not discussed in the Bible? The Bible uses images and images of leadership like pastor-shepherd, teacher, elder, spiritual counselor, servant and so on. When it comes to the church, the images are that of community, family, body and such. These secular authors turn the church into an organization and the leader into a CEO.

Response TWO:
A very important question and observation... and it points out a possible temptation and detour. I want to affirm that the biblical images for both leadership and the community are of primary importance. They can only be neglected at great peril. I would like to see a renewal of these powerful and profound images and narratives. For anyone who believes they need some help with this, I recommend Eugene Peterson as the most helpful guide. Especially see his books:

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity.
Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work
Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness

With said, and using an idea from Jim Collins, we do not need an Either-Or approach on this issue when a Both-And is more appropriate. 

An Either-Or approach says you will EITHER be a pastoral, spiritual leader OR you will be an organizational, systems-thinking leader.  A Both-And approach says you can be BOTH a pastoral, spiritual leader AND an organizational, systems building leader. Collins believes a problem is when we fall into either-or thinking when both-and thinking gives more fruitful approaches.

I fully agree with that. I believe I exemplify both of those models. I give primary and consistent attention to being a spiritual leader, who builds community, creates learning environments for spiritual transformation, who guides people on the matters of heart and spirit, and always has as my goal - a people who are increasingly like Jesus. Then, in addition, I also provide the best systems thinking I can for the organizational life of our church (which is quite large). We are both a spiritual community/organism and we are an organizational entity with all the demands and responsibilities of organization, operation and so on.

I know many wonderfully spiritual leaders who are quite inadequate when it comes to understanding how organizations and systems work. Therefore, they do not have the mindsets, models and methodologies to help the organization be healthy and growing.

I will repeat the basic idea - you do not need to have an either-or approach to this. Use a both-and mindset. In most cases, for most of you - the spiritual leadership of a community will be foundational to how you lead. Then, as it is helpful, supplement that approach with the best organizational - systems thinking you can.

Tomorrow - is Greatness a Biblical Idea?

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International