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How Tough Should Our Evaluations of Christian Leaders Be?

Possibly the two toughest places for leaders are sports and the military. In coaching, a losing record usually means the end of your tenure with a particular team. Too many losing seasons and your career as a head coach is over. A few years ago the football coach at UCLA found this out. Not enough wins, and especially not enough wins against rival USC, so he was out. Likewise, in the military, a wrong battlefield decision and you’re pulled pretty quickly. Great coaches and generals become great because they win. They have a track record, and they do it consistently.

But what about Christian leaders? What about pastors, ministry leaders, or CEO’s of faith-based organizations? Christians are driven by love and forgiveness, so generally we give Christian leaders a lot of rope. Frankly, there are some pretty incompetent leaders out there in the Christian world, but I don’t see most leaving anytime soon. And yet the New Testament is pretty hard on leaders in the church.

When it comes to pastors, Paul is pretty clear with Timothy that personal integrity matters, and leaders must be above reproach. And when it comes to results, I’m particularly fascinated by the argument that longtime partners Paul and Barnabas got into over hiring Mark. Barnabas wanted to bring Mark (not the gospel writer) along on their next trip, but Paul remembered how he abandoned them earlier. Paul wasn’t hesitant to remind his friend Barnabas that Mark was a quitter, and he had no intention of partnering with someone like that.

The argument was serious enough that Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Barnabas took Mark and went in one direction, and then Paul hooked up with Silas and went in another. The really interesting thing to note is that after that decision, Paul went on to do great exploits, and write a significant part of the New Testament. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think we ever hear from Barnabas again.

Apparently, having the right leader for the job matters, and Paul wasn’t afraid to draw a line in the sand and reject an unfit candidate.

So today – outside of obvious financial or personal misconduct – how hard should we be when it comes to performance, mission, and results? What if the leader is a good man or woman, committed to the vision, and works hard, but just isn’t successful at achieving the mission he or she is called to accomplish? When it comes to stewardship of the thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars that donors give to accomplish a project or mission, how tough should we be when it comes to reaching the goal?

Here’s my thoughts:

1) One of our biggest mistakes is not to agree on expectations when we hire the leader. It’s unfair to surprise him two years into the job with expected results he or she didn’t know about. Be clear up front, and explain exactly what you expect them to accomplish.

2) Track it. It’s easier in business where you can chart your financial and sales progress. But there are ways to track mission success as well. In the old days, Billy Graham and Oral Roberts had new converts fill out small cards, and the ministry kept detailed records on conversions. How many did you feed at the homeless shelter last year? How has your donor development improved? Have you expanded the markets for your television or radio program? What isn’t measured can’t be improved. Track it.

3) Surround the leader with motivators. Sadly, many ministry boards simply exist to rubber stamp whatever the pastor or leader wants. But in a great organization, the board is filled with other leaders – sometimes older and more experienced – who motivate, inspire, and push the leader to new levels. A board is there for a purpose, and one of the best roles is to be a burr under the saddle. Don’t let the leader become complacent. Stretch his or her boundaries.

4) Track the finances and don’t be afraid to act.  When ministry organizations fail, people ask, “How did that happen?” “Where was the board?” Watch the books. It doesn’t matter if the leader is the nicest guy on the planet. When you get far down the debt road, something has to change.

5) Pull the plug in a supportive and gracious way. Whether it’s a regular employee or the boss, never fire them without helping them understand the reasons, and helping them land on their feet. There’s a place for love here, and sometimes, removing them from leadership is the best gift you could possibly give. Do it with respect, and don’t burn bridges.

6) Act. Don’t keep putting it off, believing for the best, or hoping things will change. The leader of your organization is the steward of a great deal of donor money, outreach, and goodwill, and your mission is important. Don’t go down in history as one of the people in your organization that allowed a leader to crash the plane and destroy a great vision.

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  1. I have seen people with great potential and glowing qualifications that did not produce and perform as expected.  And conversely, others excelled under pressure and when given the opportunity rose to the occasion, unexpectedly.  David and Joseph are good examples.

    How tough should we be on Christian leaders?  Fifty million debt…how could that happen?  Just like it happens in our government and with our politicians…the debt is staggering.  Two of the three private Christian schools my children attended operated in the red.  It does require financial savvy and smarts to keep a nonprofit in the black.  I commend those who are able to do it.  Personally, I believe there is too much imploding in the body of Christ with leaders and nonleaders.  There must be more restorative action on our part.  It is far easier to "pile on" than to guide and direct with maturity. 

    In the local church I have found those that make the most noise about money, are those who give the least or don't give at all.  The same is true of television ministries.  Those of us who have been giving consistently over the long haul take no exception with their Mercedes, "mansions," jets or expensive clothes.  People complained about Smith Wigglesworth's clothes.  And they thought Lester Sumrall "had money" because he dressed so well.  Personally, these leaders who are in the "limelight", I want to look their best and have the best equipment (if it means a jet/s) to accomplish their job and ministry to the greatest effect.  Christians who are not in the Word and in prayer as they should be will believe the worst.  They will gravitate to suspicion and a devisive spirit just like the scribes and pharisees did to Jesus (our scandal ridden Savior).  As some have indicated, they first take exception with the TV preachers' doctrine…the rest follows.

    My wife and I lost our two purchased "time shares" in the PTL fury.  We never bad mouthed PTL…the naysayers took care of that.  Neither did we regret giving to PTL.  Like Judas, some individuals start out on track but then go "off" for many reasons.  As to PTL, we were disappointed but only prayed for them.  Today, the fallen leader of PTL is in Branson and doing well.  We could not be happier for him.  He paid a big price for his mistakes.  God has restored him and I'm sure better days are ahead for him.

    Since there has been so much focus on the TV ministry leaders, let me give our testimony.  I love the prosperity message.  It freed my family from debt and lack, enabled us to live debt free (no mortgage on the house, paid in full), send our children to the college of their choice, live in divine health and serve God in a bigger and greater way than we ever imagined.  We learned to believe what God's Word actually says.  Our family is a living testimony of the fruit of these "prosperity preachers."  We now live in the "more abundant" of John 10:10, spiritually as well as financially.

    How tough should we be on Christian leaders?  As tough as we should be on ourselves. 

  2. Well Phil, we don't hear about Barnabus per se, but Paul goes on later to ask for Mark to come to him because he is valuable to him.  This is the same Mark whom writes the Gospel so I don't think Barnabus did too badly.  Seems like it was a win – win separation in terms of the benefit to the church overall in the long run.  😉  I think you may be reading in a little too much in your analogy.

    In general though I think you have a strong point.  I think part of the problem is that organizationally some churches and para-church ministries don't have a structure in place that makes internal accountibility an issue.  When there is a personality at the helm whose name recognition is a basis for continued ministry, there appears to be a strong willingness to defer to that person in all things, even to the point of surrendering accountibility and board authority.

    To respond to some of the follow-up I was at ORU from 1980 – 1985 and I took part in a series of brainstorming meetings run at the time to help determine the future of ORU, as Oral was nearing the traditional age of retirement and there was great concern over where the University was going.

    What came out of that was stated goals including a decision that Richard should be the successor but that before taking the role should acquire the academic credentials.

    Clearly stated at that time too was that the school should move to independence financially from OREA.

    The $50 million debt wasn't just the issue.  A great part of the issue recently is that this debt was hidden and only came out in the context of the recent and ongoing scandal there.  I challenge anyone to find an organization anywhere religious or secular that accumulates $50 million in debt, hides it and then upon its discovery will affirm leadership.

    I don't believe all Televangelists are financially unethical.  I have admiration for some, such as Joel Osteen, whose sister Tamara, I attended ORU with and was on my sister-wing.  I don't believe Jim Baker planned to be unethical in his dealings at PTL but he fell victim to his own pride and power in an organization he established that didn't exercise restraint and accountibility upon him and he like most other people in that situation would, I think, fell without those restraints.

    Not all criticism is destructive.  Financial success is not the measure of spiritual success and faithfulness.

    We do leaders a disservice when we fail to hold them accountible and build accountible organization structure to help guard against their falling to their own humanity.  Billy Graham is a stellar example of someone who recognized his own failings and potential to fall and held himself accountible by building his organization to trust him but verify his financial and personal dealings. 

    I believe Christians are forgiving, almost to a fault when it comes to leaders.  We seems to have accepted the idea that Leaders are not to be held to a higher standard because if we do so we are "judgemental".  We need some more judgement in this context in my opinion and discernment as well.  We can love a person, support them and help them to heal when they fall or fail in their roles.  They are still members of the body of Christ.  It doesn't follow that we keep ineffective leaders or restore them before they demonstrate readiness.

  3. Phil,

    I think your point about the Board of Directors is the most poignant. Without real leaders in those positions whose opinions are heard, respected and considered there really is no point in having a board.

    Typically the leaders of the large ministries surround themselves with board members who are respectable people and friends until they cross wires with the Pastor/leader and then they are asked to step down. A strong difference of opinion is not a good thing if you want to be a long term board member in these "one man is right" ministries.

  4. I agree with "Americkan" in his concluding remarks: "how tough…As tough as we should be on ourselves" (although Paul seems to indicate leaders must meet a higher standard than lay people).

    As leaders, the moment you make a rule, you better be sure you arent already breaking it.

    I also like Phil's points on measuring things, and I'm curious to know what he thinks are appropriate metrics for TV ministries?

  5. Great comments, but I still stand by my analogy with Mark.  First, we don't know if it's the same guy, but even if it is, Paul felt strongly enough that Mark wasn't qualified early on that he parted ways with Barnabas over the issue.  Later, in 2 Timothy 4:11, when Paul asks for "Mark," time has passed and we don't know all the circumstances.  Perhaps Mark has grown and is more experienced by then.  Either way, in the beginning, Paul didn't think him ready to be a ministry partner and was willing to move ahead without Barnabas if that's what it took.  No matter how you look at it, that's a pretty strong indicator of the kind of leader Paul required of an associate.  How can we do less?

  6. Phil, I think the key word is "our"….how tough should "our" evaluation of Christian leaders be?  In our American society, the freedoms of our constitution and Bill of Rights allow us to be self-governing.  Because of our variad doctrinal beliefs, we have rules and standards that vary from organization to organization.  With that, we also get the cults we have in the U.S. numbering in the thousands.  The literal answer to your question is not an easy one, unless we want control by outside groups.  Whomever that may be or by the U.S. government.  To allow autonomy of denominations and independent groups,  too much intervention as a means to produce "accountability" could restrict their individuality and statements of faith/or belief system.  What one deems as "abuse" another may not, ie., the resulting problems between Paul, Mark and Barnabas.  On a bigger scale, that could be disastrous for the church.  In light of the parable of the tares, some error may have to exist in order to protect the freedom of the greater.

    Again, the question…who is the "our."  That is the part which is debatable.  A revival of national proportions could take care of the problem. 🙂

  7. Basic stuff?  Response.  Who's calling, who's ordering products?  Beyond that, the current technique is to use TV as a "net" and then use direct mail for the actual donor development and fundraising.  So you immediately monitor new name acquisition.  Some stations and networks subscribe to a ratings service, but not many Christian stations do, so that's problematic.  TBN does and it's very helpful for audience numbers.  Beyond that, look at quality.  Are you improving your technical and production quality?  Lighting, set design, equipment, etc.  Creativity is hard to measure, but you can certainly get a good handle on improvement there.  Perhaps other readers have suggestions as well…  

  8. I won't quibble with you on the analogy as I think your point is sound.  😉

    I wonder though, how much of Paul's ministry and effectiveness was driven in part by his personality and drive and how easy it would have been to find the right match in a partner associate?  Barnabus is described as what appears to me as a type B, low energy, high personal touch type of person and in many situations it might be that he would have been a perfect compliment to Paul, shoring up his weaknesses in some settings.

    Given the high energy, type A, type leadership that seems pretty evident in Paul and the nature of the travels and quick turn around from one ministry context to another, it may simply be that Barnabus just didn't compliment him well and the issue of John Mark (who was related to Barnabus too) became the issue that made that clear.

    I don't think that necessarily speaks poorly of Barnabus so much as that partnership was not an effective fit given the demands of Paul's calling and ministry.  That's legitimate grounds for severing a ministry partnership and it doesn't speak poorly necessarily of either person.  While Barnabus may not have been mentioned again in Scripture, I don't take that as a sign necessarily that he was ineffective or incomplete as a leader.  He just wasn't a good fit to be Paul's associate in the demands of constant moving and reestablishing contact and ministry in multiple locations.  Paul was a missionary leader, not a local pastor/

    Someone like a Barnabus can be a great compliment to a type A minister who is planning on remaining in a local Church for instance for a long time and needs someone on his staff who can compliment his weakness, be sensitive to the personal issues and is called to be a number 2 or support person and is content and comfortable in that calling.

  9. We're not tough enough. And with the end time apostacy at hand, just as Jesus said it would come, the spine of the church is slouching toward Gommorah. Slackers fill the pulpits and bewitch the talking heads of the media elite.

    In the meantime, Christianity is increasingly perverted, marginalized, dumbed down and deconstructed into background noise for the postmodern Western culture to opt out of for more exciting stuff like Dancing With The Stars and worship of the dollar.

    Of it all, the greatest jester of them all is the Smiling Preacher himself, whose gaffe about Mormonism being the equivalent of Christianity is beyond belief. Orthodox, Biblical belief that is. But it's the spirituality of choice, after all, these days — we're not "religious" any more ..

    Once again, Joel Osteen's utter failure to uphold Christian truth in an age of apostacy only further supports what is all too clear about his teaching: it is spiritually bankrupt.

    Here is a link to articles our ministry has created on Osteen's heretical compromise that is anointed as "Christianity" today.

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