In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership

The opening line of Good to Great from Jim Collins states “Good is the enemy of great.” As organizations experience some measure of success, they will consider themselves “good,” and they start to lose the mojo to become “great.”  Thankfully as Christians, we are given the definitive leadership role model – our Lord Jesus Christ. Called to be imitators of Christ (Eph 5:1), we must ask the inevitable question. “Is great the enemy of godly?” or “Is godly the enemy of great?

As a maturing student of leadership, I sometimes found myself swimming in the sea of confusion as I absorbed numerous books on leadership. Sometimes the leadership lessons seem to be virtually the same, just packaged different with different cover, titles, and stories. I wrestled with the notion of being a “Christian” leader.

in pursuit of great and godly leadership

Me (back left) participating in Mike Bonem’s workshop on “In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership”

Mike Bonem was one of the speakers at the CLA conference I attended. His background is very interesting. Graduated from Harvard MBA, he worked as a consultant for McKinsey &Co for several years. Unlike his fellow peers who normally followed the fast-track accelerated leadership path, Bonem followed God’s call and entered vocational ministry. He then served as a leadership consultant and executive pastor for 10 years. You can follow him on his website.  

Bonem’s lastest book In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership: Tapping the Wisdom of the World for the Kingdom of God talks about the subtle tension between the pursuit of godliness and greatness. He argues that as Christian leaders we can be both godly and great.

Bonem shares some key insights from his life-long experience in both the business field and vocational ministry.

  • The Bible provides the core foundation, but not all the answers, on how to be an effective leader.
  • Secular leadership principles are not inherently evil or contrary to Scripture.
  • Unwillingness to use solid business principles can limit a church’s potential.
  • Overreliance on business principles can also limit a church’s potential.

Mike says “leadership in Christian organizations is about getting a group of people to discern a God-given direction and commit their lives to accomplish this purpose.” Bonem shares core principles of biblical leadership:

  • God’s purpose is unchanging and nonnegotiable
  • God chooses to work through human leaders
  • Biblical leadership cannot be boiled down to a single model
  • Effective leadership is grounded in healthy relationships
  • God-honoring leadership is often a hard, lonely journey
  • A leader’s character and spiritual health are of utmost importance to God

Scripture is Full of Business Principles

The purpose of the Bible is not business-related. It’s about God’s unconditional love and story of redemption through his son Jesus Christ who came offer us salvation through grace. However, there are surprisingly key business principles that are applicable to leading organizations. Bonem shares some of examples of business acumen in the Scripture:

  1. In Exodus  18, Moses is visited by his father-in-law, Jethro, who recognizes that Moses’ “span of command” has gotten too large and is unsustainable. He wisely advises Moses to reorganize the people by appointing second-tier leaders to handle the minor issues.
  2. In Acts 6, the early church appoints seven men to oversee the distribution of food so that the apostles can focus on “prayer and the ministry of the world.” This passage shows the importance of selecting the right people (making good hiring decisions), putting people into roles that fit their strengths, and organizing a group to accomplish a desired goal.

However, not all business principles are applicable. Some business practices foster an environment of manipulation and mistrust. Manipulation is certainly not a core value that followers of Jesus uphold to.

Business is Full of Scriptural Principles

Leading authorities on leadership share key business principles that seem to resonate with much of the Scripture. Case in point. Good to Great: the Level 5 leader. Collins shares that consummate leader, the Level 5 leader, betrays our thinking of a larger-than-life, ego-driven CEOs. These are rather Level 4 leaders. Collins says that a Level 5 leader is “an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.” This aligns with Christ’s example of servanthood. We are called to serve, not to be served.

Another example is from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s Leadership Challenge. Bonem cites a quote from this classic leadership textbook: “Exemplary leaders have a passion for something other than their own fame and fortune. They care about making a difference in the world.” This reflects the other-directed instead of the self-directed focus Jesus modeled for us. Bonem concludes, “we must not discard all leadership concept just because it is presented as having a secular source.”

Question: Are you currently striving to be a great leader, godly leader, or great AND godly leader?