The Disciplined Leader in the Face of Growth

I recently read an excerpt from Jim Collin’s latest book Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All.  The excerpt appeared in Fortune, and is a great read.

The key takeaway from the excerpt?  The leader who instills a disciplined regimen of consistent progress is better able to create an organization that withstands the forces of change and uncertainty. This kind of leadership is one of the factors involved in why some companies survive and thrive during difficult times, while other organizations fade.

What’s this have to do with ministry?  This concept has a lot to with ministry leadership – especially in terms of how church leaders approach growth.  Collins shares that successful companies often ratchet back on growth during “high times,” slowing the growth to a pace that can be managed well and that will allow the company to maintain core identity, focus, excellence, and consistency.  On the flip side, leaders in these great companies push for that same consistent growth in the downtimes as well – a practice that makes growth a habit, a norm, a rule, not an exception.

I doubt the lessons from these Great by Choice companies can be applied too directly to the church.  But my experience working with church leaders does lead me to believe that we’d be wise to take a page from Collins’s playbook for greatness: we must not get so enamored with growth that we succumb to the belief that all growth is good; a church can grow too fast.  Likewise, a congregation with no growth likely controls that outcome more than their leaders think.

A healthy rate of congregational growth produces at least three valuable outcomes:

  • The congregation stays mission-focused because consistent growth provides a consistent stream of inspiring stories of souls being saved and God being glorified.
  • An antidote to believing that growth, in and of itself, is the mission of the church.   Growth is not an intrinsic good and too much growth can derail a church into placing growth above God.  Keeping growth to a healthy pace also puts into place a nice ego-check for leaders, since bigger is not always better for the soul.
  • A pace of change that neither short-circuits the system nor leads to congregational systemic/structural inflexibility.  In other words, burn out and rust out are not the only two options available to us.

I’m looking forward to reading Collins’s book in its entirety.  If it’s anything like Build to Last and Good to Great, it will prove helpful to church leaders as well as leaders in corporate and not-for-profit organizations.

About Chad Hall

Chad Hall is the Director of Coaching for Western Seminary and also serves as a leadership coach for ministry and corporate clients through his role as Partner with Coach Approach Ministries and iNTERNAL iMPACT.

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