Bad Elders: Leadership Hubris

Good or Bad LeaderThom S. Rainer is a well-known author, consultant, and speaker on church growth and leadership. He recently posted an article in his blog about hubris among church leaders.

“Hubris,” of course, means pride. It’s the Greek word for the kind of pride that goes before a fall.

Rainer teaches some lessons based on the failures of the Big Three American auto makers —

1. Leaders with hubris see others as inferior. The rest of the world does not get it. Others are just not as smart. As a result, these leaders do not listen well because others really don’t have anything worthy to say. Leaders with hubris thus lack patience with others. They definitely cannot see their own faults.

2. Leaders with hubris are slow to see deteriorating conditions in the organizations they lead. The CEO of General Motors declared in a 2007 letter to shareholders: “Our entire team rose up to meet the collective challenges we face.” The letter was written as the two-year losses for GM totaled over $12 billion. Leaders with hubris cannot see conditions getting worse because they cannot believe such conditions could take place under their leadership.

3. Leaders with hubris are quick-tempered. Some of the stories of the tempers of union leaders and the leaders of the Big Three are almost unbelievable. Their condescending and demeaning treatment of others reflects their own aggrandized view of themselves. If anyone disagreed with them or got in their way, the self-righteous anger of the leader exploded.

4. Leaders with hubris expect to be served. The CEOs of the Big Three didn’t get it. They showed up at congressional hearings for bailout money in private corporate jets. Union leaders’ threats of strikes against the car companies garnered the workers such out-of-the-norm benefits that the very existence of the companies they worked for were jeopardized. In both cases, everyone was looking out for themselves, seeking to be served rather than seeking to serve.

In the church world, I think number 2 is the most common. I mean, how many times do the leaders of a church or a leader among the Churches deny that we have a problem? I mean, we’re in numerical decline and many among act as though the solution is to change nothing at all.

Fellow elders, check yourself against the list.


6 Responses

  1. I agreed that #2 has the most application in church settings.

    Elders are almost to a man- good guys who love God and his church, but so often are hindered by timidity and lack of vision.

  2. While #2 is probably the most common. Although I have personally seen #1 and #3 at work and it made being a minister in said church a very undesireble occupation, especially when the out come of those two traits were manifested in some very passive-aggresive ways.

    Grace and peace,


  3. Having worked in the U.S. auto industry for 32 years (now retired) I can attest to the external example of hubris. When I started in the late seventies, I looked around at the executives. I couldn’t find any I wanted to emulate in character.

    On a related note, I presented the following in a Wed. adult class recently.

    Powerpoint displayed the following:
    “What will happen to the church if we don’t do good?”

    I then said the following:
    “In the eighties, a group said we don’t understand commitment.
    In the nineties, a group said we don’t understand discipling.
    In the last decade, a group has said we don’t understand grace.
    I don’t always agree with the proposed solutions these groups have presented.
    However, I think the problem they present is real. We aren’t doing enough good.”

    This was an introduction to a series of lessons in Romans 12 which focuses on getting along with people.

  4. I saw all four of these take place in a church setting with a minister, and then be exacerbated by elders who demonstrated #2 regarding the situation. Here are concrete examples of how each of these principles were demonstrated. I am not exaggerating in the least:

    #1. “I run this church. When I talk at elders’ meetings, they get out their pencils and start writing.” “I’m here because I am a professional and the best at what I do. The elders searched all over the nation and all of the biggest names said I was their man.”

    #2. “This will be one of the best campus ministries in the nation. I will be the next [well-known campus minister] and we will hold revivals that fill [campus stadium].” (All the while students are disappearing because of their fear of his personal attacks against them; interns are resigning.)

    #3. Twenty minutes of yelling at an intern behind closed doors for turning in the wrong kind of receipt. “What I say goes and you will not defy that.” Angrily reprimanding an intern for not stacking pop cans in a cooler in the correct direction. (Remember, I am not making this up!) Using his menace to the point that another intern does not want to go home alone for fear of intimidation or violence from him.

    #4. “I’ll get what I want.” When questions of his personal conduct are raised, he immediately responds with what he is owed in the situation and what others’ duties are in their conduct towards him. “Show me the evidence in detail right now.”

    I could go on… So yes, elders, check yourselves AND your ministers against this list. And listen to those who bring legitimate concerns to you, especially if they actually have real evidence of wrongdoing.

  5. I was in a workshop with Dr Charles Siburt of ACU, recently. He made this observation: Every church fight he’s had experience with has always boiled down to the issues of power and control.

    I’ve not been able to find any exceptions to that observation.

  6. Rich,

    I think you’ve nailed it. We’ve failed to understand our mission as God’s people.

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