Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Leaders or Vendors!

          In his posthumously published book, A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman, a gifted therapist, Rabbi, and expert on organizations of all kinds, says:

         “I believe there exists throughout America today a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try to stand tall amid the raging anxiety storms of our time. It is a highly reactive atmosphere pervading all the institutions of our society – a regressive mood that contaminates the decision-making processes of governments and corporations at the highest level and, on the local level, seeps down into the deliberations of neighborhood church, synagogue, hospital, library, and school boards.”

         One of the reasons that leaders fail to lead, Friedman says, is because we treat them as vendors.

         Trained every day to be consumers, we treat everything as a product to be bought. For instance, we don’t elect national leaders. Instead, we work to get our “brand name” in power. In the same way that people have strong opinions about the consumption of Pepsi or Coke, we either like Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican, and only those who are on our side have any brains at all. If the brand we don’t like is in power we simply demonize everything they do. We believe that because at Burger King we can have it “our way,” everything else works the same way. The result is that “leaders” ignore things like doing the right thing, and acting in the common good in favor of keeping customers happy. Sadly, leaders have become vendors.

         Believing that the customer (that’s us) is always right, our ability to dialogue on difficult issues, to seek the common good, or even to be civil to one another, goes right out the window. It’s either, “my way or the highway.” Eventually, this all or nothing attitude leads to violence as we all too often see in the news these days.

         In the church, we can all too easily see ourselves as customers to be served instead of disciples of Christ who do the serving.

         When a decision is made that doesn’t sit well with us it’s all too easy to file a complaint with the customer service department; to focus on our dissatisfaction and voice it as criticism; or insist that the leaders are intentionally up to no good. The vendors (a.k.a., leaders) of the congregation have simply failed to deliver the goods.

         On the other hand, leaders can become so attuned to the criticism and take on the role as vendor to the point that “job one” becomes trying to keep everyone happy (an impossibility) instead of tending to the mission of the congregation.

         I share this reflection not because our congregation manifests this behavior consistently. We do not. That is a blessing from God. I share this because this problem is all around us.

         Changing leaders into vendors is a sign of sin and brokenness.

         As people of faith, we can work to edify instead of tear down, and focus on the needs of others instead of self-service. Scripture reminds us that leaders are called and gifted to lead; that all the members of the body of Christ are to be about the business of building up that body. That takes leadership – godly leadership. Such individuals must be encouraged to lead, by boldly stepping out in faith to serve effectively for Christ.

         It is very important to make sure we “keep the main thing, the main thing.”

         Let’s pray and work that it might happen everywhere.


[Dear Reader, today’s article was written by a minister friend (Pastor John) from the Lutheran Church (ELCA – Evangelical Lutheran Church of America). I was reading this article written for the church newsletter while vacationing at my brother’s in Virginia. What impressed me was his clarity in identifying a major problem in our church leadership today, but even more so in our entire culture. I trust you are as challenged as I was in reading this article. I received his permission to use this article for Roots in Ripon with a few editorial changes.]

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