Great men’s vices are more imitated than poor men’s graces. — William Secker

This is the title from a Dec. 2009 article in Harvard Business Review.  The authors, Herminia Ibarra and Morten T. Hansen, ask some poignant questions that mirror questions many people have about the celebrity church culture in North America.

Admired or Adroit?

If we asked you to make a list of the top 50 performing CEOs in the world, who would you name? Jeffrey Immelt? Jamie Dimon? Carols Ghosn? They’re on your list? They shouldn’t be.

What about Bart Becht? John Martin? John Lau? Not on your list? They should be. Becht, of Reckitt-Benckiser, Martin, of Gilead Sciences, and Lau, of Husky Energy have had strong performance year after year, but yet they’re not well known outside their industries. They’re among the “quiet CEOs” getting the job done, and well. Immelt (GE), Dimon (JP Morgan Chase) and Ghosn (Renault-Nissan) get lots of attention in the business press. CEOs like them are often labeled as “most admired” or highest paid. Typically, they’re charismatic leaders, but seldom are they actually measured on overall performance.

This matters. After all, where do our leadership models and leadership lessons come from? We may just be learning from the most admired, but not the best-performing leaders.

Donald Trump is another one of those “famed” business leaders that is one of the worst examples of leadership and ethics yet despite his failings many people seek to emulate him.  The role models we select matter.  The Apostle Paul  says in 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

  • Who are the models of church leadership on your list?
  • Do you follow the “loud” leaders who get great press and speak at conferences, or the “quiet” leaders because they are great followers of Jesus who are getting the job done?
  • Do you follow the charismatic, most admired, highest paid or does the substance of their moral character, ministry ethic, missional vision, and love for you personally draw your attention?
  • Do your leadership models come from the most arrogant self-promoters or the humble men and women who invest in your life every day?

Trendy or Tested?

The Harvard Review article goes on:

We believe performance matters most, but how do we know who are the best-performing leaders? How do we know Becht has outperformed Dimon? We set out to create our own list, compiled from data on nearly 2,000 CEOs around the globe over the full length of their tenure to date. We measured performance based on hard metrics — the objective, cold reality of shareholder returns and changes in market value.

It’s a long-term metric that gets us away from the excessive focus on short-term performance. (Granted, it is not the only metric for measuring CEO performance and we are not suggesting that the CEOs single-handedly created the performance — the team they led had a great deal to do with it).

Wow, what great questions for business, but even better questions for the church:

  • How do you know you are following the right role models?
  • Is success determined by how much money a publishing company is willing to spend to promote their newest author?
  • Is the cold hard metric of attendance your measure of a great leader/role-model?
  • Do you follow the most trendy young-gun leaders or does longevity matter?

Famous or Frontline?

Finally, the HBR asks:

The list [of Top 100 CEO’s] is beautifully varied and surprising. And yet, we still flock to the same few big-time celebrity CEOs for our wisdom on leadership and growth. What does that say about us as a business community? Maybe we’re over-valuing things that well-known CEOs do well (getting on magazine covers, talking about their next big moves, explaining short-term results) and over-looking what less headline grabbing but better-performing CEOs do well which is focus on building value long-term. Maybe it’s time to redirect our attention and start celebrating and learning from a different crop of CEOs, starting with the ones listed here.
 The diversity and beauty of the church is amazing, yet all across the country we flock to the same leaders.  Famous preachers build dozens of video shrines to their speaking prowess and adoring crowds will gladly follow the fame.  I am left with many questions about the church celebrity culture:
  •  What does this say about our church family?
  • Why is a preacher who speaks the Gospel on a TV screen more valued than the preacher, or team of preachers, who models it in front of you everyday?
  • Have we put too much value on the short term power of headline grabbing leaders to the exclusion of the local church leader that can actually be a life-on-life role model?
  • Church, isn’t it time we rethink our values and redirect our lives?


Artwork: Yue Minjun, Noah’s Ark, 2006, lithograph and silk screen, 105 x 134 cm

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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