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ANALYSIS: ‘The Terminator’ & ‘Captain Kangaroo’ leadership styles can benefit from help

EDITORS’ NOTE: Brooks R. Faulkner, senior LeaderCare specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, has defined some kinds of pastors in a humorous, yet thought-provoking book, “Getting on Top of Your Work: A Manual for the 21st Century Minister.” Following are excerpts that look at some unhealthy pastoral leadership styles. Part two in this series examines biblical models of healthy leadership styles.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)– An adage says, “It takes all kinds to make the world.” That being true, all kinds can be found in pastoral leadership roles.

— The Superman. “The fate of the world depends on me. The church could not survive without me.”

Superman needs to carry the weight of the church on his shoulders. It is an image he relishes. It is also an image of vapor that evaporates with one whiff of the wind of reality.

Some church members propagate the gospel of Superman: “What do you think, pastor?”

“We don’t want to make a decision without the approval of our pastor.”

In his narcissistic haze, he begins to think he is indispensable. He has listened to a few dependent people and is disturbed by independent thinkers who disagree with him. He comes dangerously close to believing that the proof of his self-worth is based on whether people agree with his every opinion.

Even Jesus had to rest. He looked for times to be alone to replenish his energy. Superman never stops. He takes on the world’s problems, wins the world, heals the sick, fights evil, directs church programs and is an all-around good egg.

But deep in the recesses of his consciousness, he knows he is human. He knows his energies are depleting rapidly.

Yet he continues to drive himself until he finds himself flirting with cynicism, sarcasm, unbridled candor and a feeling of emptiness. It also takes a toll on family, deprived of time they deserve.

How can we make a pastor realize his humanity? It could be as simple as recognizing that a Baptist church is the strongest kryptonite. That may be all it takes to bring him back to earth.

Learn the important lessons of “You can’t save anyone; only God can” and “You can’t fix people; only God can.” We have the gifts God endowed us with. We can “hope in the Lord and renew our strength; soar on wings like eagles; run and not grow weary, and walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

— The Terminator. “Let’s clean up this church.”

Rules are necessary. They just don’t apply to The Terminator. This pastor brings his staff with him. He deems the church staff that is presently serving as inadequate.

Some of his characteristics wear well with some members. Some simply “wear” on others. He is compulsive. The staff’s schedule is secondary to his — even insignificant.

Those who like his style use phrases like “strong leader,” “tough implementer” and “no nonsense.” Those who question his style also question his compassion, caring instincts and healing attitude.

He has found some success in being contentious. Those who are easily intimidated fear his tirades and “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. He has a “get on board or get off the train” approach to leadership.

Can he be salvaged? Could Jesus use Simon Peter — that impulsive, compulsive obsessive who cut off an ear before he cut short an impulsive act? Yes, but not easily.

If we can baptize his good traits, we can turn him into a long-term leader. He needs to “be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate” (Titus 3:2). But to do that he must ask questions first and shoot later (perhaps not at all). He must develop the mind of Christ by avoiding manipulating the time and efforts of others.

Church members forgive most pastors’ mistakes, but they hardly ever forget scolding that is unnecessary, unnerving and unproductive.

— Captain Kangaroo. “Is everyone having a good time? Don’t leave the room — you are liable to miss something really exciting.”

Captain Kangaroo is the pastor who is constantly entertaining. He is never still when he talks. He relishes much applause. He is uncomfortable with conflict. (Who isn’t?) And he wears a disguise — a wig, false mustache and a clown suit.

The atmosphere is Six Flags ambiance to coincide with the contemporary feel for the “never wear a tie” generation. For example, I know a pastor who had his head shaved when an attendance goal was met. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having fun unless it is a desperate attempt to have people love you.

What’s wrong with being a Captain Kangaroo-type pastor? For the new Christian, absolutely nothing. The new Christian wants a comfortable atmosphere in which to grow in Christ. A pastor with a Captain Kangaroo image gives what may be considered “spiritual snuggling” privileges. Captain Kangaroo loves you just like you are. No question you might ask is too naive or juvenile. Captain Kangaroo will not put you down or humiliate you.

But there comes a time when we outgrow Captain Kangaroo. We need meat, not milk. Clowns belong in a circus. They are fun in that atmosphere. But out of context, clowns scare some people. At the least, they are not convincing as solutions to real problems.

Pastors with a Captain Kangaroo mentality need a dose of God-pleasing medicine, not people-pleasing placebos. There will be unpleasantness, discouragement and tragedy. We do not need people to help us pretend it is not there. We need people who can help us work through it.

— The Lone Ranger. The story of the Lone Ranger was that he was the only one left of the group of Texas Rangers who acted on behalf of law and order. All the others were annihilated. In an effort to save the reputation of the Rangers, he continues to protect his identity from the bad guys and act in accord with saving the world.

The church has killed off the other pastors. The three previous pastors have been terminated because of poor leadership skills and their efforts to try to take control of the church from the deacons. The Lone Ranger will not show his hand or his real face. He will wear the mask of passivity in leadership.

He has legitimate reasons for wearing a mask. He has been hurt. He has unresolved grief from disappointments in other churches. He has been betrayed and put down by some. No matter how hard he has tried, for some church members it was not enough — not enough people won to Christ, not enough increases in budget, not enough warmth and enthusiasm in worship. So he donned a mask of self-assurance, and he learned to spend more time with those who called him “kemo sabe” than with those who tried to unmask him.

Can he have an effective ministry? Absolutely. He must learn to live with the past. The hurts must be forgiven. With God’s grace, he can do it. He must learn to say, “I could be wrong.” Nothing takes off the mask more effectively than being vulnerable. And he must not lose his caregiving message.

The late Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger, spent much of his later years with pride for the purity that the Lone Ranger portrayed. Copyright laws prevented him from wearing the mask, but that seemed to inspire him to even greater heights. We can learn from that.

— The Underdog. “Everyone is out to get me. I know I’m going to be put down, so I defend myself before it starts. I know the church is not going to give me a raise, so before they act, I’ll just tell them I don’t want a raise.”

That last statement is called passive aggression. In children, we call it pouting. As adults, we call it protecting ourselves from embarrassment.

Underdog is a victim. In his mind, everyone picks on him. Some therapists call it an “arrested response to rejection.” In plain English, it means he can’t work through being mad.

Of course, everyone gets angry, but a passage in Ephesians says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Underdog denies he has the anger to begin with. He wasn’t mad when he was preaching with such anger; it was prophetic. He wasn’t scolding the congregation; it was tough love.

Underdog needs to begin by remembering some of his accomplishments. He has had some victories. Celebrate them, and get on with life. He also needs to remember that having egg on your face is only the first meal of the day. There will be other meals. There will be other victories — and defeats.

The apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Get out of the underdog rut, and get on with the task at hand — winning the lost to Christ, growing disciples, giving care and healing to the ones in despair and loneliness.

Adapted from The Alabama Baptist, newspaper of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. Used by permission. “Getting on Top of Your Work: A Manual for the 21st Century Minister” is published by Convention Press: Nashville, Tenn., 1999, and may be obtained from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention at 1-800-458-2772.

    About the Author

  • Brooks R. Faulkner