Best-selling author Jim Collins has written a book with a change of direction. His previous best-seller was From Good to Great. His latest is How the Mighty Fall. In it Collins shares research which demonstrates that Stage 1 of organizational failure is “hubris born of success.” (See yesterday’s post on The Greatest Mistake a Leader can Make). Confidence is an attribute that every leader needs to embrace and to foster in others, he says. But when confidence goes too far, it can become hubris. Collins warns that overdosing on confidence is easy to do but difficult to detect. He therefore offers some warning signs (summarized by John Baldoni):

You make many decisions independently. No, dithering isn’t good. But bosses who make all of their own decisions without speaking to others are asking for trouble. How much do you ask for others’ input?
You can’t remember the last time you spoke to a customer. Failure to discover what people think about what you offer is not only foolhardy, it’s a recipe for failure in the future. If you think you’re “too busy” to connect with customers, that’s a warning sign.
You always have lunch with the same people. Socializing only with select peers cuts you off from people who might offer alternate views.
Your team always seems to agree with you. If no one has contradicted you in a while, you may have inadvertently created a no-bad-news culture. Surrounding yourself with people who can only do one thing — nod — is an invitation to disaster.
When something goes wrong, the first thing you ask is, “Who’s responsible?” This may be a sign that you overemphasize accountability at the expense of problem-solving — which your team may see this as finger-pointing.

Some of these are applicable to pastors, but I would also add the following pastor-specific warning signs:

You dismiss criticism as personal dislike. Well there can’t possibly be anything wrong with my preaching or pastoring, can there!
You start shortening prayer time because you have so much ministry to do. In fact you can go long periods of time without a breath of prayer heavenwards.
You no longer need to read your Bible for yourself. I mean I know it so well now anyway.
You don’t listen to your members’ views on any text. After all, they don’t have Hebrew or Greek, do they.
You resent the twice-yearly meeting with the elders charged to oversee you. What impertinent questions they asked the last time about my internet use. And imagine counseling me to avoid visiting single females alone! What kind of man do they think I am?
You threaten to resign if you don’t get your way. They need me far more than I need them.
You stop visiting your flock. After all, that’s really for the deacons. Surely I’ve done my stint of hearing about Mrs Moaner’s hip replacement and about Mr Payne’s arthritis.
You stop evangelizing: That’s for the young people.

Collins regards self-confidence as vital for business success. But his basic message is that “too much confidence is a toxic cocktail that can lead to a very long hangover.” That’s where pastoral ministry differs because self-confidence in a pastor, even to a small degree, can be disastrous.

So what are the remedies? Well let’s start with the business culture’s solutions. John Baldoni offers these:

Start by asking people to talk back. Employees need to be able to tell their bosses what they really think. Bosses who make people uncomfortable about telling the truth are asking for trouble. They end up sandbagging reality.
Make time to walk the halls, talk to customers, and speak with vendors.  Use your own “walk the beat” approach to finding out the truth.
Remember that once your stakeholders start talking more openly, it’s your job to listen.

Although some of these are a bit “business-speaky,” they can translate into church-speak. But I would also want to add:

Seek and welcome accountability. From your wife and from your fellow-elders. And when choosing accountability elders, don’t choose the ones most like yourself.
Resist every temptation to regularly shorten personal Bible reading and prayer.
Visit, visit, visit. Pastoral visitation and involvement in the messiness of people’s lives keeps our feet (and our knees) on the ground.
Cross, cross, cross. I heard Don Carson deliver an exegetical lecture at a seminary about 20 years ago. I had just started Greek and could understand little of it. However, he said one thing I’ve never forgotten:   “No man can think himself big or make himself big beside the cross.”
Cultivate and maintain a close and lively walk with Christ. Our ministries are not so much about communicating principles and precepts, as they are about communicating a person. And that person described himself as “meek and lowly in heart.” Whatever else our ministries communicate, let them communicate that. Because that is powerfully attractive and effective. And safe.

  • Robert Turner

    Even though I am not a pastor I have found your blogs most helpful in my daily walk with Christ, especially these last two posts. I am currently a student in an Organizational Leadership Degree Completion program, and your posts have been most helpful in processing what it means to be a Christian, and learning the principles of true leadership. Thank you very much for helping me stay on my knees at the foot of His Cross.

  • David Murray

    Thanks Robert. Glad you found this helpful. You’re right, there are Christian leadership principles that transfer into all areas of life.