Aug 5, 2002

From the Archives

New Book and Diagnostic Resource Strive to Clear Up Widespread Confusion Regarding Leadership

Remember when “fast food” meant rapid delivery of a limited menu of meals, or “outlet stores” referred to retail shops that offered deep discounts on products? According to public opinion analyst George Barna the term leadership has suffered the same dilution of meaning. Speaking at a recent public gathering, Barna supported his thesis regarding the widespread misunderstanding about leadership by listing various statistics from his nationwide surveys, including the fact that two-thirds of all adults and more than nine out of ten Protestant Senior pastors say they are leaders.

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“Leadership has positive connotations in our society and therefore people want to be associated with it,” he explained. “Unfortunately, ‘leadership’ has become such a misused, misunderstood and generic word that most people and behaviors are now subsumed under the term’s umbrella. It’s similar to what has happened with terms such as ‘Christian,’ which 85% of adults call themselves, even though half of those people admit that they have no relationship with Jesus Christ, or ‘evangelistic,’ a label embraced now by almost nine out of ten churches even though most of them have not seen a new convert in the past year. ‘Leadership’ has befallen the same definitional elasticity.”

Barna was speaking in reference to his newly-released book on leadership, A Fish Out of Water (Integrity Books: Nashville, TN) and a related self-administered diagnostic test (Christian Leader Profile) that helps people figure out if they are leaders. In the book he describes the nine most common challenges that cause people in leadership positions to falter and how truly effective leaders overcome those challenges.

One of the most common challenges, Barna’s research found, was that many people flounder in positions of leadership because they are not true leaders. To help identify such situations, Barna provides a detailed definition of leadership and distinguishes between two very different types of leaders – “habitual” and “situational.” “Everyone provides leadership at some time in their life – that is, they provide “situational” leadership – but relatively few people are called to provide leadership as their primary vocation or organizational function. Those who are gifted for such provision are ‘habitual’ leaders – the individuals who motivate, mobilize, resource and direct people to fulfill a specific vision of the future.”

Leadership in the Pastorate

In addition to his research among a wide array of leaders for his book, Barna invested more than two years of research in developing the online diagnostic (The Christian Leader Profile). Asked about his motivation to create such a tool, Barna related some of the findings from his research among senior pastors of Protestant churches.

“We recently interviewed more than 2400 Protestant pastors and discovered that 92% of them said they are leaders. Then we gave them the definition that we use of leadership and saw the proportion drop to less than two-thirds,” Barna continued. “When we then asked if they felt that God had given them one of the spiritual gifts that relates to leading people, such as leadership, apostleship or even administration, the proportion plummeted to less than one out of four. Finally, we asked them to dictate to us the vision that they are leading people toward – that is, the very heartbeat of their ministry – we wound up in the single digits.”
The southern California-based researcher noted that his surveys also revealed that less than 2% of Senior Pastors believe they are doing a “below average” job of leading their congregations, a figure that he called “unrealistically low.” Among the related figures he shared were some showing that pastors who consider themselves to be leaders are most likely to defend that belief on the basis of saying they do an “excellent” job in teaching and in encouraging people. “While those are worthy and much-needed skills,” Barna commented, “they have little to do with a person’s calling to lead a group to fulfill a God-given vision.” The surveys found that most of the pastors who deem themselves to be leaders ranked themselves comparatively low on attributes such as mobilizing people to pursue a vision, accumulating the tangible resources needed for that pursuit, and providing people with clear direction based on the nature of the vision. Those were some of the characteristics Barna categorized as central to effective leadership.

Other statistics cited indicated that the denominations with the greatest percentage of Senior Pastors who claimed to satisfy the leadership definition provided to pastors were the AME, AME Zion and Missionary Baptist groups – all of which are predominantly African-American churches. The denominations with the smallest percentage of pastors who claimed to fit the expressed criteria were from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and United Church of Christ groups.

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Conflict and Curiosity

During the discussion that followed his remarks, substantial interest was piqued regarding the Christian Leader Profile, particularly in relation to recent revelations regarding the scandals involving a growing number of corporations. Barna referred to recent research that suggested the root problem is not one of skills but primarily of character. He noted that the Christian Leader Profile assesses 13 central character traits of a person, in the belief that a leader’s capacity to have positive impact is directly related to the purity of their character. The Profile, which is taken online through the Barna Research website, also assesses whether it appears God has called the person to be a leader, the individual’s standing in relation to 15 core leadership competencies, and one’s leadership aptitude. The latter factor is one of four types of leadership emphases that a person provides as a leader. Barna admitted that during the Profile’s testing period the most difficult element to assess was the quality of a person’s character. “We discovered that it is very difficult for people to give honest and accurate self-reports on how they behave. It took several iterations before we identified a viable means of measuring the primary character factors.”

Several pastors expressed their concern that concluding that most pastors are not called by God to be leaders reflects an anti-pastor bias. “This research does not criticize the heart or ministry of pastors, it simply affirms that they will have their most positive effect through the exercise of other gifts and offices. Pastors are good people, well-educated and called to ministry, but perhaps not to the ministry of leadership,” the author replied.

“Unfortunately, churches have created a ministry model that expects the pastor to be gifted and skilled in an unrealistically diverse and large number of areas. I have not said that many of today’s pastors should not be in ministry, but simply that we have set them up for failure by expecting them to be something that God Himself hasn’t called them to be. Ideally, pastors who are not called to be habitual leaders can be released from the responsibilities of leadership and instead focus on what they are gifted at and have been called to, partnering with people whose ministry is primarily that of leadership.”

Some in the audience clearly struggled with the notion that pastors are not leaders – and let the author know. Barna took the criticism in stride, though, encouraging pastors to seek a “prayerful, realistic self-view” and to realize that “the bottom line on this matter is that it is not up to you to choose whether or not to lead. God chooses whether to invite you to lead people on His behalf. It is of paramount importance that you accurately understand what God has called you to do and to be, and follow His calling rather than some pre-determined vocational track. Leadership is just one of many incredible callings He has for people, but misevaluating one’s call to leadership can have severe consequences for the non-leader trying to lead as well as for the people under his or her care.”

When one audience member asked if Barna felt threatened by the heated reaction of pastors to his argument, he indicated that the response was expected. “In fact, in Fish Out of Water I describe how effective leaders use such conflict as a tool to advance their cause. Conflict can be a constructive and healthy mechanism for clarifying issues, facilitating interaction and promoting creative solutions. Leaders do not flee from conflict. Often, they carefully and strategically foster conflict to help their people understand the opportunities for growth and to make progress.”

Other subjects dealt with in Barna’s new book include developing people into effective followers, the leadership styles appropriate for organizational life stages, character enhancement, team-building, and practical vision development and communication.

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About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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