Get Away, Leader!

Without a doubt, ministry is busy, demanding and people intensive. In this sort of work it is easy to get drained out and worn down by what we do.

But leaders, we need to get away.

Take a look at the life of Jesus. He was no exception to this. His life was busy. In Luke 4:31-41, we see Jesus’ day was full of activity: teaching, casting out demons, healing the sick, laying hands on people, and more.

How did Jesus deal with the busyness and potential to lose focus? He dealt with it by drawing away with the Father.

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving. But he said, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ (Luke 4:42-43)

Jesus drew away from the people. Jesus took time with the Father. Jesus heard the Father speak of what was the next move. Jesus maintained focus by the Father’s side.

We need to do this as leaders. Though the demands of ministry never end, we cannot escape the need to draw away and refocus with the Father.

We should consider doing this daily: taking time, whenever it best works, to hear from God.

We should consider doing this weekly: drawing away to refocus before heading into the busyness of our weeks.

We should consider doing this monthly: setting aside a day each month for prayer, study, and personal refreshing.

We should consider doing this annually: getting away for a day or two to fast, pray, and hear from our Father.

As leaders, we need to get away from what is at hand in order to stay focused and fresh in our ministry.

The Character of a Leader with Stuart Briscoe and Marc Erickson

It was a privilege to host Stuart Briscoe and Marc Erickson at our quarterly Leadership Community gathering this past Monday night at Eastbrook Church. I hope you enjoy this view into the lives of two pastors who have steadfastly walked with Christ over the years. Stuart began the night with a 20-minute message on three distinctly Christian aspects of character in leaders. With the next portion of the gathering, I had the chance to facilitate a Q&A with Stuart and Marc about the character of a leader. This led us to explore some important questions in our current era, as well as many interesting insights from their own lives.

Five Steps for Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership

fullsizeoutput_ac8In my previous posts on Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima‘s Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, I summarized their key assumptions in the book, the definition of the dark side, how the dark side develops, and five dark-side issues leaders often encounter. In this final post on the book, I turn to the third, and most hopeful, part of the book: “Redeeming Our Dark Side.” If reading my posts up to this point has made you despair of growing beyond your dark side, please make sure to read this part. As the book concludes, McIntosh and Rima suggest five steps to overcoming the dark side of leadership, which I’d like to summarize below.

  1. Acknowledge Your Dark Side (165-171): “Though it may sound simplistic, if we want to overcome our dark side, we need to start by acknowledging its existence and understanding the shape it has taken over the years. For many people who have spent a lifetime in church, this is not quite as easy as it sounds” (168). Christians tend to blame our failures on “the enemy,” minimize issues by saying “I’m forgiven,” or rationalizing our dark tendencies. However, until we name the dark side for what it is we will never grow through and beyond it. Like David confronted by Nathan the prophet, we must say here the hard words, “I am that man,” and then move through authentic repentance to growth.
  2. Examine the Past (172-180): “We are the sum of the experiences in our lives. The most successful and effective leaders recognize this and are able to separate fact from fiction in their childhood memories while understanding the role these memories have played in their personal development” (174). Because our past experiences often shape our deepest drives, an appropriate reflection on our past history with the guidance of the Holy Spirit can help us see motivating factors and historic patterns that shape us positively or negatively. This may lead us into a season of repentance, a need for conversation with someone in our lives, or inviting God into the broken places of our past. Ultimately, “gaining freedom from the power of your dark side involves extending forgiveness in some form” (179).
  3. Resist the Poison of Expectations (181-198): Expectations shapes our lives. Some are helpful and necessary, while others are imposed upon us by ourselves or others in ways that create a legalistic sense of obligation or a debilitating craving to proves ourselves that can be destructive. “If we are to overcome the power of the dark side, it will require resisting the poison of extrabiblical, unrealistic, legalistic expectations in favor of God’s liberating grace. We will need to identify the numerous sources of the expectations that bind us and then soundly reject then. Be warned. It will not be an easy task for those who have lived under their weight for many years” (196).
  4. Practice Progressive Self-knowledge (199-212): “In addition to the previous three steps, gaining any measure of control over our dark side will involve the ongoing process of fathering knowledge about ourselves through the practice of specific disciplines and the use of certain tools” (199). We must engage in spiritual disciplines such as Scripture reading, personal retreats, devotional reading, or journaling to know ourselves in God’s presence. Along with that, other tools, such as personality profiles professional counseling, personal accountability groups, or formal performance evaluations, can help us to know ourselves better so as to avoid ignorance of our dark side.
  5. Understand Your Identity in Christ (213-219): “Ultimately all of the previous four steps will leave us feeling frustrated and empty if we do not understand and accept our true identity in Jesus Christ. We must come to the point where we recognize that our value is not dependent on our performance, position, titles, achievements, or the power that we wield. Rather, our worth exists independently of anything we have ever done or will do in the future. Without the grace of God that is found in his son, Jesus, Christ, as Isaiah the prophet declared, our best efforts and most altruistic acts are like filthy rags in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). Everything we might learn about our dark side will be without significant benefit if we fail to find our value in Christ” (213).

What do you think about these five steps to overcoming our dark side?

Is there something that’s missing, or does this cover it?

Which of these are most difficult for you?

Which of these have you benefited from?

Five Types of the Dark Side of Leadership

fullsizeoutput_ac8Continuing with my exploration of Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima’s Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, in the second part of the book the authors give attention to what they call “five dark-side issues experienced most often by leaders” (16). They group those dark-side issues into individual chapters that describe in greater detail what each of these issues might do to the leader. Here is a summary of each of those five types:

  1. The Compulsive Leader (103-109): “Compulsive in a leadership context describes the need to maintain absolute order” (105). The compulsive leader experiences difficulty with delegation, tending toward workaholism. They are conscientious but moralistic and may become judgmental. They are conscious of their status, looking both for approval and reassurance from others, yet learning toward anger and rebellion on the inside. The compulsive leader in the church setting relies upon administration and organization as the safety net for their fears of losing control, whether of staff, their board, or the ministry of the church. Moses is an example of the tendencies toward control seen in the compulsive leader.
  2. The Narcissistic Leader (111-118): “For the narcissistic leader…the world revolves on the axis of self, and all other people and issues closely orbit them as they get caught in the strong gravitational pull of the narcissist’s self-absorption” (115).  Leaders with this dark side tend to overestimate their own achievements and abilities while stubbornly refusing to recognize the quality and value of the same in others” (115). They are often driven by unmet needs for admiration toward the pursuit of success, and can be simultaneously over-inflated in their sense of importance and deeply insecure. In the church setting, the narcissistic leader will promote themselves, their endeavors and their gifts aggressively, and thereby make themselves seem like an essential piece of everything without which nothing could possibly succeed. Solomon is an example of the tendencies toward self-obsession in the narcissistic leader.
  3. The Paranoid Leader (119-126): “Paranoid leaders are desperately afraid of anything or anyone, whether real or imagined, they perceive to have even the remotest potential of undermining their leadership and stealing away the limelight” (122-123). Oftentimes, paranoid leaders overreact to criticism, guess at others’ motives, and rigorously root out those who seem to be against them.  The paranoid leader in the church will keep anyone else from preaching or do anything they can to keep their board from meeting without them. Saul, the first king of Israel, is an example of the tendencies toward suspicion seen in the paranoid leader.
  4. The Codependent Leader (127-138): Codependency is “an emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, practice of, a set of oppressive rules – rules that prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems” (133). Codependent people compulsively worry about the feelings of other people – even taking responsibility for others’ actions and emotions – while often being out of touch with their own emotions. Codependents are often reactive instead of proactive. “Ministry and Christian service organizations provide the perfect environment for a leader to focus on others to the exclusion of self. This often results in the codependent pastor or leader’s failure to car for himself, producing burnout and other debilitating maladies” (136). Samson  is an example of the tendencies toward emotional and relational stunting experienced with the codependent leader.
  5. The Passive-Aggressive Leader (139-146): “Passive-aggressive leaders have a tendency to resist demands to adequately perform tasks” (140), oftentimes based on a fear of failure. The passive-aggressive leader may have outbursts of intense emotions, manifest various forms of impulsiveness, and can become perennial complainers. In the church setting, passive-aggressive leaders radiate edgy irritability, often complaining about their workload, the people they work with, and the sort of things they have to do. They make impulsive decisions, while also procrastinating essential tasks, both of which can alienate congregants and volunteers from them. Jonah is an example of the tendencies toward emotional outbursts and impulsiveness often seen in passive-aggressive leaders.

Have you experienced this sort of leader in your life, particularly in your church? What might it look like for you to learn from that experience?

Now, look in the mirror for awhile, and consider what your own dark side tendencies might be. How can you bring those to God today?


How the Dark Side Develops

In chapter five of Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima explore how the dark side of leadership develops in our lives.

Though we may not be aware of its presence, we have been impacted by the dark side throughout our life. There are definite signs we can become sensitive to that will help us identify the unique ways it has developed over the years as well as the specific shape it has taken in our life. Often we are conscious of these signs in our motivations and recognize their influence on our behavior, yet we are not quite able to make a solid connection between them and their source. (70)

Things like “a drive to succeed, desire to be accepted, irrational fear, need to be in control, perfectionism, or various compulsions” (82) are signals of the development of our dark side.

While building largely off Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, McIntosh and Rima propose that the “dark side is inclined to be an overcompensation for needs that have not been met in our lives and develops as we attempt to repay the existential debts of varying degrees that we have taken on” (83). Below is their chart outlining the predictable pattern within the development of our dark side (79).


For each of us the particulars will be different, but the basic process will be essentially the same….Whatever it is that you find yourself plugging into those categories in the chart, it has almost assuredly led to the development of your dark side. When those experiences and influences are combined with the raw materials of pride, selfishness, self-deception, and wrong motives, we can begin to see how our dark side develops into a powerful, controlling influence in our lives and leadership. (82)