The American culture has a tendency to gravitate towards charismatic personalities. For all of the foundational principles of the separation of powers in the U.S. government, we have a bad habit of essentially handing over power to one party and then scratching our collective head when things go wrong. The same, unfortunately, is true in churches. The problem is the problem of monoculture.
Trouble is, “unified” leadership always sounds good on paper. Recently, I read an essay from a fellow who asserts that a church’s pastor ought to exert control to populate the church’s leadership boards with people who agree with him. Those that espouse this sort of philosophy believe it would be “foolish” to allow parishioners with differing visions to help govern the church. Should someone who does not have the thoughtfulness to share the pastor’s vision get on the board – well, he or she will get in the way of building “unity.”
This is reminiscent of a remark made by President Obama after his election. During the early days of his administration, when Republicans voiced doubts about some of his plans, he retorted, “I won. So I think on that one, I trump you.”
From a standpoint of efficiency, of course, giving unquestioned control to the “winners” makes sense. Divisions and disagreements on vision in leadership are never “efficient.”
The president was somewhat justified in his remark. After all, when Democrats were able to take not only the presidency but also both houses of Congress in the 2008 election cycle, people seemed to like not only Mr. Obama’s proposed agenda, but the idea that a unified government could implement desired reforms efficiently.
Efficient governance is too often confused with proper governance.
One of the common themes in tragedies such as those of the great Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights was the theme of sycophantical advisors – so-called “yes men” – who help drive the overly proud to destruction. Inevitably, when people are placed in positions of power with reduced checks and balances, even the most virtuous will face tremendous temptation to become corrupt.
Our present society seems oblivious to such warnings. We want a unified, agreeable front driven by a charismatic leader. Until that unified front turns against us. Given mostly unchecked power for two years, the Democrats gleefully ignored those who elected them because their position of power left little reason to listen. The Republicans, of course, did the same thing not too many years earlier.
The shining achievement of a stable republic is the ability for the electorate to choose representatives unimpeded by the present leadership’s druthers. The elections earlier this month are significant relative to the state of much of the world: the people decided having one party in control of the government was a bad idea and were able to do something about it.
People ought to learn from that and realize the same problems that haunt one party control of our government also inevitably haunt churches whose governing boards are too busy being “unified” with the pastor. Instead of such a blindly loyal “unity,” pastors should be encouraged to seek to create real consensus by building a vision that can convince leaders who are representative of the congregation’s personality. Mature pastors ought to strive for no other scenario.
When we seek instead for the efficiency of the artificial consensus, we create a monoculture. Just as monocultures in biology are a recipe for being wiped out by an epidemic, so too leadership monocultures put us in a position of vulnerability. Whereas healthy disagreement can prevent abuses of power in both religion and politics, once a monoculture has been established, plagues of abuse can spread unquestioned and unstoppably.
When monocultural systems fail, we ought not to be shocked. What should shock us is that we keep creating them.
Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business.