The Pastor As Visionary Entrepreneur?
Visionary leadership is the “in thing” these days. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone wants it. Company boardrooms insist that their senior management team be visionary leaders. There is not a major company, business or charity that does not have a “vision statement”. And this trend has found its way into the church. Go into any Christian bookstore and you will find whole shelves of books devoted to visionary leadership in the church. When considering a prospective pastor, the question of whether he or she is a visionary leader is high on the agenda. It is now considered an essential quality if a church is to grow and be effective.
But I want to ask some important questions: Is visionary leadership Biblical? Does this model of leadership have its basis in God’s Word or in the business world? As soon as I ask these kinds of questions, I am in danger of being labelled a narrow minded, anti-progressive fundamentalist. But it seems to me that the concept of visionary leadership has been swallowed unthinkingly by the Christian church with very little reflection upon its predicates and with minimal corroboration with scripture.
WHAT IS MEANT BY VISIONARY LEADERSHIP?
The Centre for Visionary Leadership states, “Visionary leaders are the builders of a new dawn, working with imagination, insight, and boldness. They present a challenge that calls forth the best in people and brings them together around a shared sense of purpose. They work with the power of intentionality and alignment with a higher purpose. Their eyes are on the horizon, not just on the near at hand. They are social innovators and change agents, seeing the big picture and thinking strategically.” It also described entrepreneurial vision as “imagining the future as one would wish it to be”.
In other words, visionary leadership refers to the ability of an individual to envisage a different future, together with the ability to formulate and implement a plan to bring about the required changes. In essence, visionary leadership says, “This is how I would like things to be different in the future. This is what I would like the church to look like in “x” years’ time”.
Undergirding this philosophy of visionary leadership is the concept that leadership via broad collaboration, consultation and consensus simply doesn’t work. There is a strong belief within Christianity today that the most successful leadership is where one person, or a very small group of professionals, initiates, shapes and casts the vision, and then has the ability to inspire others to participate in that vision. Indeed, it is remarkable (and deeply concerning) how swiftly the modern church has acquiesced to this view of the elite, professional vision-casting leader.
THE SECULAR BASIS OF THE VISIONARY LEADERSHIP MODEL
I have just spent several hours reading nearly 30 articles on “Visionary / Entrepreneurial Leadership In The Church”, and what has staggered me is the almost complete lack of scriptural justification for this leadership philosophy. Instead, there is a constant appeal to skills and strategies that have proved effective in the secular business world, and a rallying call for the church to get on board if we wish to be successful in growth and expansion. The current church emphasis on visionary leadership has drawn heavily, and unashamedly, from secular models. Following the publication, in 1989, of Steven R. Covey’s landmark secular book on leadership, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” (which has sold over 30 million copies), church leaders seized upon his principles, derived from the business world, and incorporated them into church life. A swathe of Christian leadership books soon followed, such as “How Successful People Lead”, by John C. Maxwell; “The Conviction to Lead”, by Albert Mohler, “Courageous Leadership”, by Bill Hybells, and the classic “Spiritual Leadership”, by J. Oswald Sanders. Literally hundreds of books on this topic were published within a few short years, and there would be very few pastors who would not have at least one such book on their shelves.
Evangelical author, Michael Horton, writes, “Even those who accept the Bible’s full trustworthiness on paper often do not see it as sufficient in matters of doctrine and Christian practice. Our real authorities are secular; judging by some of the most popular books being read by pastors these days.”
Similarly, Orrel Steincamp writes, “Pastors are in a bind. The pervasive church-growth atmosphere tells them they must produce numerically, or they aren’t cutting it; managerial marketers ply them with sure-fire techniques to produce those numbers. The Pastor-CEO should get with the program or go into another profession! It is assumed that a Biblically based ministry, in itself, will just not get the job done”.
Oz Guiness comments, “The two most easily recognizable hallmarks of secularization are the exaltation of numbers and technique. Both are prominent in the modern church-growth movement.” 
The tidal wave of literature promoting a “sanctified” version of secular leadership strategies within the church has had a profound impact on the perceived role of both clergy and laity. Of great concern is the increasingly common abrogation of congregational responsibility to prayerfully and collectively seek the guidance of God’s Spirit in order to formulate wise and godly strategies for implementing the church’s mission. Increasingly, this responsibility is now primarily seen as the domain of the “visionary” professional pastor and his close circle of staff members. It is this professional team who largely dream up the vision, set the direction and formulate the policies of many churches.
THE VISIONARY LEADER AND ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILLS
Integral to the concept of visionary leadership, is the necessity for vision to be accompanied by entrepreneurial skills. This refers to the ability of the leader to translate his vision into action through the use of highly effective skills imported from the business world. These skills include research, goal setting, marketing, branding, recruitment, vision casting, reinforcement and “selling” the church’s product. Accordingly, the working week of today’s entrepreneurial pastor is vastly different from his counterpart three decades ago. Today’s professional pastor spends far more time performing managerial and administrative tasks that are drawn directly from the secular realm of business CEO’s and managers, and much less time in the pursuit of the traditional shepherding tasks that concerned their ministerial predecessors. The article, “Why We Need More Entrepreneurial Church Leaders, Not More Shepherds”, by Carey Nieuwhof, highlights the radical change that has occurred in the role of the professional pastor and exemplifies the current ecclesiological push for them to be skilled entrepreneurs. The requirement for professional pastors to exhibit expertise in a wide range of secular entrepreneurial skills has become almost mandatory for consideration of pastoral appointment in many churches.
The scriptural justification for this twofold philosophy, that the pastor is both visionary leader and savvy entrepreneur, is shaky at best. The most commonly cited Bible verse is Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. Proponents of this leadership philosophy also cite Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Paul as Biblical examples of visionary leaders.
Oswald Sanders’ book, “Spiritual Leadership”, was arguably the most influential book in convincing and converting Christian leaders in the 20th century to this philosophy. One paragraph of his book was recently quoted to a friend of mine by his pastor in an attempt to prove the biblical basis of visionary leadership:
“Those who have most powerfully and permanently influenced their generation have been “seers” – men who have seen more and further than others. Men of faith, for faith is vision. This was true of the prophets or seers of the Old Testament times. Moses, one of the greatest leaders of all time, “Endured as seeing Him who is invisible” His faith imparted vision. Elijah’s servant saw with great vividness the vastness of the encircling army. Elijah’s saw the invincible environing host of heaven who were invisible to his servant. His faith imparted vision.”
But how valid is this view of leadership? Is this truly the New Testament model of leadership?
This is the topic of next week’s post. Stay tuned!
 Michael Horton, “Beyond Culture War”, Chicago: Moody, 1994, p.241
 Orrel Steincamp, “Leadership/Managerial Techniques “Transform” New Paradigm Churches”
 Oz Guiness, “No God But God”, Chicago: Moody, 1992, p. 164
Thanks Kevin , looking forward to reading the next instalment.
Thanks Dianne. I think this is an extremely important topic, as current views on church leadership have certainly changed significantly from those held in the past.
The bible seems to clearly speak of plurality of leadership. However most churches that adopt this style of leadership abstain from leadership gifting
I’m not sure what you mean by “abstain from leadership gifting”, Glenn. Do you mean that they don’t “acknowledge” individual leadership gifting? It’s certainly true that some churches completely disparage any notion of God raising up individual leaders. However, I think that plurality of leadership and individual leadership within that plurality are not mutually exclusive.
Visionary leadership as you describe from secular standpoint in the church can result in empire building, power and comfortable surroundings for that leader. Not biblically missional!
That can certainly be the case Lorraine. In other instances, however, there may not be anything quite so egotistical going on. I suspect that, for some pastors, they have simply been educated and indoctrinated that this is their role. Some theological colleges have a lot to answer for in the way they have propagated the CEO managerial model of professional ministry among their trainees.