Good to Great Churches and Pastors


“Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good, and that is their main problem.” Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t

No person, leader, pastor, organization or church, in their right mind sets out to be mediocre. The truth is that many of us as individuals, leaders of organizations, and pastors of churches desire at the very least to be good at what we do and for our organization or church to be good at fulfilling its vision and mission within the greater context of The Great Commission. Without knowing it perhaps, if we are not careful as pastors and leaders, we as individuals and corporately as the church will become a self-fulfilling prophecy where the words of Jim Collins as cited above are concerned.

Some of us desire to be or do great things from a leadership, organizational, and church dynamic. For the Christian leader and pastor, shouldn’t we be driven by desiring to be the very best we can be in leading/pastoring churches, developing followers, and seeing the Kingdom of God advance locally and globally. In 2007, a book that I had heard about and found referenced in books I read by people I admired like Andy Stanley, was given to me on my birthday by my youngest son Jason. The book was Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. Chapter One is entitled Good is the Enemy of Great. I read the first chapter and was hooked, followed by reading the remaining chapters until the book was finished. Chapter Three, whose title is First Who….Then What, was a particularly intriguing chapter when examined through pastoral eyes as a small church pastor in rural NC.

Collins discovered in the process of writing this book and conducting interviews with executives of leading companies that they had been able to take their organizations from good to great in part because they had figured out the following:

They got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. They said, in essence, ‘Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great (p. 41).

These good-to-great leaders understood these three simple truths as noted by Collins:

  1. First, if you begin with “who” rather than “what” you can more easily adapt to a changing world. If people join the bus [church] primarily because of where you are going, what happens if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction? You’ve got a problem. But if people are on the bus [in the church] because of who else is on the bus [this is why in the church, small groups and building relationships, doing life together is so important], then it’s much easier to change direction. “Hey, I got on this bus [in this church] because of who else is on it [in it]; if we need to change direction to be more successful [better fulfill our vision, mission, and core values (a church’s core values never change)], fine with me.” [Obviously, there are perhaps more important theological/doctrinal and other spiritual reasons to be part of a local church, but this does not invalidate the above observation.]
  1. Second, if you have the right people on the bus [in the church], the problem of how to motivate and manage people [staff, followers, members] largely goes away. The right people [staff, followers, members who are interested in being serious Christ followers, not just going through the motions, being the church versus doing church] don’t need to be tightly managed [members, followers need servant leaders who train, equip, and empower them] or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great [after all we are doing it for our Lord and Savior with the end goal of reaching people with the claims of Christ].
  1. Third, if you have the wrong people [people in the wrong leadership/ministry positions where their calling and gifting are not properly being utilized and maximized], it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company [the wrong member no matter their heart in the wrong staff or ministry position will only lead to frustration and ministry ineffectiveness, ultimately crippling the church in fulfilling its vision and mission]. Great vision without great people is irrelevant (p. 42).

Finally, in order to move from good to great in our lives spiritually as individuals, character must always trump competence. Here is an excellent word of admonition to those of us as Christian leaders from R. Ruth Barton: “We set young leaders up for a fall if we encourage them to envision what they can do before they consider the kind of person they should be” (Maxwell, 2009, The Right to Lead, p. 37).

If you are a Christian leader, pastor, and for whatever reasons have not read Collins’ book, let me encourage you to do so. Read it carefully and prayerfully. See what takeaways from this book might actually be applicable to your leadership style, and to your ministry or church. Remember: All leaders are readers but not all readers are leaders.

References:  Listed in the cited order in this article

Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, (2001, New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., pp. 8, 41-42).

John Maxwell, The Right To Lead: Learning Leadership Through Character And Courage, (2009, Naperville, IL: Simple-Truths, LLC, p. 37).



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