leadership embraces the future (part 1)

Earlier this week Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, announced a second medical leave in two years. He offered no details regarding his health condition, and he asked employees to respect his privacy. During Steve’s absence, Tim Cook, Apple’s COO, has been selected to lead the company.

While Job’s condition and prognosis are a secret, it is no mystery that his visionary leadership is the heart and soul of Apple. He is the personification of Apple culture; and a cult icon for computer enthusiasts. It is also undeniable that Apple floundered and nearly failed during his absence from 1985 to 1997.

Since his dramatic return to Apple, the company has become highly successful, launching innovative products such as iMac (1997), iPod (2001), iPhone (2007) and most recently iPad (2010). Steve’s present medical leave has made industry observers, Apple shareholders and corporate competitors anxious. So much of their future depends on Steve’s health.

Steve Job’s leadership at Apple offers valuable insights for churches too. It is imperative that churches identify emerging leaders and equip them for leadership. The challenge for most churches, like companies, is dependence on one leader and overall complacency about leadership. The next few months will test Apple and reveal the full impact of Steve’s leadership.

In the church context, there are multiple threats surrounding leadership. Some congregations rely too heavily on a single pastor. A church may see incredible numeric growth or decline depending on its lead pastor. Reasons for this may be numerous and nuanced, but it is seldom healthy to depend on a single person long term. The pressure is too great for one man and the stakes are too high for the church. Even the most gifted, influential lead pastor must be forward looking and empower future leaders.

Though less obvious and equally prevalent, other churches settle on a closed group of church officers. Possibly an extended family or close friends find themselves leading a church. This is common in churches where pastors do not stay long, and it may be one of the causes for their departure. When a church settles the leadership question and neglects their responsibility to identify new leaders, it ultimately dies—usually a slow, painful death.

So what is the alternative? How can churches embrace the future through leadership? How can they minimize anxiety during leadership transitions? What is an effective strategy for empowering new leaders? How can churches persevere from one generation to the next? Good questions. In part 2, we will consider some constructive answers.

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