Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

January 2001
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Building Leaders or Building Organizations?

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Through focusing on building leaders, rather than on building organizations, we will avoid the common problem of vision displacement.

This happens when an organization displaces its vision with itself – that is, when it substitutes for its original vision the goal of its own preservation and growth.

This happens often. In this process, an organization reverses the priority between its goals and means in such a way that it now makes the means the goal and the goals a means; and the organization itself, which used to be the means, now becomes the goal.

Organizations are not ends in themselves; they are instruments. They are created to serve one or more specific purposes. This is reflected in the origins of the word organization, which derives from the Greek organon, meaning a tool or instrument.

Winston Churchill said that we create our buildings and thereafter our buildings create us. This is too often true of Christian organizations: we create our organizations and thereafter our organizations create us.

Christian organizations are created to serve the original divinely given vision of their founder(s). But in the process of building an organization to fulfill that vision, interest groups are formed which, over time, become more concerned with preserving and building up the organization itself than with helping it to serve its original purpose. These groups have vested interests in the organization’s success that are different from the fulfilling of the original vision. They have interests such as their own salaries, careers or status, and they use the organization – which was birthed originally to serve God’s purposes – as a means to reach their own goals.

Christian organizations often are birthed out of a genuine move of God. Moreover, they are birthed to serve that move. They are birthed to fulfill the divine vision. That is their only reason for existing – to support the specific vision. However, over time, the vision may be fulfilled; or it may even be lost in the busyness of activity. Either way, the organization loses its sense of purpose. One day it wakes up and realizes that it has no compelling vision anymore and that it needs one to survive. But a deadly shift has occurred: the organization that once existed to serve its vision, is now looking for a vision that will exist to serve the organization. The organization has displaced its vision with itself. It has become its own reason for existing.

Some organizations – such as businesses – do exist to serve their constituents’ needs. In those cases, it is entirely appropriate for an organization to continue to exist for self-serving reasons. But it is neither appropriate nor honest for a spiritual organization or ministry that was once born along on the waves of the vision of God to desperately seek a “new vision” merely to justify its own continued existence and the maintenance of its own internal interests.

Certainly, God can give an existing organization a new and fresh vision to fulfill. However, if the leaders have to try to find a new vision for their organization, perhaps they no longer have one. And if they don’t have one, perhaps they should either reconnect with the original vision, or they should allow their organization to die with dignity and give its resources to another organization that is moving under the breath of a fresh divine vision.

We can avoid the problem of vision displacement by focusing on building leaders who carry within their hearts a passion for fulfilling God’s purpose, and not merely for maintaining self-centered organizations. Historically, this is the way the true church has continued for the last two thousand years. It was not organizations that passed the banner of truth from one generation to the next; it was people – leaders.

Thus, building leaders should be our focus, and not merely building organizations. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be our focus. In our current seminars and literature, we are more frequently concerned with understanding and building organizational systems than we are with understanding and building leaders.

Apart from leaders, organizations will only ever perpetuate themselves. However, either through or entirely apart from organizations, leaders can perpetuate divine vision.

The next Leadership Letter will begin to examine some fundamental realities concerning leadership development.

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