Leading Like a Rock Star

May 22nd, 2013

Everyone in your church has an ideal church in his or her own mind, with an ideal leader. In many cases, the picture looks a lot like a lake house gathering and lifestyle. The quirky leader can do two things in response to this vision of churchtopia:

1. Let them see you sweat.
2. Take them behind the façade.

Old-school conventional wisdom says leaders should be the shoulder to cry on instead of the ones crying. They should be the rock. They are fearless and point the way with unshakable confidence.

The problem with this leadership mindset is that no one ever feels that way in real life. If we fake it ‘til we make it and people don’t see through the fallacy, we set ourselves up to be rock star leaders with no more than roadie credibility when the fit hits the shan. We run the risk of great failure in our own mind and in the mind of everyone else we allowed to keep us on our pedestal of perfection.

A lot of people in your church want you to be a rock star. Because they want to be one. Because they were sold a lie that they can be one.

In their minds, the only sweat that comes from a rock star is the sweat that comes from performing brilliantly and passionately for the crowd that lives vicariously through them.

They want you to be real, but not too real. They want rock stars on a leash.

They want you just poor enough to be humble and far from worldly. They want you just smart enough to be wise but far from cocky. Just sinful enough to know the thrill of redemption but not enough to be labeled experienced. Just cool enough to be attractive to their friends but not so cool that you love your own reflection in the mirror.

Unfortunately, we tip the scales in all those areas from time to time, and if the people we lead don’t think we have the ability to fall, the drop will be long and lonely on the way down.

Let them see you sweat. Help them navigate real life.

Foster relationships with them so they get to see past your exterior. While it can be painful at times to realize your rock stars fight similar battles, it’s often refreshing to know their songs come from a place of real experience, real hurt, real frustration, and real disillusionment, and those situations are met with real hope. Hope can be recognized as real only against the backdrop of real adversity.

I sometimes can’t stomach music from some corners of the Christian subculture for this very reason. It’s not believable. It’s hard to trust the message of hope from a pre-pubescent girl who just went through Christian music’s equivalent of Disney’s pop idol sweetheart machine. It’s suspect at best.

Speaking of Disney, have you ever done the back-lot tour? I did as a kid. I wish I hadn’t. It was messy. I saw broken animatronics. Discarded costumes. With Disney, it’s probably better to believe magic is real, streets are always tidy, and nothing ever breaks down. We need to vacation in those spots where life is perfect for a bit. The back-lot tour crushed my pretend world. They don’t do themselves any favors by showing people their back lot.

You don’t do yourself favors by not giving tours of yours.

Invite them to your house, and let them see your socks on the floor. Let them see your kids fight. Let them hear about your fears and failures and deepest prayers. Let them know what you’ve come through.

Don’t be the cocky self-made lawyer on the television show Suits who said, “Sometimes I like to hang out with people who aren’t that bright, you know, just to see how the other half lives.” You aren’t that cool. Deep down, you know that.

Embrace your past, envision the future in light of it, gain perspective, elevate Jesus, pay your lessons forward, tear down the façades, remember what’s worth fighting for. Enlighten others with that story.


This article is an excerpt from Quirky Leadership by John Voelz, Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press.

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