I came across an article last week, but a writer named George Colony entitled: Apple=Sony: Brace For The Coming Post-Steve Jobs Decline. The article describes Apple as a charismatic organization and then proposes that the organization will coast and then start declining within 24-48 months unless they find another charismatic leader to replace Steve Jobs. While we will have to wait and see if Mr. Colony’s prediction will actually happen at Apple, I have seen it happen numerous times in congregations led by charismatic pastors.
According to the article, “Sociologist Max Weber created a typology of organizations in his 1947 book The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. He described three categories: 1) legal/bureaucratic (think IBM or the U.S. government), 2) Traditional (e.g., the Catholic church) and 3) Charismatic (run by special, magical individuals).
Charismatic organizations are headed by people with the ‘gift of grace’ (charisma from the Greek). ‘He is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.’ Followers and disciples have absolute trust in the leader, fed by that leader’s access to nearly magical powers. ‘Charismatic authority repudiates the past, and is in this sense a specifically revolutionary force.'”
In today’s world, many growing, vibrant congregations are led by charismatic leaders like Steve Jobs – individuals who have a strong sense of their connection to God and a clear vision for ministry, individuals who have gift for leading and connecting to others, and individuals who have the skills necessary to effectively manage a growing organization. While these leaders, like Jobs, can help congregations and individuals experience tremendous grown, when they leave or retire, it can be extremely difficult to fill that’s leader’s role in the leadership system.
Colony continues later in the article. “When Steve Jobs departed, he took three things with him: 1) singular charismatic leadership that bound the company together and elicited extraordinary performance from its people; 2) the ability to take big risks, and 3) an unparalleled ability to envision and design products. Apple’s momentum will carry it for 24-48 months. But without the arrival of a new charismatic leader it will move from being a great company to being a good company, with a commensurate step down in revenue growth and product innovation.”
Replace the name “Steve Job” with the name of an outstanding, charismatic pastor and you have an accurate description of what has taken place in hundreds, perhaps thousands of congregations. As Colony notes, “One of the primary challenges with charismatic organizations is succession.” Congregations face the same problem and unfortunately since our system of call typically relies on a bureaucratic or traditional approach. It often doesn’t do an outstanding job of identifying the next charismatic leader for a congregation and without that next charismatic leader or a complete change in the organizational structure of the congregation, the congregation loses momentum and slowly goes from great to good.