The Perils of Leadership Lock-in

Leadership “lock-in” (a term I first heard from Seth Godin) is a condition in which leadership believes people are “locked in” to their product, church, political party, etc. It’s a common leadership mistake, but a deadly one that befalls most churches in decline. Perhaps they are the only viable option within their denomination or the only church in the city. Perhaps they feel they have the most vibrant preaching or worship around.

So, they get lazy.

They get smug.

They get proud of the job they think they’ve done.

They begin to take people for granted. The can happen to the point leadership begins to see “new members” as new servants of the church—or new “assets.” We all know, that’s not the way to see people. The point where people are newly committed to the church doesn’t make them better servants of leadership—it makes them ideal partners. They are people after all, loved by God and granted gifts of ministry.

And, they aren’t locked in…even if you think they are.

Don’t be a church of the lock-in. In such churches, the church begins to serve the leadership system and its preservation rather than leaders and the leadership system always maintaining a posture of genuine service toward the church. You begin to hear things like, “we’re the elders,” “I’m the Senior Pastor,” or other chest-pounding things insecure (or far too secure) leaders say. The next thing you know, you’ll realize people aren’t locked in at all.

Godin writes, “When you believe your customers have no real choice, either because they’ve signed a long term contract, or the technology locks them in, or they’re stranded in Fargo with no other options, you’re likely to drift away from delighting them.” For those of us serving in God’s vineyard, we might put it this way: When you believe people go to your church because it’s just that awesome or they have no other options, you’re going to get prideful, and pride goes before a fall.”

We aren’t striving to please everyone so that everyone stays. That’s dysfunctional and feeds the selfishness in people Christ came to take away. No, this has far more integrity than that. This is about valuing people in such a way we don’t take them for granted. Jesus never took people for granted. Neither should those who help lead His flock.

People don’t follow because they are “locked in.” They follow because they believe Christ is among your church. Focus on that, and you might find people don’t have to be “locked in,” because they’re all in.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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