Airplane Crashes: Lessons in Church Leadership

airplane“I don’t like this,” were First Officer David Hare’s final words. Six brief seconds the later, the Boeing 737 that he and Captain Blair Rutherford were piloting slammed into the side of a hill killing 12 of the 15 people aboard the aircraft. Prior to the crash, Hare made six statements to Rutherford concerning the planes trajectory. Tragically, Rutherford ignored them all.

Captain Rutherford is not alone. Most airplane crashes result from similar circumstances. Almost all of the planes encounter some kind of small mechanical error while their tired crews navigated through bad weather. These circumstance in and of themselves do not doom the aircraft. Everyday, tired crews land planes safely in less than perfect conditions.  Crashes occur because the Captains flying in the doomed aircraft have a large Power Distance Index.

HL7492-Korean-Air-Lines-Boeing-747-400_PlanespottersNet_296887In 1997, Korean Air Flight 801 infamously slammed into the mountains of Guam. Like Captain Rutherford, the Captain of flight 801 refused to listen to the concerns of both his first officer and his flight engineer. Although the first officer and the flight engineer had quickly realized that the plane was in trouble, they were slow to speak up because the Captain’s authority was rarely challenged. When the crew did finally directly challenge the Captain’s piloting, he ignored them because they were after all subordinate and inferior. By the time the Captain realized that he had misjudged their approach, the time for his 747’s salvation had passed. Less than two minutes later, flight 801 barreled into the jungle hillside killing most everyone on board.

After many crash investigations, researchers have discovered that a crew’s leadership style often determines whether they crash or land peacefully unnoticed by the media. Crews with a strict hierarchy are more prone to crash than crews with first officers and flight engineers who were encouraged to challenge a captain’s authority directly.

In much the same way, Christians can determine the future of their church and the children’s ministry by looking at their leaders. All leaders fly through the storms of life. But, leaders who distance themselves from accountability and from their church members during their flight are destined for disaster. Their mountain could be a whole host of things including sexual immorality, drunkenness, pride, or theological error. But, it is coming. To have a healthy church and children’s ministry, pastors and leaders must invite others to speak into their lives.

In Mark 10:42-44, Jesus says,

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their great ones exercises authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever who be first among you must be the slave of all.

Christians cannot lead well if they have created a hierarchical structure that prevents people from challenging their authority. To be the servant of all, Christians leaders must being willing to pour coffee and stack chairs. But servant leadership also means that pastors, elders, and directors must be willing to listen to the concerns of those around them. Think about Paul, Peter and the church at Antioch. The early church leaders constantly listened and responded to the concerns of their people They had a low level Power Distance Index. Like Jesus, the early church fathers were approachable and humble. The church today is not captivated by legalism because Paul spoke up and corrected Peter when he started building additions on the the gospel. Christian leaders must continue to model these qualities. If they do not, they will depart from Christ’s example and will slam into failure. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer correctly noted,

He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either… This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words”

As the first officers and flight engineers of God, church members also must be willing to speak up and express their concerns when they sense disaster approaching. When members care enough about their pastors to talk to them, the church functions better. As Gabe Lyons said, “Our friendships and personal growth opportunities come when we step into the uncomfortable space of conflict, not when we evade it.”  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Prov. 27:6a).

Christian leaders are not meant to function alone exhausted by the cares of ministry. They are called to equip others by teaching and modeling the gospel, inviting others to be a part of their life. As they do so and as church members join them in the cockpit of ministry, our churches will experience unprecedented safety and success.

Are you ready to be part of your church’s flight crew? Are you ready to advocate for small Power Distance Index?

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