"The Difference Between A Cult and A Religion" (With a Shout Out to Counting Crows)

Counting Crows songwriter Adam Duritz has said...Image via WikipediaThis post really isn't about cults or Counting Crows although they both make an appearance.  It's really a post about ministry and pastoring and Girdwood Chapel and thinking ahead to the people who will follow you in ministerial leadership.

See, I was reading over at the Wall Street Journal an article entitled, "Disney, Walton, Ford, Gates: Tales of When Legends Leave."

(Yes, this has to do with Steve Jobs and the leaving of that "legend" from Apple...at least as the CEO of it.  I confess to reading a lot about his leaving over the last day or so.)

The article looks at what happened as legends left companies.  Walt Disney died.  Sam Walton died.  Henry Ford turned the company over to his son.  Bill Gates left after grooming a successor. It's no small task to take the ideas and ideals of a founder and take it into the future. And each of the companies that Disney, Walton, Ford, and Gates left behind had their struggles with new leadership. And, the guess is, Apple will have some struggles as well...no matter how much us "Apple Fan-Boys" talk about how Tim Cook has been effectively running the show for the last couple of years and how great the supporting team at Apple is. There will be challenges. It's hard to follow a popular act.

(It reminds me of the time some friends and I went to see the band Counting Crows way back in the early 90s at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They hadn't yet made it big but we loved the music and were delighted that they would be opening up for another band, Cracker, at a small club. We got there early to get a good spot on the floor and thoroughly enjoyed Adam Duritz and company as they ran through hits like "'Round Here" and "Mr. Jones and Me." But when they were done and the headliner hit the stage, we were out the door. We were just there for the opening act.)

In the article, however, there is a quote that caught my eye. It's from Harvard Business School professor Rakesh Khurana who has, apparently, "written extensively about CEO succession."  The quote of note says:

"The difference between a cult and a religion is that one outlasts the founder."

Whoa...  My mind flitted from the Waco cult to Jim Jones to the religious staying power of a John Wesley or St. Benedict.  What kept Wesley and Benedict from just being footnotes in history to being founders of religious orders still around to this day and still doing good work in the world?

But, then I realized this is a word for all of us clergy-folk...particularly those of us who are building churches or starting ministries or casting vision.  Is the stuff we're involved in...the good stuff...the holy stuff...going to have a life beyond our time in our present appointments?  What will happen to the church buildings, the small groups, the discipleship plans, the missions trips?  Granted, some things are merely for a season and will fade away almost by design.  But will our ministries have "staying power?" 

This is a struggle for those of us here at Girdwood Chapel and, in particular, me as pastor.  At this point in time I have no plans of leaving.  But I know that if there hasn't been a congregational "buy-in" for things like "Cookie Flinging" and "Love God. Love others. Change the world" and "communion every week" and our informal worship and the presence of kids in worship... If this hasn't become part of the proverbial "DNA" of the congregation, then it just might leave whenever I leave...or whenever some key leaders leave.  Will the congregation have to start over at ground zero? 

I am not the "founder" of Girdwood Chapel.  I came onto the scene some 50 years after that.  But, still, I don't want the mission and ministries and vision that we've worked on together over the last 11 years to end whenever my tenure ends--whether it's a year or two or ten from now.  I don't believe they've been "me-dependent."  And, if you're a pastor or church leader serving, working, planting, dreaming somewhere, I'm sure you don't want that as well.  You see yourself working on a playing field of time and space and mission that reaches beyond who you are.  It's not your mission.  It's God's.  Or at least you hope it is.  Therefore, you don't want it to remain unchanged and stagnant as it stretches into the future, but you don't want it to end as new leadership steps in.  You want what you do to be bigger than who you are.

This got me thinking.  Thinking can be dangerous at times.

  • What can I do, right now, to ensure that God's good work in this place has some staying power? 
  • What can I do to make sure that the ministry of this place is far more than what I have to offer or my personality or my pet projects? 
  • What plan of succession do we church folk need to have in mind?
  • Or, what can we learn from how Disney, and Ford, and Wal-Mart, and Microsoft and (now) Apple have tried to live beyond their leaders?
Still thinking...

Oh, and here's a little Counting Crows for you.  Round Here.

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