Good to Great
Probably most of us have heard of Jim Collins’ bestselling book from 2001, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. It is an interesting and insightful book. If you have not read it I highly recommend it, irregardless of whether or not you work in the business field. But this is neither a plug for, nor a review of, that book. It is, as usual, a segue to some thoughts on spirituality.
Collins researched 1,435 good companies and examined their forty year performance record. He then whittled the list all the way down to eleven until he felt that he had identified the truly great ones. From there he compared the histories, values, and leaders of those companies in order to discover what common factors allowed these companies to realize greatness while their counterparts remained merely good. And of course in the process he quipped his now catchy-phrase-turned-cliche, “Good is the enemy of great.”
The book highlights the issue of change. What drives change, and what slows it down? Collins quickly identifies several myths about change, ways that companies often attempt to change themselves from good to great, which prove to be ineffective. There are no silver bullets for change in the book. In fact, the book sets out to prove that silver bullets for change do not actually exist. The answers to the questions about the commonalities between the eleven companies that experienced greatness all center around the simple, unsurprising areas of discipline and hard work.
All of this makes me wonder how this might translate into Christian discipleship. Obviously God values all people the same. Nonetheless, most of probably agree that there are heroes of the faith, individuals who managed to reach a level of spirituality so high that they are nearly universally celebrated by all who knew them. I wonder what makes them achieve greatness while the rest of us settle for good. Perhaps someone should write a book about it. Come to think about it, I think someone already has.
But there is something else in all of this that really gets my attention. More than wondering what makes an individual achieve the change that takes one from being spiritually good to being spiritually great, I wonder what are the myths that we believe about spiritual change in general? You know, the things that we think will bring about that change, but prove to be ineffective.
Perhaps you can help me come up with a list, not just a good list, but a great list. We can whittle it down to seven and write a book together called, The Seven Myths of Creating Spiritual Change. I am sure that the book will make lots of money and all of us can retire. So, feel free to join the team. Sorry, I have digressed.
One idea that I have encountered a lot in the last several years is that we can experience significant spiritual change by better understanding our identity in Christ. Before I go any further with this I need to qualify where I am headed by saying that there is some truth to this. It is not a total myth. In fact, I remember as a new Christian reading through some lists that looked something like this:
- I am God’s child (John 1:12).
- I have been justified (Romans 5:1).
- I am God’s friend (John 15:15).
- I am complete in Christ (Colossians 2:9-10).
- I have direct access to God through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16).
- I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
- I am God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
- The evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18).
If you have ever seen such a list you probably know that the example above is only a tiny sampling of what you normally see. So, obviously there must be some truth to it for there to be so many Scriptures dealing with it. And I have personally benefitted from such studies at different times in my life. However, something about all of the me-talk reminds me of that strange, funny-Jesus photo. I can’t help but wonder if we have not missed something very important here. That is, while we have been obsessing over who we are in Christ, we have slowly drifted away from knowing who Christ is in us.
Perhaps you think that is merely semantics. I disagree. There is a certain inevitable amount of self-centeredness in the exploration of our identity in Christ. And that same self-centeredness becomes one of the potential obstacles that keeps us from experiencing significant spiritual change in our lives as we move further down the path. On the other hand, we can remove that obstacle when we shift the question from who we are in Christ, to who Christ is in us. Once we make this shift a whole new world is opened up to us in Scripture. We begin to see that the Bible is much more a witness about who Christ is than it is about who we are in Him.
Unfortunately, this has yet to catch on. Google this: who I am in Christ. Then Google this: who Christ is in me. If you compare the resources that come up with each search it will be pretty clear which one is more popular.
I do believe that there is a journey from good to great. However, I suspect that it lies behind a somewhat hidden door. My suspicion is that spiritual greatness cannot be obtained while focused on assessing your own spiritual maturity. In other words, I cannot be looking at myself for better spiritual growth the way body builders do in the gym. Instead I have to apply the greatness question to Him, not just Him out there somewhere, but Him in me. He is good in me. But how can He become great in me?
When Jesus is merely good in me He is little more than a cool, spiritual guru who happens to like me a lot. But that picture of Jesus is kind of creepy. When Jesus is great in me He also stands in all of His transcendent majesty–He is my king. It really does not matter whether I ever go from good to great. But if He goes from good to great in me then I am on the right track.
I’ve seen the church try to translate secular marketing models into some sort of fusion of discipleship in Jesus and Madison Avenue advertising time and again and the results do not look promising. While I don’t think we have to live Paul’s model of recruiting disciples from the nations out of the New Testament in an unaltered fashion, I don’t always recommended immitating the way of the world to pursue the goals of Christ.
Not long ago, I read Norman Vincent Peale’s famous book “The Power of Positive Thinking.” I was unimpressed, largely because he did more or less the same thing. He tried to reduce the Bible down to a series of sound bytes that made up a series of formulas or techniques he felt resulted in a Bible-based “scientific method.”
It was horrible. There was no awe and wonder of God, no man’s attempt to reconcile an infinite God with a frail, finite mortal. It was all a series of mechanics with no spiritual underpinnings. I’m not saying that God doesn’t present us with a lifestyle by which we should live in order to exist in a manner consistent with His desires for us, just that we can’t turn the Bible into a marketing and sales tool and treat God or the church as a product, like dishwashing soap or underarm deodorant.
The Bible “sells” itself to us by showing us a series of interactions between God and man. That’s the mystery worth exploring for in their experiences, we’ll find our own.
Couldn’t agree more, James. One small shift that I have recently seen taking place in the Church’s (especially Evangelicalism’s) love affair with leadership and marketing tools from corporate America is in some new resistance regarding the word “leadership.” Leonard Sweet has been especially keen on that critique in both his recent book, “I Am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus,” as well as an earlier book entitled, “Summoned to Lead.” I have seen some other things more recently (though I cannot remember what they were at the moment) that gave me the distinct impression that people were finally growing weary of trying to apply these principles.