The Peter Principle - Alberto A Lopez -

Perhaps you are familiar with the Peter Principle. It is a management theory that says a candidate for a particular position is chosen based on their performance in their current job rather than what is required in their intended position. The suggestion is that people will tend to be promoted to their highest position of incompetence.

A classic example is the outstanding salesman who is promoted to sales manager but fails miserably. Not because that person is incompetent as a person but because they simply do not have the skillset to manage other sales people. Certainly we understand that is a very different skillset from being the star salesman.

Is there a version of this in the church? Shall we call it the “St. Peter” principle? Not that St. Peter was promoted to his level of incompetence, rather it is a play on words. If “Peter Principle” is true in secular organizations, perhaps there is a “St. Peter Principle” that in much the same way is true in the church.

Consider the person who is passionate about their faith. Does that always translate into their being a good pastor?

How about the pastor who has served in a solo parish for many years. Does that make him a good candidate for a senior pastor position?

The more common situation is the good hearted, caring person who wants to be a  shepherd. They study theology, learn how to preach and teach and visit the sick, shut in and dying. They counsel the troubled. Then they are asked to go be a pastor or shepherd and are presumably also supposed to “equip the saints for ministry” (Eph 4). But that isn’t what he was taught to do. He was taught to do it himself. Plus, everything in the culture of the church screams that as well. He expects himself to do it, his call documents say it, his elders expect it of him to be the primary preacher, teacher, visitor to sick and shut ins, the unchurched and delinquent members and so on. Instinctively the pastor knows he can’t do it all and is falling into the tendency to do too much. He knows delegation and empowerment of others is important, necessary even! Yet that requires another skillset, one he might not have…yet.

He tries at times to recruit others but they don’t want to play ball. Some pushback and complain. “The pastor is supposed to do it.” Right?! “That’s what he went to seminary for!” What to do? The easiest thing is to play along and try to do it yourself and be a good pastor who doesn’t complain and is a suffering servant. He becomes worn out, depressed even. Welcome to the St. Peter principle.

Along the way the people become comfortable in doing less. The dirty secret is that without the priesthood of believers and the stewardship of their gifts, the church is crippled and weakened. Churches shrink because the pastor is not the whole body of Christ. There is a better way and there is a healthy strategy to transition to developing that new skillset. More to come.

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The “St. Peter” Principle?

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