Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Peter Principle

At a recent meeting, we were discussing ways to assess and support leaders in the Church-hopefully in such a way as to assure that the Church (local and otherwise) can best benefit from those leaders. Too often, we leaders fail to offer ourselves up to either failure or success for the betterment of the whole body of Christ. Rather, because costs can be great, we seek to protect and preserve ourselves and our situations. Holding on to something can feel like survival...when cutting free and stepping into an uncertain future feels like embracing oblivion. I know. I have been on both sides of that experience, and can testify that the latter is much harder than the former to emerge with anything like real faith, hope or growth as a child of God.

So, in light of that rumination, I found myself remembering the idea of the "Peter Principle." This is the idea, advanced in 1969 by Lawrence Peter and Raymond Hull in the book of the same name.
Check the link here for reference.

The idea, summed up, is that a leader will eventually rise to their respective level of incompetence in an organization wherein advancement is based on merit and skill. That means that you and I will work well in most situations, and be able to embrace increasing complex calls to service in the Body of Christ until we are no longer competent. In business, in the world, that can mean an end in an employee's effective work in the organization. It seems to make clear sense that you want to avoid bringing someone to that place. It means that the organization will either have to labor on under that person's incompetence or face the challenge of reforming that person's role into one where they may once again be effective. That seems to be sensible. At least from a human perspective.
But, what of God?

God seems to work from the other side of this argument. Instead of working to prevent people from stumbling into incompetency, God seems to overtly encourage us to embrace those ragged edges of our selves. God is most effective when we are NOT at our best. God is most evident in our lives when we are just beyond our personal levels of competency.

I can testify that when I am at my best in the best role for me, then I am productive, successful and more than that I am comfortable. I am also easily seduced into complacency, and I too often find myself slacking off or backing into things that will preserve me in my comfort zone, where my skills match the tasks. When I am being stretched and challenged, when God and my neighbor are push/pulling me into places where my incompetency really begin to shine then I find that I grow, learn and evolve most profoundly.

Now, it doesn't make me any easier to be around. In fact, I think I am more of a handful at those points. (Please, at this point, pray for my family, friends, colleagues, mentors and teachers who continue to guide and support me in my incompetency). In truth, I believe I am rather insufferable, really.

But, I think that is the point. If God is going to do a new thing through us, then we have to be willing to attempt the things we are not good at, to learn the things we do not know and to become the people we have not yet become. It means, for churches, that we are always coming up against our growing edges and that in order to thrive we need to seek out renewal and transformation. We need to willingly and continually trek into the unknown while unprepared, under packed and incompetent. It is then that God is able to deliver us, right?

Right, look at Israel in the desert. God has heard their supplications in Egypt and resolved to deliver them from slavery. That seems to have been achieved at the Red Sea with the destruction of Pharaoh's army and the safe arrival of Israel on the opposite shore. In fact, the real deliverance from slavery took MUCH longer. It took journeying by stages through the wilderness. It took reliance on manna, flinty water and quail for generations for Israel to stop dreaming about the cooking pots of Egypt. It took ages of thirsty, desert wandering for them to forget the slave quarter-comfort of Egypt's land. They had to embrace being something they were not in order to become what God intended.

It is the same with us. When we rise to the level of our incompetency, we then become the vessels that God can use to not only grow us into more effective servants; but also so that God can build us into more effective leaders. The challenge on our part is to embrace that incompetency and instead of laboring on under the onus of being lousy at something we aren't good at to be instead the kind of person who then reaches out and seeks to learn, seeks assistance and seeks to grow with intention into a form more fully in line with God's dream for us.

So, from one incompetent to another...embrace your inner and outer humanity, rise to the challenge of the Peter Principle and allow God to achieve wonders with your deficits as well as your strengths!

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