The Peter Principle in Growing Churches
Have you ever heard of the “Peter Principle.” No, it has nothing to do with the apostle. It’s a term that was coined in a 1969 book by Laurence Peter and it explains that a person will tend to be promoted within an organization until reaching a position where he or she does not have the abilities to do the job. The shorthand phrase is “promoted to the level of their incompetence.” Not a very cheery thought, is it?
It strikes me that rapidly growing churches (and other ministries) must deal with their own unique version of the Peter Principle. When God is moving powerfully and the number of people grows dramatically, the early-stage staff members don’t get promoted. Rather, the scope of their responsibilities tends to grow rapidly as the number of people and things that they manage expands. A gifted worship leader who led one service may end up overseeing multiple bands and vocalists and a creative team. A person who started as the up-front person for children’s worship must recruit and train and direct a team of volunteers and manage programming that runs 7 days a week.
The gifts needed for the early-stage roles are vastly different than those needed in the later, larger stages. And yet, churches are ill-prepared to make these shifts. They don’t invest enough in training, lack good evaluation processes, and are often reluctant to bring in a leader with the needed skills to replace or supervise these long-tenured staff members. As a result, the ministry falls victim to this particular strain of the Peter Principle. If you are in a growing church, what are you doing to prevent the Peter Principle from derailing what God is doing in your midst?
One final note, I didn’t talk about senior pastors in the above illustrations, but I could have. This shift in essential leadership skills is just as notable for first chairs as for any other role. If that’s you, are you investing in your own development as a leader? Your church needs you to!