I took this picture while on a prayer retreat a few weeks back. It's hard to believe how this huge tree fell over, yet it did. It reminded me of some research work done by Jim Collins, the best-selling author of Built to Last and Good to Great. Collins is a student of companies and organisations – great ones, good ones, weak ones, and failed ones. His most recent book, based on extensive research, is How the Mighty Fall. In it he proposes that, "Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you."
In his research, which took more than four years, Collins sought to discover whether decline can be detected early and avoided. Decline is a bit like a disease. You can look healthy yet really be sick. His conclusion is that by understanding the stages of decline, leaders can substantially reduce their chances of falling all the way to the bottom.
Here are the five stages of decline:
1. Hubris Born of Success (arrogance and pride)
2. Undisciplined Pursuit of More (over-reaching for more and more)
3. Denial of Risk and Peril (ignoring the warning signs)
4. Grasping for Salvation (grasping for quick fixes)
5. Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death (atrophy settles in)
Every organisation, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. According to Collins, anyone can fall and most eventually do.
In its essence, the church is 'people' and is better represented by a living system (or organism) than an organisation. However, these organisational lessons about how the mighty fall apply directly to local churches and Christian ministries, as well as to individuals, especially leaders.
May our roots go down deeply in Christ, enabling us to stand tall and strong in the face of the inevitable winds of adversity. May humility preserve us from the pride that always leads to a fall.
Proverbs 18:12. Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. NIV