Jim Collins is 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 latest book (which I picked up recently in an airport bookshop in the USA), 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.
Collin's latest book was an interesting read, especially after having just read the Old Testament book of Daniel where we see great and powerful rulers getting caught up in pride, then falling dramatically. Nebuchadnezzar is a classic example (Daniel 4). He was warned ahead of time but ignored the warning and was humbled greatly. This is a good lesson for all of us.
Here are some wise sayings from God's Word:
"Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall." [Proverbs 16:18. NLT]
"If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall." [1 Corinthians 10:12-13. NLT]
"All of you, serve each other in humility, for 'God opposes the proud but favors the humble.' So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor." [1 Peter 5:5-6. NLT]