Top-Down, Schmop-Down (aka What Leadership Lessons You Can Learn from IT)

Air Force Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Agency Org Chart
shows side authority, entire dotted section and other non-top-down elements
click on picture to enlarge

So then, how do I know today? Well, I will answer just as Jesus Christ answered when the messengers of John the Baptist came to Him and said, “Well, John wants to know, are You really the Messiah that was to come?” Jesus didn’t say yes or no. He said, “You go tell John what you hear and what you see being done. Go and show him THE FRUIT of what you see coming from Me.” And by their fruits you shall know.

No, back in 1933, I didn’t know. Well, how do I know now? Because I looked back on all these years, and I see the fruits. And YOU’RE HERE AS PART OF IT! You’re part of THE EVIDENCE because you’re here; and I had something to do with that, and so did Jesus Christ. And He was using me. I didn’t do it myself. And woe be to me if I ever take credit for doing it!

~ Herbert W Armstrong, transcription of “Zerubbabel’s Temple By Herbert W Armstrong July 21, 1978“, Herbert W Armstrong Transcribed

Herbert W Armstrong started out as a businessman.  Specifically, he started out in advertising.  It is important that many of his ideas were shaped by his experiences, and being a successful businessman was once important to him.

He strongly believed that God’s way worked.  However, he also seemed to believe that if it worked then it was God’s way.  He judged them by what he perceived as good fruits (as I recall, Eve did the same).  And, what worked in his day in the business world?  Strong top men who were the head of their enterprises was the norm.  Giants like John D Rockefeller, Henry Ford and others   When he looked at the “successful” and large religious organizations, what did he see?  The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, etc.

I think no one can understand the fallacy of the top-down hierarchy being the way and the only way better than someone who works in IT.  I remember a course called “Top Down Programming” which took the larger picture and broke it down into pieces so that information technology can be used to work on each specific function.  In theory, then, these individual routes and subprograms would be put together into programs and eventually entire systems.

The fallacy of it is detailed in the short TechRepublic article “The problem with top-down decision making“.  I’ve seen this played out in countless ways.

It is a funny thing to realize just how much committee work takes place in the Army.  Civilians often have various misconceptions about how the Army works due to superficial knowledge of it.  Yes, it is very top-down.  Yes, it is very hierarchical.  However, there are quite a few exceptions.

For example, every headquarters leader has a staff assisting him.  They take on various specialized functions, and they are often empowered to carry out the wishes of the leader.  However, they are not the leader.  In addition, they also are answerable to their higher headquarters’ counterpart.  For example, a battalion S-1 (personnel resources) is answerable not only to the leutenant colonel in charge but also to the brigade S-1.  The brigade S-1 is answerable not only to the brigade commander but to the division G-1.  Lather, rinse and repeat for S-2, S-3 and S-4.

It’s also true that the general who does not listen to their troops is doomed to failure.  The front line troops continuously send situation reports to the rear, where the reports are collated and sent up for analysis.  Proper intel is paramount.  It includes not only what the enemy is doing but how much ammo, how many soldiers and other resources remain.  Location is important, of the enemy and friendly forces as well.

I’m leaving out a lot of the silly stuff that often happens in training and such.

If leadership were simply expressing one’s will and expecting it to be carried out flawlessly, then why all these leadership conferences, seminars and college courses?  Every soldier is given the technical and field manuals needed to do their job.  Each of them is expected to be trained on them.  Rather than blindly following orders, soldiers must be trained and know the proper course of action in every case.

Not only that, but soldiers are expected to disregard illegal orders.  I don’t know how many even consider that point.  Of course, the burden of proof is usually upon the one disobeying the order, but that is the expectation.

A modern business is really no different.  I’ll stay away from publicly traded companies, as those are run by boards.  A company often has a president, then a lot of time is a vice president.  However, some others will still report directly to the president.  If nothing else, the administrative assistant often does.  Most companies end up with “dotted lines of responsibility” that make it even more muddy.

There really is no such thing as a top-down management model in practice.  Any leader who does not solicit input from their subordinates and resolve the most burning issues will cause the company to fail.

Even more interesting, is the president of the company really in charge?  At the end of the day, I either hire or fire entire companies every day, and so do you.  When I flip on the light switch, I am employing the services of the utility company.  When I log onto the Internet, I am employing the services of the ISP.  My money either hires them or goes somewhere else if they get fired.

Also, don’t give me “you don’t have a choice.”  There always is a choice.  I can buy my own generator or install solar panels, and if I generate enough, then the electric company will have to pay me!  With cellular high speed becoming the norm, there is no reason I couldn’t call up the cable company and tell them what they can do with their lousy service (and, it is tempting at times!).  Gas appliances can be replaced after changing some electric lines, and then goodbye gas company!

In the ultimate sense, though, there is one hierarchy.  God the Father is always in charge, and Jesus Christ is His second-in-command.  Want to know what we are called?  God’s children.  That’s our rank.

Think about that one for a while.

Areas of authority are granted by those two and from no one else.  Authority means the ability to make decisions and bearing the responsibility for those decisions.  However, those are still your valid decisions if you are in charge of that area!

Abraham made a decision.  He listened to his wife and decided to have a child by a concubine.  You ever notice that God did not stop him?  You ever notice that God still bestowed blessings, albeit lesser ones, upon Ishmael?

Areas of authority.  You either have them or not.  If God gave someone authority over something but stopped the person from using that authority, then God is effectively reneging on that authority.

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

~ Mt 16:18-19

I keep coming back to free will.  If God truly is all-powerful, then He doesn’t have to micromanage every detail of our lives in order for His will to ultimately prevail.  The Calvin model of God’s sovereignty is a weak god!  If we are merely puppets on a string, then how can we ever attain to be “sons of God”?

Likewise, how weak would God be to grant authority to His Church and then renege on lawful decisions?

Like a soldier, we must respect the authority of the Church.  However, we must also reject unlawful orders.  In the end, though, the burden of proof falls upon the individual Christian to prove it was an unlawful decision.

In a subsequent article, I want to explore some unlawful orders.  However, I think now that David C Pack has made it quite evident that he is a false prophet as well as a lunatic, it is more appropriate to first post some material about what I see as the mental illness behind some of these leaders.  Some have come close, but I know of no one that has really nailed it, but I came across some articles coincidentally that explain a lot of things.



  1. When a person reads Acts 15:22-29, it is not signed by Peter, Pastor General of the Jerusalem Church. The decision came from: “They wrote this letter by them:
    The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
    To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:

    The way I see it, what happened there was more indicative towards Mt 18:18-19 than Mt 16:18-19. The top down one man “only” head of all the Church approach requires a lot of reading man made ideas into the scriptures.

  2. Well, I can’t disagree with your basic point. I agree with it for the most part. I’m not sure about using the Army as an analogy, however. I’m a vet from way back. The church’s concept of “top-down” government was a piece of cake compared to what I experienced in the Army. Not even close.

    • @Big Red: Yet, the concept in both is supposed to be top-down hierarchy. If you conceptually compare them, they are supposedly very similar. Yet, neither one ever has lived up to what it considered the ideal. The Army doesn’t because it is so large and bureaucratic that it really cannot maintain its “ideal”. The Church never has, either. HWA often hired, moved, fired and rehired people so many times that it was in a constant state of chaos. People seem to want to forget the chaos part, though.