Bob Buford, Peter Drucker, and the Emerging Church

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

LTRP Note: Leadership Network was the launching pad for the Emergent group (McLaren, Jones, Pagitt, etc) in the 1990s. Bob Buford, the founder and leader of Leadership Network, is also one of the members of the New York Leadership Center’s “National Advisory Team”, of which we reported on yesterday regarding Greg Laurie’s involvement. Another member of this advisory team is New Age sympathizer Ken Blanchard. Thus, four proponents of the emerging movement are on this team together: Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Ken Blanchard, and Bob Buford. Roger Oakland, in his book, Faith Undone, discusses Buford and the Leadership Network:

Bob Buford, Peter Drucker, and the Emerging Church
by Roger Oakland

To understand the significance of Leadership Network’s role in the emerging church, we need to look briefly at the structure and makeup of that organization, which began in 1984 by Bob Buford. At the time, Buford was the owner of a successful cable television company in Texas. With the help of Harold Myra and Paul Robbins of Christianity Today, Buford introduced Leadership Network as a “resource broker” to churches, hoping to help leaders of “innovative churches” connect.1 However, Leadership Network was not the sole inspiration of Buford. Even before he began the organization, he was consulting with business/management guru, the late Peter Drucker.

Drucker was born in 1909 in Austria and over the course of his life rose to a position of great respect for his contribution to management and business. He died in 2005 at the age of 95, but his influence lives on, not only in the business world but in the religious world as well.
Bob Buford has often publicly expressed his deep admiration for Drucker. Of him, Buford says:
Peter Drucker is the “intellectual father” of most all that guides my approach to philanthropy. I’ve long since ceased trying to determine what thoughts are mine and which come from Peter.2
In 1988, four years after launching Leadership Network, Buford sought out Drucker, asking him to:
…lend his name, his great mind, and occasionally his presence to establish an operating foundation for the purpose of leading social sector organizations toward excellence in performance.3
Buford had a high esteem for the elder mentor, saying Drucker was “the man who formed my mind.”4

With Drucker’s influence and Buford’s devotion to Drucker, Leadership Network was bound to succeed. By this time in his life, Drucker had indeed built a “name” for himself and few would argue that his “great mind” and “presence” would be a tremendous asset to any company.

Peter Drucker and Mysticism
If we want to grasp the philosophy and ideologies of Leadership Network, we need to examine Drucker’s beliefs. Remember, Buford said he had “ceased trying to determine what thoughts are mine and which come from Peter.” And while Drucker no doubt brought his business sense to the Leadership Network table, his spiritual overtones were prevalent as well; and they were passed on to Buford, who in turn passed them on to the emerging church.

Something that would turn out to be extremely significant in the long run was Peter Drucker’s attraction to mystics. In particular, he was greatly influenced by existential philosopher and mystic Soren Kierkegaard. According to a New York Times article, “A Man’s Spiritual Journey from Kierkegaard to General Motors,” Drucker was “bowled over” by the writings of Kierkegaard. Drucker called him a “prophet”5 and being so impressed with Kierkegaard, he “studied Danish in order to read Kierkegaard’s yet-untranslated works.”6 Drucker said Kierkegaard’s “religious experience” was “meaningful for the modern world in its agony.”7
In a dissertation at Purdue University, called “Faith and nothingness in Kierkegaard: A mystical reading of the God-relationship,” the writer said of Kierkegaard:
[He] has marked structural similarities to mystics such as Eckhart, who is warmly received by the Japanese philosophical tradition, particularly in the writings of its Zen and Pure Land Buddhist representatives.8
Drucker attested to Kierkegaard’s mystical affinities, saying he “stands squarely in the great Western tradition of religious experience, the tradition of … St. John of the Cross,”9 a mystic in the 1500s.

For those who wonder if Drucker’s interest in mysticism and Kierkegaard influenced Bob Buford, we can turn to Buford’s autobiography, Halftime. In the book, Buford favorably quotes Kierkegaard a number of times and refers to others with mystical persuasions. And on his website, Buford endorses a man named Jim Collins,10 who took a course by Michael Ray called Creativity in Business in 1982. The course (and the book named after the course) takes “much of its inspiration from Eastern philosophies, mysticism, and meditation techniques.”11 The book talks about “your wisdom-keeper or spirit guide–an inner person who can be with you in life” and says, “We meditate to unfold our inner being.”12 The book also presents Tarot cards. Collins calls the course “profoundly life changing” and says he “would not be where I am today, with the wonderful life I’ve been given, without that course.”13

Collins was so inspired by Ray’s course that he wrote the foreword for Ray’s 2004 book, The Highest Goal. In that book, Ray tells readers to “practice emptying your mind,”14 “experience not thinking,”15 and “meditate regularly.”16 Other quotes in the book include those of Eastern religion gurus such as Ram Dass, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and Swami Shantananda.

Buford’s website not only carries an endorsement for Jim Collins but also a number of articles by or about those who promote mysticism as well.17 Clearly, Drucker’s interest in mysticism rubbed off on Buford.

The Emerging Society of Peter Drucker
Long before Leadership Network even began, Peter Drucker was writing about emerging spirituality. In his 1957 book Landmarks of Tomorrow, the introduction titled “This Post-Modern World” states:
At some unmarked point during the last twenty years we imperceptibly moved out of the Modern Age and into a new, as yet nameless era. Our view of the world [has] changed…. There is a new spiritual center to human existence.18
What Drucker called the “Post-Modern World” had already started, as he saw it. In fact, he was formulating ideas that would be integrated into what would become the emerging church fifty years later. Listen to a few of his statements:
We thus live in an age of transition, an age of overlap, in which the old “modern” of yesterday no longer acts effectively … while the new, the “post-modern,” … effectively controls our actions and their impact.19

[W]e still need the great imaginer, the great creative thinker, the great innovator, of a new synthesis, of a new philosophy.20

This is a new view, different alike from the traditional.21

Words like “purpose,” “emergence,” “new frontiers,” and “disciplines,” fill the pages of Landmarks of Tomorrow. These terms (and concepts) are often used by many of today’s [emerging] Christian leaders [including Rick Warren]. When Drucker states “we will create a new philosophy–a fresh way of looking at the world,”22 it sounds very much like what is said today by those in the emerging church.

Drucker felt a strong bond not only with Kierkegaard but also with a panentheist/mystic named Martin Buber (1878-1965), who embraced the teachings of Hasidism (Jewish mysticism).23 Buber believed that “a divine spark”24 exists within every human and within everything in creation. He spoke of the relationship, which “must exist between individuals and everything on the planet.”25 In his book Between Man and Man, Buber further expresses his views of mysticism:
Since 1900 I had first been under the influence of German mysticism from Meister Eckhart [a mystic] … then I had been under the influence of the later Kabalah [Jewish mysticism] and of Hasidism.26
In Landmarks of Tomorrow, Drucker referenced Buber when he stated:
Mankind needs the return to spiritual values, for it needs compassion. It needs the deep experience that the Thou and the I [from Buber’s book, I and Thou] are one, which all higher religions share.27
In addition, one of Drucker’s biographers said that Drucker “[drew] upon the wisdom of the philosopher Martin Buber,”28 and another writer said that Drucker “was a student of Buber’s at the University of Frankfurt.”29

Drucker’s attraction to the mystical did not end with his fascination for Buber and Kierkegaard. In 1990, Drucker established the Leader to Leader Institute, an interspiritual thought forum, which to this day includes Buddhist sympathizers, globalists, evangelicals, and New Age sympathizers.30

Drucker’s philosophy of gathering together ideologies from great thinkers was not something he saw as contrary to his ideas of religion. He believed that “people’s needs” supersede “doctrine” or “institutional structure.”31 This view of minimizing doctrine would become one of the earmarks of the emerging church, which in reality was to be a testing ground for high-tech marketing skills, business management techniques, and an experience-based religion; but its foundation is flawed with a non-biblical, mystical premise.

A “Mega” Paradigm Shift
When Bob Buford gathered the initial group of young emerging leaders, one of those he chose was Doug Pagitt, a youth pastor from Wooddale Church (a Minneapolis megachurch). Leith Anderson (Pagitt’s pastor) had already been helping set the tone for the emerging church. In Anderson’s 1992 book A Church for the 21st Century, he said a paradigm shift was needed:
The only way to cope and be effective during this period of structural change in society is to change some of the ways we view our world and the church. It is what some call a paradigm shift–a new way of looking at something. Such a shift will allow us to view our changing world with new perspective. It is like a map. Old maps from 1950 may have sufficed before the construction of interstate highways and the expansion of major cities, but new maps are needed now. Likewise, we need a paradigm shift for the future.32
This idea of a paradigm shift would become an integral element of the emerging church. Webster’s Dictionary defines paradigm as “a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind.”33 Thus, paradigm shift is a shift or change from the present framework. Anderson, Buford, and Drucker all played a role in bringing this about.

While Leadership Network was the catalyst that initially launched the emerging church, many other ministries and organizations have helped to fuel it. One of the major catalysts is Rick Warren. Warren’s support for Buford and Leadership Network goes back many years. Warren endorsed Buford’s 1994 book, Halftime, calling Buford a “rare individual.”34 But perhaps more important is the fact that Warren shared Buford’s great admiration for Drucker. At a 2005 Pew Forum on Religion gathering called “Myths of the Modern Mega-Church,” Rick Warren stated:
I did a series of lectures for the faculty in the Kennedy School … I started with this quote from Peter Drucker: “The most significant sociological phenomenon of the first half of the 20th century was the rise of the corporation. The most significant sociological phenomenon of the second half of the 20th century has been the development of the large pastoral church–of the mega-church. It is the only organization that is actually working in our society.”

Now Drucker has said that at least six times. I happen to know because he’s my mentor. I’ve spent 20 years under his tutelage learning about leadership from him, and he’s written it in two or three books, and he says he thinks it’s [the mega-church] the only thing that really works in society.35
Incidentally, not only does this quote reveal Warren’s devotion to Drucker, but it also shows why Drucker became involved with Leadership Network. Buford’s goal was to be a resource to the megachurch, because he saw it as a highly influential instrument for societal changes. Perhaps it was Drucker who convinced Buford to start Leadership Network in the first place.
Warren’s view that Buford was a “rare individual” was mutual. Buford reciprocated the admiration when he described Warren and Bill Hybels (Willow Creek) as “change makers” in “the early days of Leadership Network.”36 As for Willow Creek’s role with Leadership Network, Buford states:
The first Foundation conference was held in Dallas and was the beginning of a partnership between Bob and Linda, Leadership Network and Willow Creek Community Church.37
Willow Creek’s partnership with Leadership Network has proven to be very helpful for the emerging church shift. Through Willow Creek’s various well-attended conferences, and with their endorsements and promotions of books, leaders like Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, and Erwin McManus have been able to further propagate the emerging spirituality message.

In this fast moving paradigm, Rick Warren recognizes Leadership Network’s role in the success of the emerging church. In one of Warren’s e-newsletters, it reveals: “Leadership Network bills itself as the advance scout for the emerging church.’38 (from chapter two of Faith Undone by Roger Oakland)

Concluding LTRP Note: Today, Leadership Network, while having minimized its relationship with the original Emergent group, is still promoting the spirituality behind the emerging church.

1. Bob Buford, Game Plan (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), pp. 169-170.
2. “Drucker’s Impact on Leadership Network” (Leadership Network Advance, November 14, 2005,
3. Bob Buford from his website, Active Energy, energy .net/templates/cusactiveenergy/details. asp?id= 29646 &PID = 207602.
4. Bob Buford, Halftime (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), dedication page.
5. Peter Drucker, “The Unfashionable Kierkegaard” (1933:
6. Peter Steinfels, “A Man’s Spiritual Journey from Kierkegaard to General Motors” (New York Times, November 19, 2005).
7. Peter Drucker, “The Unfashionable Kierkegaard,” op cit.
8. Jack E. Mulder, Jr., “Faith and nothingness in Kierkegaard: A mystical reading of the God-relationship” (Soren Kierkegaard) (Dissertation at Purdue University, 2004,
9. Peter Drucker, “The Unfashionable Kierkegaard” op. cit.
10. Bob Buford endorsement of Jim Collins at
11. Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers, Creativity in Business (New York, NY: Broadway Books, 1986), back flap.
12. Ibid., pp. 37, 142.
13. Jim Collins endorsement of Creativity in Business, from Creativity in Business website:
14. Michael Ray, The Highest Goal, (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc, 2004), p. 92.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Bob Buford’s website,
18. Peter Drucker, Landmarks of Tomorrow (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1959), p. ix.
19. Ibid., p. x.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., p. 21.
22. Ibid., back cover flap.
23. Several of Martin Buber’s writings and books reflect his embracing of both Hasidism and mysticism in general. A few of those are: Ecstatic Confessions: The Heart of Mysticism, Tales of the Hasidim, Hasidism and Modern Man.
24. Martin Buber, The Way of Man (New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 1964, 1994 Citadel Press edition), p. 5.
25. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, “Birthday of Martin Buber” (Spirituality and Practice, http://www .spirituality and
26. Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (New York, NY: Routledge Classics, 2002, first published in 1947), p. 219.
27. Drucker, Landmarks of Tomorrow, op. cit., pp. 264-265.
28. John E. Flaherty, Peter Drucker: Shaping the Managerial Mind (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999), p. 258.
29. Michael Schwarz, “Early Influences upon Peter Drucker’s Perception of ‘the Public Interest'” (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, 2002,
30. Leader to Leader Institute, Thought Leaders Forum:
31. Peter Steinfels, “A Man’s Spiritual Journey from Kierkegaard to General Motors,” op. cit. (“The future was with ‘pastoral churches,’ he argued, ones that put a higher priority on answering people’s needs than perpetuating some specific doctrine or ritual or institutional structure.”)
32. Leith Anderson, A Church for the 21st Century (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1992), p. 17.
33. Webster’s Dictionary:
34. Rick Warren’s endorsement of Bob Buford’s book Halftime, 2nd page of endorsements in front of book.
35. Rick Warren, “Myths of the Modern Mega-Church” (Event hosted by the Pew Forum on Religion, 2005), see transcript:
36. Bob Buford, information gathered at
37. The Foundation Conferences:
38. Quote from Rick Warren’s e-newsletter, issue 46, April 3, 2002,

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.