The Peter Principle

J. Davy Crockett III
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A quirky sense of humor and a cynical streak seem to have been the impetus for an interesting book, published years ago, entitled The Peter Principle by educational scholar Dr. Laurence J. Peter. It is a hilarious look at the pitfalls of a bureaucratic organization. The original premise of the author is that in a hierarchically structured organization, people tend to be promoted up through the ranks until they reach their “level of incompetence.” But what does that mean? One might hope that increased competence would equal higher responsibility.

Dr. Peter reasons that new employees typically start in the lower ranks. Then, when they prove their competence that position, they get promoted to a higher position. They continue “climbing the ladder” until they reach a position for which they are no longer competent. According to Mr. Peter, the net result of this process is that most of the higher levels of a bureaucracy will be filled by incompetent people who were good at a previous job, but are not equipped for the job they’ve ended up in.

For examples, consider that a good salesperson often makes a terrible manager; a good mechanic may be a miserable shop supervisor; or a good bookkeeper is incompetent as a financial analyst. Dr. Peter postulates that this phenomenon is why things go wrong. His book contains some wry observations as “axioms” and “laws” describing how organizations deal with the problems resulting from “the Peter Principle.”

While Dr. Peter’s humorous observations are insightful and can be instructive in working with and leading people, there is another far more important “Peter Principle.” This principle is divinely inspired, and is a way of thinking and acting in our relationships with others. If we apply this principle, we are assured of Christian success and, unlike Dr. Peter’s postulate, we won’t ever reach “our level of incompetence.”

The “Peter Principle” I’m referring to was expounded by the Apostle Peter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This Peter was a successful fisherman in his family’s business who became a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. He was also an impetuous man who overcame personal fears and feelings of guilt to become the leading Apostle in the newly founded Church of God. He set the example and urged others to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

We find the true “Peter Principle” for Christians in 2 Peter 1:1–13. In part, it identifies some key attributes for us to “be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love…” (vv. 4­–7).

These seven attributes of Godly character traits make up this Peter Principle, of which faith is the foundation.

We find faith defined in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Verse 5 explains that faith is not optional, it is required; “But without faith it isimpossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

You might ask, “Where does this faith come from?” The answer is found in Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Of course, putting these important traits into practice is not easy. Yet, we are promised “a Helper.” In John 14:26 Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, It will teach you all things….” Paul described the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” So, with God’s help and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can practice the biblical “Peter Principle” and by doing so, “…be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The choice is yours; you can reach your “level of incompetence” in this life or practice the Biblical “Peter Principle” as you prepare for the coming Kingdom of God. The information on our Tomorrow’s World and LCG.org websites will benefit you greatly. All the materials offered are completely without charge.