The New Church Leadership: A Downward Trend
April 6, 2011
On Developing Lasting Leadership:
In the faith community over the last decade, a shift has grown toward communal living. Not in the strict sense of monastic living or moving to a compound outside of the city, but on a subtler plane resembling growing with others in a close knit, open minded and authentic way. As this transition has exploded in the postmodern Christian church and proven effective in reaching an ever skeptical generation, the church has been forced to question “older models” and modes of growth. This has led to countless books being written in the last few years of how to manage what has been coined as the “Missional Movement”. Building and sustaining long-lasting and invested leadership has become increasingly difficult in missional minded communities over the last several years. Youth and young-adult leaders alike have attempted to embrace this generation with its many quirks but have found it extremely hard to cultivate a sense of deep rooted commitment to a specific long-term purpose or set of goals. This in turn has made large growth and successful programs but not necessarily long lasting ones due to lack of focus on growing leaders. The obvious reasons are easy enough to assess, however, there are nuanced behaviors and attitudes heavily contributing to a lack of leader growth in current missional minded community focused churches.
There are many factors that contribute to this problem. From the outside looking in, the apparent growth in the missional trend seems like a natural high end of the church recruitment cycle, but a better perspective can be seen below the surface of the churches modern landscape. (Barna, 2009) The “Jesus Movement” of the late 60s early 70s culture had a lot of the same conditions that exist today, including: civil unrest, a deep mistrust of authority, declining employment (leading to an unengaged/unoccupied demographic of young people), and finally a spiritually starved sub-set that desired an alternative outlet of expression. The opportunity was the same but the end-result was far different, so why couldn’t that movement gain traction?. At this point a certain perspective must be defined carefully before proceeding. There are two Christian “churches” that weave the tale of church history; they are the “Church as-it-is” and the “transitory Church that challenges old ways and traditions”. Both are valid from a theological standpoint, but differ largely in their approach and appeal. During the hippy procession the status-quo church along with the still young, still deeply conservative movement against that status were completely unwilling to validate or assimilate the “Jesus Movement”. Those small circles of influence were unable to garner support and encouragement and ultimately died out or “grew out of it”. The case is different today mainly because of the interconnected disillusionment of postmodernism. It was easy to feel the energy created in small communities 40 years ago, but the potential impact was veiled from the larger culture. Today we have a far more effective network and view of discontent. That recent tide bubbled over into what eventually became the “Emerging church” and “Emergent movement” approaches to the future of the church. Both of which proposed a reworking of current practices (with the emergent movement pushing a more deconstructionist approach). And this time, the larger church was ready to listen (maybe not change but definitely listen).
Out of this “come let us reason together” atmosphere grew what came to be known as “seeker friendly churches”, and here is where the initial problem of leadership growth comes in. There is a base assumption among many sub-pastorate church leaders that all followers really need is the right amount of dedication coupled with the right amount of guidance and one has the making of a potential leader. There is another perception that is equally detrimental and that is focusing on and promoting natural giftedness. A common tendency of leaders is to identify who the crowd is gravitating around and assess that individual for possible mentorship. These assumptions, without adequate assessment, can lead quickly to dysfunctional personal and professional growth. These faults in the leadership approach have highly contributed to the rate of invested leadership decline in missional communities. The first assumption leads to an immediate result of not making the pool of potential leaders wide enough and the second makes that pool contagiously (relationally and figuratively) shallow. The effect can be a lack of leaders; over-burdened with the weight of progress and unprepared for furthering the ministry because of resource and/or personal inadequacies; or it could create incredibly selfish leaders who refuse to build other leaders that may infringe on their own influence/authority. Of Course, many have learned where to strike a balance somewhere between the two, but the argument here is that the approach is flawed long before it is applied. Either way new approaches may need to be considered.
Building a lasting impactful community can be hard enough without the added pressure of developing leaders to cultivate and populate the movement. So what can be done to fix this trend? Perhaps it’s time to start asking these questions before the movement becomes unsustainable from the base. To be sure there are vast reaching implications if gotten wrong. Many leaders have taken this task head on. Leaders like Stephen Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church who holds leadership workshops on communal movements. His counterparts, Pastors Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll work on similar lines to help train and equip potential leaders and church planters. The goal being to create a counterbalance as momentum grows that dissipates some of the discontent that caused the movement to begin. This time using a networked and connected base to troubleshoot these larger issues from within in much of the same way it was presented, by using social networks and small group discussions in a very grass roots way across the country. (Stetzer, 2009) It remains to be seen what the outcome of these recent movements will mean for the larger Christian church on a global scale, but as of now the fastest growing area of Christianity is also the least equipped to lead itself into the future.
Barna Group, Ltd. (2009, December 7). Report examines the state of mainline protestant churches. Retrieved from http://www.barna.org/leadership-articles/323-report-examines-the-state-of-mainline-protestant-churches
Stetzer, E. (2009, January 19). State of church planting. Retrieved from http://www.edstetzer.com/2009/01/state-of-church-planting.html