Since I live in Illinois I hear more than my fair share of the hype about our charismatic and appealing Senator Barack Obama (D. – IL), who is seen by some as a viable presidential candidate in 2008. It appears that there is a substantial group of Democrats who want anybody but Hillary (Sen. Hillary Clinton, D. – NY), who is seen as too polarizing. If former Vice-President Al Gore does not run, and this is still anybody’s guess, then Obama’s chances dramatically increase, so it seems.

Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune columnist, summed up the case for Obama’s run in ‘08 in yesterday’s edition (May 31). Zorn wrote that he was fully aware of Obama’s shortcomings; e.g., little foreign policy experience, a complete lack of accomplishments on the national stage, and an apparent unwillingness to spend his political capital on unpopular positions. He writes, “Plans and philosophies are important, sure. But everyone in the game has a surplus of those.” Zorn even admits that Obama has already made clumsy moves that have alienated “his core supporters.” But none of this deters Zorn, and others, from promoting Obama as the best candidate to lead the party in 2008. Why? He answers in this amazing sentence:

[He has] an appealing personality, an optimistic vision and the aura of leadership . . . [which] are a lot more important to voters choosing a president than long years in the legislative trenches or endless lists of programs initiated (or eliminated) at a governor’s desk.

I think Eric Zorn is right. And this is precisely what gives me profound pause, and deep concern, about our present way of choosing national leaders. It is no longer necessary to demonstrate proven qualities of leadership, years of service to your country, or real administrative ability. What you need is “an optimistic vision and the aura of leadership.” What is even sadder than this national political reality is that the same is true in many evangelical churches. This is precisely how we choose a new pastor. The world has “squeezed us into its mold” in this case. Many of our churches choose pastors based on their appeal factor rather than on the requirements of a proven character, tested and tried leadership, and real (pastoral) service to sheep.

If you don’t believe me watch some larger evangelical church committee function as it seeks for a new senior pastor. I had such a discussion with the member of one search committee yesterday and the sad fact is that I saw this scenario unfolding once again as I listened to the story of how this committee is processing names and proceeding. Most of the people in the pews don’t even realize this is happening. I doubt that most would care so long as they get the type of person they feel good about. No wonder most of our churches are in a spiritual mess. Proven character and pastoral skills in shepherding people are not nearly as important as public giftedness and an aura of leadership.