Is there really a crisis of confidence in leadership throughout America? Polls say there is and anecdotal evidence is abundant. The Center for Public Leadership/U.S. News survey says the rise in lack of confidence in America’s leadership is up 7% from last year. Nearly 80% of us believe the country will decline unless we get better leaders soon. The president’s numbers are very bad, but those for congress are much worse. And most people think that we are moving, as a nation, in a negative direction. When asked to compare things to twenty years ago most Americans believe that we are in far worse shape today.

When the type of leaders are separated by various categories it becomes even more interesting. The highest level of confidence is in military leaders, followed by medical leaders and then the Supreme Court. Religious leaders rank fourth and at the bottom of the fourteen categories listed are the media and entertainers. Both liberals and conservatives responded similarly to many of the same questions when it came to the question of confidence in leadership. 

First question: Does the Church, at least in general, have a high level of confidence in its leaders or does it reflect these cultural trends? I think it is the latter from what I’ve seen. It doesn’t much matter what the theology is of the particular church either. (Sometimes the more rigid the theological position the more likely it is that the church as a social and spiritual system will break down.) Churches, except in places where huge personalities are the rule in some mega-churches, distrust their leadership in high numbers. This has led to an all-out crisis in most congregations, which I see almost every week in personal ways, and it leads many to change churches regularly because they do not support, or have confidence in, their pastor(s), elders, deacons or church council.

Second question: How do we fix this problem? A lot of simplistic solutions come to mind but in the end the only acceptable answer is to somehow restore confidence in the supremacy of Christ over all things. I expect this would come about only when churches are truly renewed by the Word and the Spirit in power. So long as we do not believe this is what is really needed then the problem will likely only grow worse. We are in deep trouble and most of us do not even know it. We are far more interested in self-help solutions, kids programs and new buildings than in making Christ supreme over the life of our congregation. Pastors who undertake an effort to lead churches in this direction are usually in for real opposition. The whole business is a lose-lose proposition unless the Holy Spirit intervenes. I have never seen such spiritual dullness and foolishness in thirty-five years of public ministry.

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  1. George C November 14, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Can you elaborate on what you mean by “restore confidence in the supremacy of Christ over all things” in relationship to trusting church leaders?
    My wife and I have been part of a congregation since last January and while we try to assume the best and we do not particularly distrust the leadership, we do not know any of them well enough yet to particularly trust them any more than anyone else.
    I don’t mean that we think that they are stealing from the offering plate or soliciting prostitutes or anything, but their voice carries no more authority than anyone else’s in our lives and in many cases carries much less. I would hope that as time goes by we would be able to say that we do indeed trust them.
    In our case we have been a part of this church for a relatively short period of time, but I am sure this is not the case for others who still feel their leadership has not earned the right to be trusted.
    Do you think that part of the problem may be that meny leaders still expect people to trust them on the basis of their title despite the fact that experience shows that not only does a title not guarantee one’s trustworthiness, but sadly the aspirations for a title often are an indicator of the contrary?
    I think as long as leaders in the Church continue to separate themselves from the congregation and expect trust based upon their sermons, title, programs, ect. they will not only be unable to inside peoples’ trust but be unworthy of any real level of trust.

  2. Robert Campbell November 14, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Yes, please explain. What about this will cause opposition? Are you equating restoring confidence in the supremacy of Christ over all things with confidence in the leadership?
    To George C
    “I think as long as leaders in the Church continue to separate themselves from the congregation and expect trust based upon their sermons, title, programs, ect. they will not only be unable to inside peoples’ trust but be unworthy of any real level of trust.”
    Very well said.

  3. John H. Armstrong November 14, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    I agree with George’s observation totally. Leadership in the modern age and church seeks power through titles and programs, not through biblical servanthood (an overworked term now that equates to management techniques in most minds).
    Both leaders and people must work to restore confidence in Christ’s supremacy which means no one wins in struggles and all seek to submit to Christ, as revealed in so much of the New Testament in the epistles. So much of the New Testament is about relationships, and not theology proper, that this emphasis is striking in contrast to what we do in most churches. Liberal churches have little confidence in the Christ revealed in Scripture and conservative ones stress the doctrine of Christ without submitting to his will in regard to “one another.” The end result is the modern chaos both of you eloquently acknowledge in your comments.

  4. George C November 14, 2007 at 9:16 pm

    Thanks for clearing that up John.
    You might be interested in checking out a book by Frank Viola called “Who Is Your Covering?”. It is a supplement to his book “Rethinking The Wineskin”. I thought that both were great when I read them a few years ago.

  5. Adam S November 15, 2007 at 8:37 am

    I think that the lack of community prayer (within a church, not the geography) has a role in this. When I have been a part of a community that has sought God on a matter publicly through prayer and then has really tried to listen, the community seems to follow because there is a sense of following God and not the leader. But too often prayer at leadership meetings is a form of opening the meeting, not an actually petition to God for direction. I think that what often happens is that people are tired of following fallen leaders, so they equate mistrust of the fallenness to mistrust in God. In the end, that lack of willingness to follow God often moves people much further away from God.

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