For my entire lifetime we have stressed the role of a few well-educated leaders, or more recently of a few talented speakers, who give life and vision to the church. As megachurches developed more and more these leaders were not even deeply trained in the Bible, worship and theology. They could have been successful in almost any marketing-related endeavor. This does not disqualify these leaders but it should give us some pause.
A revolutionary shift is now needed. What we need is more organic expressions of spiritual life and practice. We need leaders (pastors and non-pastors) who function not so much as CEOs but as real shepherds who know and love real (known) sheep. We need to move away from the “important person” who preaches as the singularly important leader to a shared pastoral process of care and share. I believe that a shift toward the importance of friendships, and away from organizational expressions of glitzy marketed spirituality, is called for in almost every evangelical church I have known. Much of what passes for worship in the largest Protestant churches is really performance, not congregational worship in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Increasingly significant numbers (some say as high as 3–5%) of Christians in America have opted for house church movements in one form or another. (A great deal of this is clearly a reaction against traditional local churches, not necessarily intentional mission to one’s neighbors.) And millennials are opting for emerging expressions of church that go by many different labels and expressions. Far too many practice a private faith outside of any attempt at community with other serious Christians. But the good news is that there are signs of change among our youngest generation.
The answer to this is not to attack pastors or lay leaders. Nor is it to remain with the status quo. Just as President Obama made “change” a slogan that empowered his first federal election so the church cannot simply run on “change.” We must actually work at developing emerging forms of leadership among both ordained pastors/priests and the laity. The local church needs to become a relational pathway to mission, not a religious program that we create and run in order to attract church-shoppers. If you haven’t noticed the number of church shoppers has radically declined in the last decade. It is not going to grow again any time soon.
One of the highest priorities Jesus left to the church is directly related to leadership training. When he commissioned his people to “make disciples” he instituted teaching and training as a primary ministry in the church. I am amazed at the potential that we still have inside the United States for training a new generation of leaders. I am pleased to tell you that some of our leading seminaries are beginning to regain this perspective. In the US and Canada there are over 2,000 institutions that grant theological degrees. These schools graduate somewhere between 30,000 to 50,000 students each year. Many of these graduates have some vision for impacting the world with the gospel of Christ. But what will the church do with these human resources?
Churches need to better prepare for a new generation of leaders and leaders need to be better prepared to serve people, not simply run programs. Within the first five years in full-time ministry a large number of trained leaders will give up. The church is not an altogether friendly place to use one’s gifts and do mission. When they discover this they will leave.
The other great tragedy is that we have lost the importance of the priesthood of all believers. Work matters to God. In fact, work is at the core of the meaning of your life. But you would never know this if you listen to most teaching in local churches. Church leaders have failed to connect Sunday worship to Monday work! This loss of missional understanding is huge. Serious pastors must learn how to connect their work to the real work of mission done day-to-day by their congregants. I am encouraged to have shared in a growing theology of work movement and pray daily that ACT 3 can help to fan this flame into a great conflagration of spiritual renewal in our culture. All that you do matters to God, not just what you do on Sunday.
Behind all of this is a great call to the church to relearn how to engage with society and daily public life. I will say more about this next week in my Monday-Tuesday blogs.