ARE YOU BEING "LEFT BEHIND"?
How can churches be led without leaders?
"Spirit-led" or not, churches "thrive or dive" by their leaders.
Especially in this historical moment, it’s the one thing that
Yet, today’s leaders can’t salvage tomorrow’s
church. For their flaws are built into their very roles! In other
words, the leadership system is already based on a fallacy. And—even
if that were not true—present leadership roles are totally
incompatible with the coming world.
Tomorrow’s leaders, for example, already
represent a complete departure from Christendom thinking. In fact,
future leadership roles make no sense to present thinkers. These
roles break the norms of normality. They demand a different set of
benchmarks. They are, after all, "incredible," "unthinkable,"
That’s no surprise. We never could second-guess
the Holy Spirit. Yet, the urgency of that fact now threatens the
very existence of the church.
Many leaders sense this crisis and feel compelled
to follow the "Holy Grail" of today’s "relevant" leadership roles.
So they excitedly seek out the big-fee motivational speakers who
preach the cutting-edge "Word" of corporate America and the
commercial "Gospel" of mega-ministries.
But these "new ways" are still the same old ways.
For these "postmodern" leaders are really only "hyper-modern."
They’re simply draining the last drop of blood out of already dead
Does God still love leaders who love him? Of
course. But the Lord of History waits on no one. So don’t be "left
behind." Don’t miss your moment. The Lord of History is calling
leaders beyond themselves.
They are being reintroduced to God.
"Ill-directed and badly formed spiritual
leadership causes much damage in souls."1
A Conspiracy of Love
Yet, we suffer an even greater challenge than the
flaws of our modern leadership models and their bad fit with the
postmodern world. For society is rebelling against all
authority—whether that rebellion is deserved or not!
The world is rejecting, for example,
"authoritarian" leadership. The institutionally alienated refuse the
arrogance of authority and its flagrant violation of power. And the
anti-establishment rebels take special offense at the same traits
among "churchy" leaders or ordained "experts."
In fact, "our whole value system is now in the
process of changing from hierarchical, competitive, aggression-based
criteria."2 But watch out. In this change, we risk
"throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Throwing out
"authoritarianism," for example, also risks throwing out
Yet, this generation claims, "We don’t need any
authority." And, true enough. It’s the first generation in history
that doesn’t need authority figures to feed them information. We
live in the "Information Age," after all. The Net, for example, is a
compulsive leveler of would-be authority figures. That means all the
command-and-control guys can be bypassed—even ignored.
As a result, people are making up their own minds
on their own terms at their own pace. Increasingly, we find
Christians with no pastor, no building, no program, and no
"official" dogma. They form a "conspiracy" of love and grace,
subverting outmoded leadership at the deepest levels.
Of course, these conspirators are also leaving
the church. They’re not simply "falling away." They’re "falling
into" a deeper commitment. They are like pilgrims exploring the
wider spiritual terrain of a decentralized, "open" Christianity.
Statistics, for example, reveal a rapid increase of clergyless
fellowships, leaderless house churches, family-based worship, and
spiritual autonomies in the arts.3
Perhaps we shouldn’t blame our modern clergy.
After all, they can’t avoid this exodus. Their roles are the way
They deserve our profound sympathy.
"Christendom is dead, and with it the
institutionalized distinctions of leadership."4
Pastors of the Past
Let’s look at some of the leadership roles the
Lord of History is leaving behind.
"Milquetoast Pastors" Beginning with the most
vulnerable, we list the weak, passive leader who has been "called"
to a congregation rather than to a mission. He is led entirely by
his board and other "controllers." As a result, he allows everyone
else to set the agenda and avoids conflict at all costs. Desperately
"co-dependent," this pastor simply serves and supervises his modest
In truth, many of these dear souls are burned out
or disillusioned church reformers. Many are God’s wounded warriors.
"Churchy Clergy" Career-driven clergy reach
the pinnacle of their achievement when they are ordained by the
ordained--certified by the certified. These "professional" or
"officially" anointed Christians draw their personal esteem from the
privileges and entitlements of their "certification."
Most speak "religionese" and wear collars so
people will know they are "religious." They hold administrative
offices with explicit job descriptions. They love top-down
religiosity, spiritual bureaucracies, and legalistic agendas. They
revel in all the things about religion that have nothing to do with
Their mission is on a piece of paper which they
print in bulletins and hang on walls.
"Hospital Chaplains" With these leaders, the
church becomes a hospital where people are healed—a sanctuary where
people are protected—and a rest home where people are comforted. In
other words, the focus is on the well-being, the happiness, and the
health of the flock.
Thank goodness. We need it!
But in this church, the shepherd never leads his
sheep beyond their protected enclosure. He never asks his flock to
"grow up," to "go out," or to "propagate."
Pastoral care is this pastor’s ministry—his only
ministry. And his message is always the same, "Take two aspirin and
go to bed."
"Information Brokers" Some preachers are
teachers. And many of these teachers imitate the great theological
minds of the modern period. Like their mentors, in other words, they
impart "knowledge"—they deliver "information"—they mediate the
"facts" of faith.
Of course, academic credentials and proper
theologies become their primary imperatives. "Since God lives in the
logic of the mind," they say, "we unite with Him through
intellectual agreement." In other words, the "idea" of God comes
first, then—maybe—the "revelation" of God.
Unfortunately, their "ideas" were born in the
modern period, which was already anti-mystery, anti-spirit, and
anti-emotion. These great thinkers teach us how to think, but they
seldom teach us how to live. They give us "just the facts, Mam"—then
we’re on our own.
They don’t realize that academic humanism is
functionally dead, that their enlightened Utopia was always an
illusion. Still, "Surely, God must have read a book before He
created the Universe!"
"Ministry Police" These guardians "do" the
ministry. The laity may serve on committees or do minor stuff, but
the "professionals" are the ministry.
It’s a caste system, a clear divide between those
who are "official" and those who are "just lay persons." The
"official" ones, of course, are the only ones who know what God
wants and who know how to do it. Their greatest fear manifests when
someone else hears from God and knows, as well, how to do it.
It’s then, they hastily secure their territory.
It’s then, they face conflicts of interest in empowering their
believers. It’s then, they silently say, "Keep in your place and
don’t get in the way."
"Control Freaks" Controllers belong to the
same family as "Ministry Police." They micro-manage the whole
church. They brood over "crowd control." They insist on approving
Obviously, they keep a short leash on the laity.
They may invite them to help with the "official" ministry, but the
laity must do it exactly the way they’re told—no mistakes and no
variables. After all, this leader is a command-and-control expert
and must be totally obeyed.
These dictatorial leaders are so obsessed with
"quality control" that mistakes are rarely forgiven. That means
"trial and error" is never permitted and—as a result—individual
growth is never enabled.
When men and women get their hands on
religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it
into an instrument for controlling others.5
"Feudal Overlords" These kingdom builders
("kingdom" with a small "k") are primarily concerned about the size
and resources of their church. This makes sense, for their church is
conspicuously about them. In other words, their spiritual journey is
mostly an ego trip.
They’re motivated, of course, by the privileges
of position and power. And their ministry is geared to personal
agendas. Though "The Son of man came not to be waited on but to
serve,"6 they are a little better off than the Son of
"Ego-centered, ego-prominent leadership betrays
"Marketing CEO’s" Many "managers of the
sacred" are also marketing experts. They covet the powers of
strategic planning and commercial success. Though caught in the
conflict between culture and spirit, they know which way to go.
Their game is a numbers game, so whatever the
market wants. . . . Then, the Spirit becomes a commercial product.
Lots of "eye-candy" and "ear-candy" offer instant gratification. And
the mystical and miraculous seem even better than a trip to the
In these addictive versions of the consumer
church, pastors harvest where nothing is planted. They barter a
spiritual birthright for something "far more successful."
Yet, spiritual seekers still need spiritual
leaders. Somebody must discern the destiny, cast the vision, and
empower the people in this "anything goes" society. In short,
somebody must know how to start a fire, and tend a fire.
Unknown to most, the Lord of History is giving us
these new leaders. But this moment presents both a gift and a
problem. For these new leaders are not what we think. In fact, there
is no way—out of our old notions—that we can even begin to
understand who they are.
Nevertheless, an emerging spiritual power is
changing the course of history. And within it, the leader of the
future will become the very "image of His Son."8
[Read "Are You Ready for Science Fiction Clergy?"
for the continuation of this article.]
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Eugene Peterson, The Message//Remix: The
Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado SpringsNavPress, 2003)
2. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture
(Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 62.
3. George Barna, quoted in the Friday Fax
Newsletter 2005/35 (The comments were taken from Barna’s new
4. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in
New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1999) p.50.
5. Peterson, p. 2109.
6. Matthew 20:20-28, AMP.
7. Peterson, p. 2162.
8. Romans 8:29.