…..on leadership, relevance, and the contemporary American church

  • I am all for good leadership, both within and outside the church (and I know the following will be misunderstood or considered unreasonably judgmental by by some), but in reading the blogs of more than a few church planters, pastors, and church “CEOs” of ‘relevant’, attractional churches, I perceive something of a leadership ‘fetish’. Sometimes, I will mentally remove any mention or implication of the the Gospel from the blogs and posts of some of these church leaders, and, sadly, very little is changed in the content their published thoughts. Sometimes, all I find among the ubiquitous calls to engage boundless creativity, bold leadership, and cultural relevance is the occasional exhortation to ‘make Jesus famous.’ Many church leaders publish a ‘what I am reading’ list, and it honestly grieves me that most of the titles being read seem to be secular, trendy, ‘flavor of the day’ books on on leadership principles, business practices, and marketing strategies. It would be refreshing, given we are talking about the reading habits of pastors, to see a bit of John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, or Spurgeon, an occasional systematic theology put into the mix. When something of a spiritual nature is listed, it is often a title of questionable theology like The Shack, or Wild at Heart. Too, is there perhaps a bit, a hint, of self-aggrandizement, of unrighteous pride in self and methods, in this hyper-focus on leadership skills? As an aside, I recall reading a post on a web log of a pastor/CEO (his claimed title) of a church I once attended wherein he briefly comments on and unpacks some passages from Romans through, and I quote, ‘the eyes of a leader’. Nice to see something from Romans on his web log, but are the ‘eyes of a leader’ the correct lens through which to filter the inspired words of Paul to the church at Rome? Perhaps the eyes of a repentant sinner, humbled by the Cross, would be a more correct lens. Nothing wrong with leadership per se, but in engaging biblical leadership, it must be affirmed that the church is not a business. Our benchmarks and measurables are not those of the world; faithfulness is not a quantifiable commodity. The Gospel is not a product to be marketed. The first will be last and the last will be first. Christ is not dependent on our skills, but we are dependent on His sufficiency in all things.
  • Related to the above bullet point (and I have addressed this subject ad nausea before), I find so many church planters, pastors, and leaders stating that it is their job to lead the flock rather than ‘feed’ the flock. Also stated by some of these leaders is that a leader should not have to feed his staff. In all honesty, my heart is broken and grieves over this unbiblical redefinition of the role of an under-shepherd. The flock needs, I need, a pastor, not a vision caster! The pastors first responsibility is to the flock, not the world. His mandate is to prepare the flock to go into the world, to ‘lead’ his flock into Christ-likeness. I recently spent some time on another post on this subject of pastoral responsibility (or lack thereof) and ‘sheep feeding’, but had second thoughts about publishing it. I opted to keep it private. Still struggling with a polemic attitude and perhaps a hyper-focus on my part regarding this subject.
  • Relevance, the clarion call of many a ‘contemporary’ church……… This is, in a very broad sense, what the mainline denominations engaged in accommodating the Gospel to the modernists of the previous century or so. Where are those churches now? They abandoned orthodoxy and engaged apostasy and are in death throes. Today, those who seek cultural relevancy are often unwittingly abandoning orthopraxy (and orthodoxy at times, too) to make the church ‘experience’ more palatable to (post-) modern tastes; all to often, many churches, in the quest for relevancy, unwittingly engage strange fire. Corporate worship becomes horizontally focused rather than vertical. Though I do not know enough about him to make any kind of overarching endorsement, I do like this quote by Dean William Inge of St Paul’s Cathedral in London: “Those churches who marry the spirit of the age become the widow of the next.” So many churches will find themselves chasing after wind in their pursuit of relevance, and what they do manage to grasp will eventually turn to dust. Only the Word will remain. Build on that foundation alone. Could have ended here, but one last thought on relevance experienced…….Out of curiosity, I recently listened to a bit (thirty minutes of part one) of a sermon series, from an evangelical community church, titled ‘Theologgins for Your Noggins’ (HT: Pyromanics) wherein the pastor exegeted (more truthfully, as one Pyro commenter stated, engaged in eisegesis of Horton Hears a Who or whatever it was) the works of Dr. Suess for spiritual truths. I am sure the pastor and leadership of the church are nice, agreeable people who act from good motives, but I do not have words to describe the anger (especially during minutes 15.30-21.30) that washed over me as I listened to Dr Suess being mined from the stage/pulpit for spiritual insight. Ultimately, what we find in such stunts is a lack of confidence it the power of the Word faithfully expounded. What we also sometimes find, too, is the bride admiring herself in the mirror and exalting her creativity and relevance while the Bridegroom waits in the adjacent room.

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