Death by Church Leadership

Cemetary 23

I was 26 years old and I had been given far more than I ever should have been given.  I had a corner office, a team of around 10 people, I was leading, a huge group of volunteer leaders, a large students ministry, a huge budget and ridiculous amounts of freedom with very little measures of accountability.  I had some success teaching, and I was really good on stage.  I was really bad behind closed doors, I was not a good leader, I was not very disciplined in my work ethic, my home was a mess and I had no idea how to disciple and lead the leaders around me.  But each year I was given more opportunity, more responsibility, more resources to manage and more freedom to lead.  Looking back it is only by the grace of God that I survived and that the ministry I lead survived.  I was a leader who had low character and high competency.

This is a story I hear and see far too often, every time we see a young leader with some measure of competency we hand them the keys to the kingdom before they are ready.  We lament over the lack of development of our young leaders and the failure of seminaries & bible colleges to train up the next generation of pastoral leaders.  We rarely however,  look at our own teams and ask ourselves the tough questions about how we are training, discipling & raising up the next generation of young leaders.

Here’s how we got here:

1) – The Disparity Between Intellect & Character

In 1986, the president of Harvard University, Derek Bok saw the writing on the wall.  In his yearly “presidents report” he challenged all learning institutions to reconsider whether they are raising leaders who can give the right answers or detect ethical problems & make the world a better place.  He tells the story of a student who received the highest marks in his applied ethics class, who also was the student he found in dean’s office repeatedly for breaking nearly every moral code on the campus.  He says, the task of teaching students the value of character over competency seems “daunting.”  This was written over 25 years ago i don’t believe things have improved.

I spoke to a pastor recently who, when speaking of his worship leader said, “he’s young, he’s really gifted, people love him, the problem is I can’t trust him to be who he says he is.”  I asked what steps he was taking and it was as if he felt handcuffed & unable to act.  He said, “as long as he does a great job on Sunday’s I can overlook all of his character issues.”  REALLY!

This is where we are as a church?  When did the ability to preach or the ability to lead worship become so important that it has become more significant than who we are?

Here is the reality, bible colleges, seminaries, and churches nearly always reward competency & overlook character.  Until this changes we will develop leaders & not disciples.  We will look great on the outside & terrible on the inside & we will create great spiritual goods & services for our people to consume without ever seeing them change!  Leaders must go first, but leaders can only lead their people to places they have been to themselves.  When we excuse character flaws we are certain to repeat the cycle of developing business leaders to lead organizations & not Godly men to lead people.

2. We have Microwaved Leadership

When I was a student minister I visited a monstrosity of a church, their student ministry had over 2000 students attending, they had the most amazing student building I had ever seen, the band was amazing, the speaker engaging.  After watching a night of incredible worship service I asked the leader of the ministry how they discipled their students.  He proudly said, “discipleship is so hard, we tried to find the easiest way to do it.”  So what they did was video 6 of their “talks” & when students “wanted” to be discipled they sent them home with the DVD’s.  He said in 6 weeks they are discipled.

I wish this was a joke but it’s not, I think the modern American church is looking for the easiest way to the most difficult thing – discipleship!  We have become so accustomed to listening to the gifted teacher that we have abandoned the power of everyday discipleship.  We don’t want to do the hard work of discipleship with our people & our staff teams.

3. Valuing Results over People

When our 2nd son was born our family was in a terrible place.  My wife was suffering from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, I was working ridiculous hours and although we had been at the church for years we had never developed any deep and meaningful relationships.  Its was the loneliest season of ministry I had ever experienced, my family was a mess and I didn’t know how to fix them, I knew I was over my head with my ministry responsibilities, I had no one in my corner rooting for me, coaching me or challenging me but the wheels of the machine kept on turning.  There was always another message to write, another leader to meet with, another problem to solve, another hill to conquer.

Finally, the bottom fell out & my wife simply told me I needed to be home.  I had to choose between family & ministry & I chose family.    I missed an important event that I was required to speak at and although I called my bosses & explained my situation I was told to get some counseling which they paid for.  I was told repeatedly, that they expected my performance at work to not be effected by my troubles at home.  I was told to compartmentalize my life with work on one side and family on the other.  I never heard another word about it.  No calls checking in, no lunches to talk it through, no prayer times or stopping by the house.  In fact in the entire span of my ministry I had one meal with my boss & never once entered into his home.

Here’s the problem, they weren’t bad people, they weren’t even bad leaders, they were just busy people, they wanted results but they were so wrapped up in attaining results in their own area that they failed to realize that God brings results. We just walk in his ways and follow His path.  They didn’t understand that leadership can’t be microwaved into a monthly staff training or a yearly retreat.  It can’t be microwaved at all, if you want to raise up leaders, then you have to know them!  You have to take the time to hear their hearts to know their families, to care about them beyond results & to challenge not only their competency but their character.  You have to value your young leaders as your family not as an employee who you need results from.

3) Information without Experience

I spent a few days recently on some Christian college campuses.  I asked one simple question, “as you leave school do you feel like you know how to do ministry or do you feel like you have information about doing ministry?”  95% of the students said they have information about it but don’t feel prepared.  Our teaching is so information based that students have knowledge without experience.  We teach a leadership template but we don’t teach, prayer.  We teach ministry answers but we don’t teach how to follow the Spirit.  We teach leaders to give answers but not how to ask questions.  We teach them how to preach and organize a service but never train them how to have a healthy family at home.  We must move to a more experiential learning experience for the next generation.

So what else do you see in church leadership that is killing the next generation of leaders?

I hate it when bloggers just define the problem without offering solutions so next week I will offer some solutions to this problem.

What are some of the solutions you see to these problems we face?

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One thought on “Death by Church Leadership

  1. Patti turner says:

    By the grace of God! Pretty humbling to look back on our spiritual journeys, isn’t it? Love you so much and will continue to ask God to drive you deep into his wisdom as you seek to serve him who is ABLE. Love you,

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