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There seem to be two leadership trajectories in the west. The first seems to be characterized by the recent phenomena of mega churches in the world. The majority of church conferences today are focused on this reality. The essence of these conference experiences seems to be a kind of corporate leadership guide for aspiring Executives of Corporate churches. Each conference introduces a new inductee to the role of mega church pastor-hood.
The excitement this type of environment creates for some makes others yawn.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m an advocate for mega churches. Why would anyone in their right minds be opposed to something that people enjoy and prosper in? In fact, Mega-churches often grow because they’re friendlier, smarter, and more outward oriented than churches that don’t grow. They grow because they meet needs smaller churches that don’t grow can’t meet. They tend to raise the leadership standards to a higher level. They are able to produce programs and experiences with excellence. Mega-churches have everything going for them except the stuff required to touch and reach the west for Christ. Mega churches are big, just not big enough, strong enough, fast enough.
Let’s look at a second trajectory. A friend of mine ( a Political Science prof at the University of Michigan) tells me that a striking characteristic of Mormonism, the fastest growing religious movement since the primitive Christ following movement, is that their “churches” are not led by clergy but by “lay” people. [I’ve still to check the sources on this, but my argument here doesn’t hinge on this fact]. If true, this striking characteristic of Mormonism would be a commonality with the early Christ following movement as well.
The fast growing early church had no or few “church buildings” . They met in homes or where they could. The had no budgets of the kind with which we are familiar. They didn’t have an Employer Identification Number or Tax Exempt Status issue from Rome. They didn’t have seminaries or seminary profs. They lacked clergy and celebrity pastors. They didn’t have corporations with departments and programs. Ok, sure if you want to get picky, they didn’t blog.
Let’s look at this the correct way. The early church did NOT have
church programs (a children’s department? a youth program?)
tax exemptions for churches
seminaries to train clergy
And that’s when we grew the fastest. Their churches tended to be small but they proliferated around the Mediterranean on the heels of converts to the Christ following faith. Unlike today’s simple and organic churches, they had the power, vision, and ambition of mega churches. They didn’t revel in being small, simple, and organic.
For me this means that we need to celebrate when a ministry succeeds to the extent of the Mega-churches. Really celebrate. But should we now seek to crown the mega-church model with the particular competencies of Mega-Church corporate leadership as the basic training set for emerging apostles, evangelists, pastors, and church planters? If our goal is to grow churches big — and I think we should shoot for this when the gifts and talent are present — then maybe. But, If our goal is to set western culture on fire again with the gospel of Jesus, then no. Preparation to lead a Mega church is not the model and training that will win the west and the world again. This model won’t even win the church in the west much less the world outside the church.
The second trajectory, is more simple. The future of the kingdom advance is far more dependent on the charism, the gift, of servant leadership and missional community than it is on a budget granted from a denomination, a corporate leader, or corporate church structures and programs. The first trajectory needs excellence and resources to launch and heart and hospitality to succeed. The second needs heart and hospitality to launch and resources and drive to succeed. [More on this in my next post].
Rather than taking on an “either/or” posture about structure, we may need to take on, in this instance, a “both/and” posture. New communities of faith are like those little turtles that are buried to hatch near the ocean’s edge. When they break through the sand the predators await them. Thousands and thousands of them hurry to the immediate safety of the water. Hundreds will perish. Many will make it. They will populate the oceans and propagate their species. Some of them will go one to be old and large sea faring creatures. By analogy, in order to recolonize the west for Christ, we need hundreds of thousands of gals and guys that will move from zero to sixty, from no budget, no backing, no training to community via the conversion of people to the Christ following faith. And we’ll celebrate with them. Sure, some of these guys will go past sixty, a few past 200, a fraction past 1000 and we’ll celebrate with each of these leaders too. And, sure, then “one in a million” of these guys will become a mega church pastor. Finally, the “one in a million” will show up as a guest speaker at a conference. Maybe even one of mine. But, while we laugh and celebrate how the great story of Jesus has been lived out in this mega church pastor’s life and ministry, all of us will also know the truth about how the west will be won.
See you in the Mystic,
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