Archives For leadership

From 1892 until 1954 millions of “tired, huddled masses” made the same stop on their way into the United States, Ellis Island. No matter who you were or where you were from, if you were going to be an American, you would have to stop here.

Across the United States, there are approximately 1,300 churches who top out over 2,000, the unofficial definition of a megachurch. For untold thousands, these are the homes where many come to faith. They are the places where everyone in the family can learn the way of Jesus in a format that speaks to their age, race or taste.

They also serve as a sort of “Ellis Island” for many Christians.

Some are raised there. Some come to faith there. Many land at a megachurch because they are new in town. Megachurches have a lot of people and a lot of tasks to do, so it’s easy to jump right in.

For the better part of a decade, I’ve been involved in church planting, and I’ve noticed a trend: Entire groups of people migrating together from one of the local Megachurches to other communities.

My first response to this was cynical and heartless, assuming that they were just religious consumers looking for the next cool thing. That might be true for some of them. I also found that many of them are deeply wounded by their religious experience.

They aren’t “churched,” “unchurched,” “dechurched” or even “church-hoppers.” They are desperately trying to hold on to faith after getting the crap kicked out of them by church.

Megachurches are the first stop for many of today’s Christians. When they leave that church, it is often with wounds that must be treated at their next church.

Seven Church Systems that Chew People Up and Spit them Out

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A secret way of leadership

As we have all heard gurus like John Maxwell say “everything rises and falls on leadership.” History and the nightly news are full of stories of those who have fallen, and taken their organizations with them.

Followers of Jesus believe that everyone is at least a little broken. So why do we give so much leadership power to single individuals?

There’s a secret in the Bible about of Church leadership: it was never meant to be the sole responsibility of one powerful man.


Elders and Equippers

The Church in the New Testament is led by a multiplicity of voices who share leadership. The original Jerusalem church was taught by the Twelve apostles, and administrated by seven other leaders.

This plurality in leadership continued as Paul planted churches throughout the Roman Empire. His instructions found in the letters to Timothy and Titus show how he left the young communities in the care of elders and deacons. Elders acted primarily as overseers, examples, and teachers, while deacons have traditionally been associated with the administrative role seen in Jerusalem.

In Ephesians chapter four, Paul explains “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service.” Commenting about this passage, Frost and Hirsch say,

“If this is true, it is impossible to estimate what terrible damage the church has done through the loss, even active suppression, of this crucial dimension of New Testament ministry and leadership.”

 J.R. Woodward echoes this, saying

[Paul] reveals to us a polycentric structure, where leaders interrelate and incarnate the various purposes of Christ in such a way that the entire body is activated to service and matures in love.”

…[Equippers] embody their gifts in such a way that the entire body is awakened and moves toward the full stature of Christ in both character and mission”

Why the Church is a Body

In one of his most descriptive and entertaining passages, Paul describes the church as a body which has “many parts, but all its many parts form one body.” Paul uses the body metaphor for three reasons.

  1. It justifies the necessity of each individual in that “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12).
  2. It excludes one part from assuming more importance than the others since “God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. “
  3. It makes individual experiences corporate, because “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

Why is Shared Leadership so Rare?

History proves this vision is difficult to realize.

  • Acts hints that as time went on, James became the head of the Jerusalem Church.
  • By the time of the great councils, individual bishops were responsible for all of the churches within entire regions.
  • The Protestant Reformation spoke out against the Catholic hierarchy, but quickly became nationalized hierarchical organizations.

Aside from a few radical movements, this seems to be the norm today.

Churches today can be heard lamenting leadership burnout in books with names like The Emotionally Healthy Church and Mad Church Disease. There’s also the seemingly endless call for a “second reformation” that destroys the clergy/laity divide.

Why is it that churches avoid shared leadership? What is this costing us?

In the Fall of 2004, I finished undergrad and enrolled in a nearby seminary. I had my sights set on the granddaddy of ministry degrees: the Masters of Divinity. My goals for were to learn:

  1. How to be a leader
  2. How to reach the people I knew who were far from Christ
  3. How to help churches engage in the Mission of God.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that this was not always the purpose of the traditional seminary, nor of the M.Div. 

My passion is to see the church incarnated within the secular urban population of the U.S.  I was looking for the training I would need to reach these people. This seminary was embedded in denominational politics and the lifestyle of the rural Bible belt. The M.Div. is focused on teaching exegesis, languages, and how to manage traditional church structures. These are important tasks, but they weren’t what I was looking for.

Hungry for hands-on ministry experience, I moved to Austin and transferred to my second graduate school. My hope was to serve in a young church, work a secular job, and occasionally drive to class a few hours away. This never really worked out the way I planned, and it soon became clear that I would have to move on campus if I wanted to complete my degree.

It looked like I was going to have to choose between the M.Div. and my desire for hands-on missional experience, until I encountered Fuller Seminary’s Master’s of Arts in Global Leadership.

The MAGL “comes alongside in-service Christian leaders from around the globe with transformational graduate level education.”  In other words, it’s an opportunity to learn, not just from books and teachers, but from leaders and missionaries scattered across the world, without leaving my context.

The core curriculum took place over two years, in on-line courses and two on campus intensives. Courses covered topics like spiritual leadership, missional theology, organizational dynamics and adult learning. Simply put, it is an opportunity to study how to help people and organizations change.

Seminaries and specifically the M.Div. serve an important responsibility in forming leaders capable of taking the helm of established Christian institutions. But the world is changing. Reality is slowly sinking in: the West is becoming mission field.

To be honest, I’m jealous of how much my M.Div. friends know about languages and philosophy.  But I don’t know how it would help me with the task ahead.

The church’s leaders of the future will need the ability to navigate culture, and build new forms of church that present the gospel to their context. What better way to learn this than while embedded in a missionary context and reflecting with other leaders?

Using adult learning models and on-line tools is one way to accomplish this, as we did in the MAGL.  Becoming a missional movement, one capable of embodying the gospel in new and changing forms, will require this and other experimental forms of training.  I am excited to see what will develop.

How would you like to see leadership training change in the church?  What should a 21st century seminary look like?


Update 3.26

I got some good pushback on this from my friend Bryan on Facebook.  The said “I don’t think there is a sharp line though between MDIV = institutional, traditional & MAGL (or similar programs) = missional. We need people with solid language and philosophy training through an MDIV in the missional stream…” Here’s my response:

Hey Bryan, you are totally right (and I hope that my original post wasn’t offensive to those who have taken the other route). It’s simply a record of my own personal journey of trying to get the hands on experience as well as the education that seemed important. To me, context is the biggest part. A lot of schools can become so insular that the students leave not knowing how to communicate with the outside world.

I believe that in our increasingly post-Christendom context, we need theologically educated people who also know how to live with, work with and be friends with those outside the church. The real challenge in the years to come will be to create leadership systems that produce well-rounded, culturally-savvy, scholar-practitioners, no matter what letters you put after their name.



2012 Reading List

Chris —  January 3, 2012

Here’s my To Read list for 2012.  It’s far from complete.  What would you add?

This list will grow through the year, but here’s what I have for the spring semester of the MAGL:

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch
Shaping of Things to Come, The: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost
The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church by Fritz Kling
The Invisible: What the Church Can Do to Find and Serve the Least of These by Arloa Sutter
Public Faith, A: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good by Miroslav VLF

Theology & Spirituality

Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World by Richard Foster by Richard Foster
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight
Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans
The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

Life, Relationships and Vocation
Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself by Daniel H. Pink
Keith FerrazziNever Eat Alone
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience 
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question by Po Bronson

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Isolation is a term coined by the late Fuller Professor Robert Clinton.  It refers to an experience where a leader is removed from a number of things, such as their position of leadership, a sense of God’s presence, a knowledge of calling or direction.  Isolation can be chosen, like taking a sabbatical or returning to seminary.  It can also be forced on you, like a health problem, imprisonment or getting fired.  It can last for weeks, or for years.

My major Isolation experience began when my position on a staff at a megachurch in San Antonio ended.  I was out of work for over six months.  I was unable to find a suitable ministry position, and eventually ended up in retail.  I went from having a place of positional leadership and what seemed like a career track to being alone, with no sense of direction and very little hope.

In studying Isolation as part of the MAGL, I read something from Dr. Clinton that basically went like this:

“Don’t try to be finished with your Isolation until you’ve gotten everything out of it that God wants you to get out of it.”

This floored me, because for two years, I’ve been trying to be getting out Isolation.  Unable to find direction, I tried to dive further into spiritual practices.  When I felt adrift in depression, I sought to distract myself, and eventually got into counseling to “fix it.”  I’ve had to learn what it is to do ministry when it’s not my job.  Worst of all, my sense of failure and lack of direction left me unable to even answer the question “what do you want to do?”

But this comment about “getting everything out of Isolation” forced me to reevaluate why I was in such a hurry.  If the perfect opportunity fell in my lap tomorrow, would I know what to do with it?  Am I mature enough to keep from repeating the mistakes I’ve made in the past?  Am I even the kind of person who should be trusted with leadership?

For the first time in almost three years, I am beginning to sense some “movement.”  It may be that some new opportunities are on the horizon.  But what’s the rush?  Maybe I still have something to learn from Isolation.