A couple of weeks ago our Mission-shaped Church class centered around leadership. The lecture focused on how, in Dr. Fitch’s understanding, that the post-Christendom leadership structure of the future for churches will not be hierarchical. The primary focus of critique is the Protestant megachurch model that morphed the typical pastor-ruled church of the 20th century into a CEO over a large congregational “corporation.”
There are a number of fair criticisms of the CEO model of ministry. The idea that ministers should be specialists in the various fields of ministry, such as pastoring, administration, youth, worship, etc. This emphasizes skillful pragmatism over the pastoral task of theological integration through discipleship. Next, the CEO model centralizes rule in the pastor through the concept of “vision casting.” The pastor as visionary creates a hegemonic top-down control of the church’s community life. Usually this feeds into the skill focused pragmatism that slavishly serves the vision.
While pragmatism and vision are not inherently anti-theological or anti-pastoral methods of leading a church, it is the actual practice of these churches, rather than the conceptual possibility, that I find concerning. A friend of mine who works at a nationally recognized megachurch told me a few weeks ago of a staff meeting where it was celebrated that the “communion time” of the services that week had been condensed down to one minute and thirty seconds. There was cheering, congratulations, and high-fives passed around to the “worship team.”
I don’t doubt the personal dedication of each of the ministry staff workers in that room to helping people understand God loves them and wants them to live a life after the teachings given to the people of God through Jesus. What I do doubt is the level of theological investment built into priorities that such a celebration of time management would indicate. The communal practices of the local church have been immensely diminished in many of these CEO visions to numerically draw attenders to weekend services within the consumerist culture of contemporary American culture.
Dr. Fitch’s response this CEO minister structure is to reject it. For him, leadership must be non-hierarchical rather than led by some visionary. At minimum, the leadership of a local church must be located in a plurality of leaders. This plurality of leadership should also practice, what Dr. Fitch calls, mutual submission. He bases the idea of mutual submission on Jesus’ teaching of “binding and loosening” from Matthew 18.
As I am part of a growing church movement, especially as the Stone-Campbell Movement continues to pump out mega churches, I worry about this concept of success. For a long time there has been an acknowledgment that something is wrong in megachurches on the level of discipleship. In my dedication to the movement that raised me, I actually have attended two of these megachurches for the last ten years. There are a number of things that larger churches can accomplish that smaller ones simply cannot seem to get off the ground (missions team development, leadership resourcing, large scale activism that cares for their local town or city, etc.). This is not to say that smaller churches cannot do these things, but if only 5% of your community participates in a larger church gives you more people to do some sort of work.
Likewise, smaller churches are able to develop relationships between congregants much easier, helping new people build connections and find a place to serve. This is clearly not true in all circumstances, especially if the church has become a social clique of core families over decades, still the smaller settings demand more force proximity based interactions. There are a number of larger churches who seek to provide forced interaction experiences so as to fill this gap.
At the root of the issue here for me simply this; What do we expect a leader to be developing? What is a “church” supposed to be? My answer is that a community of faith is a social body where followers of Jesus declare his kingship and live together in his presence through the Spirit to face a world through their faith. I call this in short having a common life. Common life is the way that a community of faith should live. This is what a person should be committing themselves to when they become a follower of Jesus—living under his rule and reign with his people.
The CEO concepts of leadership have reduced good church leadership to the idea of success. The only quantifiable success in ministry is the number of bodies you can process through the factory door. I deeply believe that learning to have an effective, “wide net” strategy for inviting non-Christians into the community of faith is a key practice of any church. Megachurches have done fantastic work in this area. What worries me is that they have lost the idea of common life because it requires lifelong pastoral care that large numbers naturally work against since ministry is a taxing self-sacrificing work from the start.
In the same way, I am worried for the smaller churches in the Stone-Campbell movement. Years of political activism have galvanized these churches into practices that naturally reject many non-Christians simply through their cultural behavior. While they have high levels of relationship between members there is very little intentional development of leadership or even discipleship. I grew up in a church where I studied the Bible five hours a week with other Christians. I loved it and it has made me the man I am today, but recitation of words out of a book is not enough to disciple a person in the community’s faith.
There is a beautiful opportunity in the Stone-Campbell movement. The future is going to be received not by demographically homogenous large churches or by small cognitively text saturated churches, but rather the future will be received by those churches who intentionally practice common life together in which Scriptural study and active invitation to the lost are a couple of key routine practices. Now, how we are going to get there together will take more time, thought, and conversation.