Churches: Too Big to Fail

Orlando has been abuzz this week with a church leadership scandal. There are charges and denials of whiskey, women, and weapons. This is the kind of stuff that the media loves to feast on. My prayers go out to the pastor, the church, and particularly the pastor’s father. I know a number of people who have been touched by this sadness and they are hurting.

I trust you can take this blog post not as a salacious, opportunistic attempt to get traction over the pain of others. I think this is a “teachable moment” for the church and I hope you can see my intention is to be positive. I apologize in advance if I miss that mark.

We see these sort of church scandals all the time. My question is simple: Does it have to be this this way?

The model of church that has become ever-so-popular in the last few years asks too much of the leader/pastor. In these churches there is one central figure who does the preaching, teaching, and simulcasting. It sets him up for failure by creating unrealistic expectations. Can anybody be inspirational 7 times on the weekend, every week, all year, year-in-and-year-out? Who can resist the temptation of adulation that awaits him after he delivers the jaw dropping message that only he can bring? As his influence grows, nobody has the guts to say, “You are being an idiot,” when he is being an idiot (let’s face it – we all need to have somebody give us a check on pride at times).

Gone are the days when a pastor was happy to shepherd, along with others, a small flock in ever deepening relationships of love and accountability. In its place are pastors who lead. This is a substantially different concept than shepherding. The role of the mega-church pastor is to manage a multi-departmental staff. They oversee a multi-million dollar budget. They must produce (and I use that word in the Hollywood-sense) inspirational, teaching-focused mini-concerts on the weekend. All of this is done while pursuing a never ending quest to expand the congregation’s footprint.

Is it any wonder why these leaders fail? Of course not! Yet, when it happens, nobody seems to take a step back and ask, “What are we doing here?” No, they will instead replace the out-of-sorts leader with a new one and soldier on. These churches have become too big to fail.

We have a leadership crisis in the North American church and it is one that sets the stage for failure. I am not blaming “the man.” It’s us who follow that I wonder about the most.

Perhaps, Christian, you should consider starting or joining a small house church. There will be no staff to manage. There will likely be no budget. The teaching won’t be polished. When you sit across the living room from somebody, though, you (or they) might catch a whiff of whiskey and ask about it. You might find that your wife is praying in the kitchen with other women about a marriage in trouble. Accountability and community will take precedence over teaching. Worship won’t be polished but participatory. Shepherds will shepherd.

Should the church fail it probably won’t make the local news.

And that’s a good thing.

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