The woes of modern church leadership

Shaun King the founder of cutting edge, 700 plus congregation of Atlanta’s Courageous Church created a stir in September when he stood down stating “I have pushed as hard and far as my mind, body, and spirit can healthily go before crashing”. He had tried to transition the church to a emergent style missional church and it killed him. My stomach churns as I read the story that his wife Rai told on her blog.

2 years into it, after 300+ sermons, who knows how many songs, people coming, people going, stressful lead team meetings, raising money from outside sources because the people who attended the church didn’t actually give enough to support the church, Shaun got frustrated, a few leaders got tired and left, …

Thus Shaun had a vision for “the shift”…as it has come to be known.  After searching the scriptures and seeing Christ’s ministry for what it really was we decided we no longer wanted to participate in the spectator sport we Christians call CHURCH.  So we said, let’s stop meeting every Sunday.  Let’s instead, meet in small groups in each other’s homes.  Let’s share a meal and learn how to be true disciples of Christ.  Let’s all serve together.  Let’s have each small group belong to a cause group that addresses a need in our city. 

We talked about it, met about it, argued about it, preached about it, sang about it, and read books about it for months.  And for the most part, people were buying it.  As a matter of fact, the month before the shift, when Shaun was preaching the hows and whys of what were about to do was our highest attendance and our highest offering in all of 2011.  We thought that meant people were actually ready to be radical and courageous.  4 months later, it’s clear that what that meant was that people love HEARING about being radical and courageous.  It gets our juices flowing and makes us feel all powerful.

(We thought) let’s… create time to serve God instead of serving ourselves by getting high off of church services.  If people aren’t in church every Sunday, maybe they’ll serve instead.…FAIL!  What most people did after “the shift” is go to another church on the Sundays we didn’t meet….

Shaun and Rai fought tooth and nail to lead their congregation out of a Sunday-focused, program-oriented, volunteer-intensive all-consuming contemporary church, but after three months, 85% of the congregation wanted it back to the way it was. They both burned out and crucified themselves on the altar of ministry in the modern church and fell on their own sword. My heart goes out to them after experiencing similar pain for similar reasons when we transitioned somewhat unsuccessfully to a cell based church.

Rai went on to say

The truth of the matter is, Shaun is simply exhausted.  Pastoring people has been 10 times better than my best hopes and 100 times worse than my worst nightmares.  Unless you’ve done it, you will NEVER understand it.  It looks one way from the outside looking in, but trust me, you don’t know the half.  Pastors are the sickest, loneliest, most depressed people in church.  That’s why they have affairs, that’s why they die at the age of 42 from heart attacks and drug over doses.  That’s why every time you turn on the TV there’s a new scandal, and a fresh news story about the latest greatest to fall from grace.  Taking criticism day in and day out from people who swear up and down they know better is exhausting.  Having people leave for stupid, selfish reasons is exhausting.  The divorce rate for pastors is among the highest of any other group in the country.  Shaun and I have decided we’d like that to not be our story.

Another good pastor burns out and falls by the wayside leaving us just one more reason to wonder, is there a better way to do church?

4 Responses

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  2. There’s got to be a way. My ideal church would go something like this:

    First I wouldn’t call it a church. The word has too much baggage now, and serves as a synonym for “place to get told how to act, how hard to smile, how to pretend when you don’t feel the greatest, and how to learn the term “subtle intolerance””.

    Secondly, it would involve a determined effort to grab a few friends for a discussion time (keyword: discuss). There would be no restriction on these discussions. Militant atheists, divorced people, straights, gays…anyone would be welcome, who is merely interested in discussion.

    Third: no (church) building, no fund-raising done or required. We’re talking about a dutch-date type of dynamic. Some get-togethers would involve food and drink (no restrictions against alcohol by the way), and some wouldn’t. Some would merely involve sporting activities. Whatever people wanted to do, as an excuse to get together.

    Fourth: no trolling. For the peace of the group, and to allow a free flow sharing of opinions, ideas and facts, our interest would only be in sincerity. Those with agendas need not apply. I would encourage discussion by not discouraging anyone from holding forth on a thought. If someone wanted to discuss holistic medicine, we would take some time – all night if necessary – to hash it out. And…we would set out this expectation from the get-go.

    Fifth: very loose organization. There would be one agenda only: truth-telling. That’s it. If God’s DNA exists in everyone (as I believe it does), then that’s all that’s needed. Truth. Truth as you know it, and truth as I know it. Like the blind men and the elephant, we can gain a lot from listening to the perspective of others. Part of the truth involves getting to know everyone. This is the point where everyone says exactly what they think, and what their philosophies are. I would simply state that I’m a Christian and that I believe God exists, but that I don’t believe in religion. I would expect honesty from everyone as well. There’s no point in discussing anything if we’re going to pretend or set a goal merely of being polite. Respect can be generated without kow-towing to fake, knee-jerk insincerity.

    There’s probably more but that’s all I can think of for now. The idea that any one man, or couple should lose out and stop truly living because of burnout, as Shaun King has done, is loathsome. Shouldn’t ever happen.

    • I would love this WS. The only thing that I worry about, is once a crowd has gathered, who guides that and how? In any group, there are natural leaders, and they would emerge anyway. I’d worry that a good think could get hijacked. As you mentioned, no trolling, but how would those with agenda’s be be constrained so to speak so they aren’t a detrimental influence. Because I burned out on leadership, I’d love something that was organic and “free range” but don’t really know how that could be achieved…

      • Having been involved with church leadership since the 1980s I can confidently say I’ve seen and heard most of this before.

        The plain fact is this: There is no “better” way to do church as long as you have to deal with people in various stages of maturity, immaturity, repair and disrepair. Irregardless of where God leads you to “do” church, how to do it or what to call it the only thing a wise leader can do is take care of themselves and pay attention to the warning signs that something is wrong.

        There are probably enough books on pastoral self- care to fill a library so dig around a bit and your sure to find them.

        One other thing you probably know already: There was never a time the church wasnt up to its corporate earballs in some kind of non-sense. Don’t take it too hard if you can’t produce Nirvana here on ground zero. The church belongs to God/Christ and will continue even though the people within it’s walls fall far short of the ultimate goal.

        Peace and Grace

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