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I keep asking the same questions. Can an old church built upon the frameworks of modernity survive and thrive in today’s world? Or, do we have start anew to begin the conversation with those who would not darken the doors of the church as they know it to currently exist? One of the key issues we have to consider is how leadership perceives itself and more importantly how leaders engage those who trust them. Below is one perspective as it relates to mega-churches and the “super-pastor” as Rob Bell calls it. I think we need to reframe this point of view as it applies to elder-led churches for the sake of our current situation and begin to ask the hard questions of ourselves before we begin to question those who lead, and then hopefully we will begin to speak in truth to each other to seek God’s glory above our own.

 Here is the link to “Shepherds or CEOs?”



  1. I couldn’t have said it better myself. The CEO model of the mega (success) church has seen its day, but, like so many other “traditions,” we continue to follow it long after the culture around us has changed. The truth is that this (micro) “management” doesn’t even work in business anymore. It’s time to wake up and let Jesus be the CEO!

  2. First, I know it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway; it is NOT possible for us to save the church. Only Christ can save the church. If we’re looking to get it back on track, we have to look to him for guidance.

    Matthew 18 seems like the starting place. A easily understood (if not easily followed) example of how we address sin in the church (and yes, I do see leading from a CEO position of power as sin). You have a one on one conversation. If that doesn’t work, you bring others along. If that doesn’t work, you involve the elders. If that doesn’t work (and this is ONLY when all else fails) you move on from sharing relationship within the church.

    So, what happens if that relationship is with leaders themselves? Steps one and two still work, step three gets complicated. If the setup is CEO, then that makes staff=employee and member=stockholder. Speaking up can get complicated.

    To quote from your article link:

    “Pity the member who questions the machine and develops any significant influence. Sooner or later, that member will be disposed of—shunned, silenced, and quietly removed from any position of authority on staff, boards, worship teams, or within the most lowly of programs. Unwittingly, this member has run headlong into an industrial age anachronism: “the great man with the plan” methodology. And he or she has lost.”

    It seems to me that now, following the example of Christ, we look to see “what would Jesus do?” When it comes to speaking truth to power, I see him turning over tables in the temple.

    And, in the end, I see him destroying the temple and starting the church. I see him saying that old things have to die in order for new to live.

    I don’t think that means that all existing churches have to cease to exist. It means the existing churches must be willing to die to old models, old ways, old selves if they ever hope for resurrection. Death is good news to those who follow Jesus. It means that life can begin again.

    Much of this dying lies in the hands of those who shepherd. Christ makes clear that there will be those who do this well and those that do it badly. For those who continue to lead from a position of service, continue to be the example in how to sacrifice and die, I think there is hope for the church.

    For those who cling to the old life with all they can, I think there is only death. Christ tells us that. Anyone who clings to his life will lose it, but those who lose their lives will be saved. I think the same goes for churches.

    At Immanuel, we have a song that has become a sort of theme song for us. The first verse of the song goes like this:

    The Church of Christ in every age,
    beset by change but Spirit led,
    must claim and test its heritage
    and keep on rising from the dead.

  3. Your statement

    “I don’t think that means that all existing churches have to cease to exist. It means the existing churches must be willing to die to old models, old ways, old selves if they ever hope for resurrection. Death is good news to those who follow Jesus. It means that life can begin again.

    Much of this dying lies in the hands of those who shepherd. Christ makes clear that there will be those who do this well and those that do it badly. For those who continue to lead from a position of service, continue to be the example in how to sacrifice and die, I think there is hope for the church.”

    make me ask the question…how do we convince those leaders who see nothing wrong with how we exist to let go, to die to self? Does this need to be a “bottom-up” movement? Is that possible?

  4. When I emailed Lynn Anderson 3 years ago, to share my frustrations (similar to those voiced by you and Bell) he presented me with two options:

    1) go find a church where the leaders have and are acting out a new (ancient) vision for church

    2) go start one

    One thing he made clear to me, as the youth minister on staff, I was in no position to turn the ship around.

  5. I give you the following series of posts from Out of Ur not necessarily as a counter to your situation in NC, but to see how perhaps God can do incredible things from seemingly impossible situations. I especially like the end of part 3 and how this might effect the future of the church…
    How Teens Transformed Church part 1

    Seeker churches, emerging churches, ancient-future churches, mega-churches, house churches, Boomer churches, Gen-X churches. There is a debate occurring in American evangelicalism about the future of Christianity and what form the church should take within our culture. But is it possible that these divergent philosophies of ministry actually originated from the same source? In the coming days Angie Ward will be sharing multiple reports about the emergence of youth culture, and youth ministry, in recent American history and how this phenomenon gave rise to both the seeker movement and later the emerging church.

    The end of World War II ushered in the beginning of the baby boom: 76 million American babies born between 1946 and 1964. As these baby boomers grew up, they gave birth to their own youth culture. The advent of youth culture gave rise to a new profession: youth ministry.

    Fast forward nearly 40 years. Some of those youth leaders have become some of the nation’s most influential pastors. Meanwhile, many of their former students have themselves gone into ministry, not without their own adolescent rebellion in the form of a movement toward ecclesiological deconstruction. And now a third generation of youth, the millennials, is just beginning to make their mark on the church.

    Youth ministry has significantly altered the course of American church history. The youth group of today is the church, and its leaders, of tomorrow. How did this shift occur, and what can we infer about the future of the church based on current trends in youth ministry?

    By the mid-1950s, the first wave of baby boomers was nearing adolescence. In 1955, Warner Bros. Pictures released Rebel Without a Cause, the landmark film featuring misunderstood teenager Jim Stark, played by James Dean. If Rebel launched the youth culture, Elvis Presley solidified it a year later when “Heartbreak Hotel” sold 300,000 records in its first week.

    Meanwhile, innovative Christian leaders were expanding the boundaries of traditional ministry through the inception of organizations which sought to reach teenagers outside the walls of the church. In 1938, a young seminary student in Texas named Jim Rayburn began a weekly club for high school students who had no interest in church. Three years later, Young Life was born.

    Rayburn is perhaps best remembered for his assertion, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel.” Young Life club meetings featured singing, a skit or two, and a simple message about Jesus Christ. The idea was that faith could be life-changing and fun.

    Over the next three decades, dozens of para-church ministries sprang up across the country. Christian camps emphasized the adventure of the Christian life. Radio ministries took advantage of the technology’s expanded popularity to spread the gospel over the airwaves. Saturday night evangelistic rallies challenged young people to commit their lives to Christ. These rallies then spawned local youth clubs, which provided regular spiritual follow-up and encouragement. Preachers such as Billy Graham (Youth for Christ), Jack Wyrtzen (Word of Life), and Percy Crawford (Young People’s Church of the Air, Pinebrook Camp) became household names to Christian teenagers of the era.

    Yet while these para-church organizations flourished from 1935 to 1967, the church was not ready for the shift toward a youth-driven culture. “The post-war baby boom caught the church without a strategy for dealing with the sudden influx of people whom the media began to call ‘teenagers,’” writes Mark Senter in his book, The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry. And when the church finally did begin to change, it was through the influence of para-church leaders.

    In the late 1960s, two Youth for Christ youth workers, Jim Burns and Mike Yaconelli, realized the tremendous untapped potential of churches to reach teenagers for Christ. Burns and Yaconelli borrowed money from their relatives and self-published their first Ideas book for youth workers. In addition to selling the books, they began holding seminars to show leaders how to use them. Youth Specialties was born in 1969.

    At the time, only a few large and usually urban churches even hired youth directors. At best, youth ministry in the church was seen as a stepping stone to “real” pastoral ministry, usually a senior pastorate and one’s own pulpit.

    The founders of Youth Specialties worked to convince church boards and senior pastors that youth ministry was vital to the health and future of the church. As a result, over the last 38 years Youth Specialties has been almost singularly responsible for the professionalization of the field of youth ministry in the church.

    Tic Long, Youth Specialties’ President of Events, has been with the ministry since its early days and remembers its first National Youth Workers Convention in 1970. “When youth workers used to get together before then, it was always at camps. When we did the first convention, we said, ‘Let’s go to a hotel, let youth workers get a mint on their pillow, and tell them, you are in a profession that is not just a stepping stone.’”

    In the early days, Long remembers, Youth Specialties’ focus was youth programming: “How do you develop a program, how do you get people resources, how do you run a meeting, how do you lead discussions and do special events?” Long said.

    The efforts of youth ministry pioneers like Yaconelli, Burns, and Long began to bear fruit in the local church as youth ministry rose in importance in many churches. But the first generation of church youth workers also began to have a noticeable impact on the Church at large, as they began to take their innovative approaches beyond the walls of the youth room and into the sanctuary.

    In part 2, Angie Ward continues her reflection on the emergence of youth ministry and its impact on the church. The first generation of youth ministers, she points out, grew up to lead the seeker-driven movement that has dominated evangelicalism for 30 years. And now we are seeing the second generation of youth pastors bringing their own new ideas to the church. Although the seeker church movement and emerging church movement appear quite divergent, their common roots in youth ministry mean they share a common value—innovation.

    “In youth ministry, you get permission to break the rules,” explained Doug Pagitt, a former youth worker and now the founding pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. “Youth pastors get to do things that other people don’t get to do. Youth ministry requires that you break the conventions to connect with teenagers. If breaking the rules is permissible in youth ministry, then why is it not permissible in a broader scope of ministry?”

    Tic Long agrees. “You experiment and question a lot in your teens and twenties, and a lot of youth workers are in their twenties,” he said. “They don’t have all the vested interests and encumbrances that the larger church or the senior pastor has. They’re not running the budget; they’re not responsible for the whole machine. I think it’s a breeding ground for creativity.”

    In 1972, a college-aged youth worker named Bill Hybels started a youth program at South Park Church outside of Chicago. Similar to the para-church model popularized by Young Life and Youth for Christ, Son City featured high-energy games, skits, and a dynamic, engaging talk by the young Hybels. The idea was to make the program so good that Christians would invite their non-Christian friends to the event. It was Jim Rayburn’s ministry philosophy, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel,” applied to the church. And it was a huge evangelistic success.

    Three years later, Hybels took his idea of a “seeker service” and started Willow Creek Community Church. The rest, of course, is history. Willow Creek now ministers to nearly 20,000 attenders each weekend at a variety of services throughout the Chicagoland area. The seeker-driven movement has revolutionized the church. Even churches that are not explicitly seeker-focused have been challenged to give greater priority to evangelism in their ministries.

    But Hybels is just one of many first-generation youth workers who went on to become senior pastors. Indeed, while one of Youth Specialties’ founding beliefs was that youth ministry is more than just a stepping stone to the “real” pastorate, the reality is that many youth pastors did become senior leaders in the church – and their churches are now among the largest, fastest growing, and most influential congregations in America.

    Meanwhile, youth ministry was growing up. By the late 1980s, youth ministry was its own full-fledged profession, even an academic pursuit. Christian colleges and seminaries had begun to add youth ministry classes, majors, and degrees to their curricula. Professors of youth ministry, originally an affinity group meeting as part of the North American Professors of Christian Education conference, organized as the Association of Youth Ministry Educators, complete with their own professional journal and annual conference.

    Youth Specialties also continued to expand, adding one-day training events and a book series to its menu of services to youth workers. But ironically, as the field of youth ministry continued to become more professionalized, Youth Specialties found itself becoming a grown-up institution. And some of the early leaders began to face criticism from a new generation of leaders who sat under the ministry of those first-generation youth workers.

    Criticism generally followed two consistent themes. First, the rise of the mega-church in America meant the need for more programs and structures to support these large organizations, thus opening them to charges of becoming too institutional and program-driven at the expense of true spiritual maturation. Second, the focus on events sometimes led to an inward-focused approach that forgot the urgency of evangelism, rather than an indigenous, outward-focused ministry philosophy.

    This new wave of thought came to be known as the emerging church movement and was (and is) espoused initially and primarily by baby busters, the generation born between 1965 and 1982 and sometimes referred to as Generation X.

    Pagitt believes that these criticisms emerged because a formerly innovative approach had become the status quo. “Even though Youth Specialties had a programmatic approach, it was programmatic in a very rule-breaking way,” Pagitt observed. “But some people had only grown up with those programmatic experiences, so those rule-breaking experiences became the norm.”

    Long agrees with some of the criticism, while also acknowledging that his counter-cultural organization has now become a cultural institution.

    “In good youth ministry, you go where students are, you don’t have students come to you,” he said. “So many churches still operate on a model where, you try to do a really good program, so people will come to it. And there is still a portion of youth ministry that is very program-driven. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing.

    “The issue becomes when you stop at the program, or you think that by moving people through programs you have introduced them to Jesus or have impacted their life,” Long continued. “Program should be a means, one of the steps, not the goal.”

    In this final installment of Angie Ward’s report on the impact of youth ministry on the American church she talks more with Tic Long, Youth Specialties’ president of events. Long shares his thoughts on the lasting impact youth ministry has had on the larger church, and what current trends among teens will continue to gain momentum among evangelicals in the decades ahead.

    As youth ministry becomes firmly ensconced in middle age, it is appropriate as in any mid-life crisis to pause for reflection and evaluation. Indeed, youth ministry has made quite an impression on the American church landscape. Here are some of its greatest legacies thus far:

    1. Better preaching and teaching.

    “They’re going to kill me for saying this,” Tic Long said, “but youth workers are often better communicators than pastors. They may not be better preachers, but they know how to grab the attention of middle-school and high-school students pretty quickly; kids who aren’t in the habit of being polite to just listen.

    “As a youth worker, you learn to be a good communicator,” he continued. “A lot of the good communicators today cut their teeth communicating to students.”

    In addition, youth workers such as Bill Hybels initiated the movement toward application-oriented communication. If God’s word is not viewed as relevant, people will not be interested in hearing it.

    2. Teenagers as catalysts instead of reactors.

    Instead of waiting for teenagers to “grow up” before assuming leadership roles, youth culture and youth ministry emphasize the potential of young leaders. This emphasis has often trickled down (or up?) to the church as a whole, and entire churches can be inspired by a generation of young people who are desiring and daring to change the world.

    “Working with teenagers is about more than telling them to not be on drugs and not have sex,” Long said. “Youth workers want to see teenagers change their world. Sometimes that comes in conflict with an older generation, but when that moves up, that pushes the church outside its walls.”

    3. Indigenous ministry.

    The United States is an extremely diverse collection of cultures. Whereas in the past, it was primarily foreign missionaries who spoke of an indigenous approach to evangelism, youth ministry has brought that philosophy home to the American church.

    “We are in a culture that is just so diverse, and there have to and should be diverse expressions of faith,” Long asserted. “What youth workers do on a smaller scale, and what we need to embrace, is that there are a number of different ways into a person’s life….We get in trouble when we market and sell a certain way instead of letting things be organic.”

    So, what’s next? Long believes that the larger church lags youth ministry trends by approximately 15-20 years. Regardless of the time delay, here’s what it appears we can expect to see in the future of the church:

    • An increase in social action and social justice. The emergent movement has called churches outside of their own walls and back into the community. This trend will continue, as indeed it is continuing among current teenagers who are far more globally aware and active than their parents.

    • A continued emphasis on relationships over programs. “Good youth ministry is community and relationships,” Long said. “It’s creating this community where relationships can evolve. In essence, all good ministry should do that. People want to connect, they no longer want to just watch….even at Youth Specialties, I think the movement has healthily begun to de-emphasize programming.”

    • A movement toward intergenerational ministry. “Part of the adolescent thing is independence, but not completely. Youth ministry should be more purposeful and integrative, so that it is not just an appendage of the church, but is part and parcel of its identity,” Long stated.

    Only time of course will tell how or even whether these trends will impact the greater church, but if history is any indication, teenagers, and the people who minister to them, can change the course of history.

    Angie Ward is a pastor’s spouse, leadership coach, and founder of Forward Leadership. She lives with her family in Durham, North Carolina.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly. But this article is about changing the Church universal, not the church specific. Hybels had to go start Willow Creek. He didn’t turn the church he was at into Willow Creek.

    I love the passage in here about youth ministers seeing youth as the present and not the future. I preached that very statement to every youth group I ever worked with and from a pulpit or two. It is a big part of why I stay in contact with so many of the people I used to teach and minister to.

    But I’m challenging them to shape the Kingdom, not to grow jaded trying to reshape their home church. I think loyalty to a body is vital as well as dangerous. On the one hand, those who bail at the first sign of boredom or hardship aren’t going to impact the church. On the other hand, those who get so focused on saving a specific institution that they miss the larger vision aren’t going to change the world.

    One of the most amazing stories from our heritage is The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. In it a group, realizing it had run its course, voluntarily died instead of trying to keep a dying institution alive for the sake of the institution itself.

    There is a fine line here, of course. If groups go dying out too soon, they risk never getting anywhere. Also, if groups are able to “die to self” as a group, they can also be resurrected as one.

    But, in those instances when a group needs to die in order to live again, continued attempts to revive it are useless. You can’t breath new life into something that refuses to die.

  7. One last thing from the article:

    “The question is, how long can these antiquated, top-down systems last? As long as people will let them.”

    The entire article centers on that truth. Which goes back to Matthew 18, turning over tables, and eventually kicking the dust off your sandals.

    If Matthew 18 brings about real change, excellent. If it doesn’t, then some turntable work needs to happen. And if the response to turned tables is just to rearrange the furniture like deck chairs on the Titanic, then the last step is to abandon ship.

    People are drowning out there. And we’re in no position to throw them a lifeline, if the boat we’re anchored to is sinking.

  8. Your question: how do we convince those leaders who see nothing wrong with how we exist to let go, to die to self?

    My answer: we don’t. leaders are convincers and vice versa. those who aren’t already dying to self aren’t leaders.

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