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Leading from Here to Where?: Content and Method in Leadership & Discipleship

Leadership sxc hu smallOkay, call me old school, tell me that I just don’t get what today’s busy Christian wants from his leaders, but I am a tad concerned about a growing trend in leadership studies—too much fixation on methodology and attitudes for leading and not enough on the importance of biblical knowledge, theology and educational content in being a leader worth following. Leadership and influence are not ends in themselves, after all. Leaders need to lead somewhere. That “somewhere” is the most important thing about your leadership.

For those of you who can’t imagine what I’m talking about, let me just say, that with only a few exceptions (I am honestly trying to think of more than three) the most public and popular Christian ministers on the “hot shot” preacher and book circuits can’t hold a candle to the professors I’ve had over the years. The actual substance of their message, their understanding of Scripture and Theology, and even their skills as public speakers are a pale shadow of most that I have had the good fortune to call teacher.

I don’t want to name names—I’d use up my blog’s word limit on those alone if I did—but I do want to provoke some consideration of the tension between SPLASH & FLASH and meaningful message. Perhaps, tension is the wrong word; there is no innate tension between meaningful content and good presentation. Many popular ministers, however, have made a choice to use their skills for one to the neglect of the other.

I struggle personally with church environments in which people who have been Christians for years:

  • Not only have no training in Biblical interpretation, but don’t even know what the word hermeneutics means.
  • Have never heard of Biblical Theology and rarely think of Scripture in terms of any “intended meaning” that does not begin and end with their immediate situation.
  • Haven’t read through the entire Bible.
  • Have no knowledge of church history.
  • Think theology is a dirty word… and boring.
  • Get a glazed look in their eyes when you attempt to string together more than two thoughts at a time in order to prove or explain something.

I attended an all day church revitalization seminar where the speaker was considering Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. (Without giving Dever his due, mind you.) He began his sessions with an immediate dismissal of those 4 marks that deal with the content of the message. Expository Preaching, Biblical Theology, The Gospel, and a Biblical Understanding of Conversion were waved away unmentioned with the words, “I think we can all assume good content.” He then launched into a 5 part discussion on Evangelism (method), Membership (Method), Discipleship (Method), and Leadership (Method). Never assume the most important element or you’ll make an…. ummmm…. never mind.

I attended the 2013 Catalyst conference in Atlanta Georgia where I heard a myriad of speakers address practical aspects of church, leadership, and discipleship with about a 99 to 1 ratio of method to content. Some of these folks were excellent speakers with a lot of experience in building large ministries, penetrating hard to reach communities, or establishing huge platforms to reach the online community, but I was left a bit befuddled as to what exactly they reached them WITH. Love seemed like it would have been the answer had I asked the question, but that grand flourish seemed to lack content and definition as well.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled that some out there have a gifts for reaching the unreached and capturing the attention of what has largely become an attention deficit nation. I would, however, like to make a few recommendations to those:

  • whose personal gifts tend toward administration & people skills and find the solitude of prayer and scriptural meditation tedious and uninspiring.
  • whose hearts thrill at the release of yet another cutting edge book on making it happen for your congregation in this ever-changing world, but who can barely force themselves to dig into commentaries, bible dictionaries  and theological lexicons to untangle some textual issue or theological quandary.
  • who think of 20 new gimmicks a week that they can’t wait to try, but haven’t had a genuine passion for Scripture for years.

And here are my recommendations:

  1. Never forget that the power of the Word of God is the Word of God, infused with the Spirit of God through inspiration. Read I Thessalonians 1:4-10 and consider what Paul regarded as proper evidence of conversion.
  2. You cannot gimmick people toward true conversion, you cannot reason them to repentance, you cannot actually love them into the Kingdom of God, no matter how warm and fuzzy saying so makes you feel.
  3. Salvation comes to the soul who confronts the Holy creator of all things, being convicted of sin by the Spirit of God, and responding with faith and repentance and discipleship. (Discipleship to Jesus, not you.)
  4. “Meeting people where they are at” mustn’t leave them there, especially in regard to theological, historical and Scriptural understanding. A minister in India once said, “We don’t teach our people the Bible. We simply tell them what they must believe.” Unfortunately, many today have done him one better. We don’t teach our people the Bible, and we don’t tell them what they must believe… we simply entertain them with thoughts about how they should live to achieve greater personal fulfillment in life.
  5. There is nothing better that you can do for a disciple of Jesus than to empower him or her to become students of Scripture who are trained to interpret and respond to the text properly.
  6. Placating the mental laziness of the masses by dumbing down every message and decorating it with bobbles might build big congregations, but it won’t build strong disciples and it won’t build a strong church.

[1] Media pic is from sxc.hu

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