As I continue to explore Steve McSwain’s desperate portrait of the current state of the church, his list of deadly trends becomes uncomfortably personal.

3. Leadership Crisis

If leadership is the problem in the church today, then I am the problem in the church today.

I have been in leadership in the church for the past thirty-three years. If the accusing finger is appropriately pointed at leaders, then I am the guilty party.

McSwain argues that

clergy abuse, the cover-up by the Church, and fundamentalist preachers and congregations have been driving people away from the Church, and continue to drive people away, faster than any other causes combined.

I do not think that I, or most of my colleagues in the church, have been guilty of the kind of “clergy abuse” or its “cover-up” McSwain is referring to here. Nor could any of the church leaders with whom I currently work be accused of being among the ranks of “fundamentalist preachers”.

If McSwain is going to blame church leaders for the demise of the current church, he is going to have to dig deeper to discern the nature of our crimes.

As observed in McSwain’s trends #1 & 2, things are changing and church leaders have not always adapted well to some of these changes.

But, the changes affecting church leaders are more subtle than merely changes in demographics and technology.

Most of us aging church leaders, started our life in the church in a culture where it was safe for leaders to assume a certain level of respect simply by virtue of our position in the community. We are the dying embers of the “father-knows-best” vision of church leadership (thank goodness).

The arrogant, all-knowing, aggressive leadership style of the past will never create an organization in which people experience the liberty that is the essential ground in which life-giving structures can be planted.

No leader in any field can safely take for granted that those they are attempting to lead will simply go along wherever the authority figure dictates. Leaders today must assume, in fact must warmly embrace, the fact that their leadership will be called into question. We will be, and should be, challenged by those we are attempting to lead.

There is no longer any place where leaders can afford to sit ten feet above contradiction. Leaders must be willing to be deeply accountable to those among whom they exercise their leadership. They must be wiling to sit with and listen to those they lead and be deeply respectful of the potential contribution each person can offer to the well-being of the organization.

The job of the church leader today is to support each person in finding their way to open to the depths of God’s image in which they were created, encouraging everyone to find the wisdom of God’s Spirit that dwells within and to follow faithfully where that wisdom is leading..

Church leaders must listen sensitively for the movement of God’s Spirit and support that work wherever it is evident.

Any organization that is going to move forward in the twenty-first century must nurture an environment that is open, flexible, and deeply respectful of differences. Church leaders must renounce the blunt tools of guilt, shame, and manipulation to motivate commitment and involvement. We must, instead, use the gentle instruments of accepting, listening, and supporting whatever seems to naturally emerge within the community.  This may be a little more messy than some of us are accustomed to. But, only an organically emerging communal will have the capacity today to be an exciting and creative embodiment of faith.