I was recently asked to pen an article for the Brethren Partnership network of churches on the growing crisis of leadership across UK evangelicalism. If you read the blog regularly you will have read some of the following posts. But looking back at the article I think it is worth serialising. So here is part 1.
A Church Leadership Crisis?
Different streams within evangelicalism approach the question of leadership in different ways, but our day presents us with a crucial issue that is seen across the board: however we conceive of leaders, we don't have enough. In fact we aren't even close. By any available measure we see far too few emerging into positions of eldership, apt and well trained to teach. Simultaneously attrition rates among long serving leaders is at a terrible all-time high.
The average age of evangelical congregational leaders is somewhere between 52 and 54, but the really alarming thing is that this figure is rising. In churches that have an ordination route into leadership, the average age at ordination is over 40 and increasing. Nationally, churches are having to be closed at double the rate that new congregations are being planted. In 10 years time the rate is forecast to be over 4 times. The only thing wrong with the title of this article is the question mark. There is no doubt about the leadership crisis.
The factor I find most alarming is that the average-sized fellowship in the UK has shrunk to the point where it has little vision, passion or internal skill for training and releasing a new generation of leading and teaching elders. It is all too easy to brush over this inadequacy with a thin theological argument about the Lord sovereignly gifting whoever he wants. Reasoning thus, we might conclude that the local church doesn't need to take responsibility for identifying, encouraging, resourcing and releasing the next generation, nor for sustaining and nurturing the current one to be the best equipped and energised to bring on the next.
A biblical pattern of apprenticed training, such as Barnabas gave Paul, Paul gave Timothy, Titus, Silas and others seems to be lacking in most local churches. We only have to look at 2 Timothy 2:2 to see that local leaders bear the main responsibility for bringing on the next generation of local leader in and for the local church:
What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
This prompts two vital questions for me:
- Are our current leaders spiritually energised and able to pass on to faithful people who will be able to do the same?
Are they allowed the time, resources and freedom to do so?
Over the last 3 years I have asked groups of leaders from across denominations why they aren't producing fresh leaders in their church, for their church. The answers have been as illuminating as they are alarming. The top six factors are:
- Nobody ever taught me that it is my responsibility to be a maker and encourager of other leaders
- Therefore I have never had any skills imparted to me to do it
- I am too busy. If I am employed as a leader I do 70+ hours a week on things my congregation think are crucial number one priorities. If I am a lay elder I bear my extensive responsibilities on top of demanding work commitments. Don't ask me to bolt this on top
- My congregation don't want me to bring on new leaders. Either they think that it will take away from immediate and urgent priorities to an unacceptable degree, or they don't like apprentice leaders doing things to a basic level of skill. They want leaders fully-formed right out of the box
- We don't want to try fresh initiatives to break through the problem if they might fail. One leader said to me "we are very cautious, needing some guarantees of success before we try." Where, then, is walking by faith?
- We just don't know what to do. We might see the need but we have no idea how to meet it