Today, it happened again. Another influential pastor in the “Gospel-centered” movement resigned from their church citing “failures in my leadership”. The resignation of this dear brother came after an extended season of facing the “limitations and sinful tendencies” in their leadership. I write this with great sadness. I’m a little angry. Not at this dear brother who is battling their brokenness and repenting of their sin. I am angry at the Enemy.
I am also a bit frustrated brothers and sisters. This is not the first time this has happened to our tribe. Over the past couple of years, a silent crisis has arisen in our midst. One leader after another has fallen. They have a reformed view of the Gospel. They even have healthy church government structures in place. They preach the Bible faithfully each Sunday. They are often “missional”. Their worship teams are singing blood-stained hymns celebrating Christ’ finished work.
And their leaders are falling. Disqualified from leadership in many cases. Churches that love the Gospel are being left in shambles in many cases as these leadership failures occur one after another.
And guess what: We can’t blame the “seeker church” down the road for this one. We can’t blame their fog machines. No, this is not a “they” problem, this is a “we” problem.
We have a leadership crisis in the Gospel-centered movement.
You can blame it on many things. Blame it on our love for the celebrity pastor. After all, our tribe loves to make idols out of our ministry heroes on the same level that our non-reformed friends do. You can blame it on a theological pride that our tribe (myself included) tends to struggle with. There are many factors contributing to this silent epidemic. While all of these things are creating an environment that is conducive to toxic leadership cultures in local churches, I believe the leadership crisis that has been happening right under our noses in the “Gospel-centered” world can be traced back to one thing:
In a classic overreaction to the overt (and admittedly unhealthy) pragmatism of the “seeker-sensitive” churches and their “leadership training”, the “Gospel-centered” theological tribe has made the word leadership a bad word. We have not thought deeply (or maybe at all) about how the Gospel should shape and inform how our leadership on a daily basis. As one pastor friend shared with me recently: “Our tribe doesn’t talk about leadership because our heroes do not write about it”. Perhaps it is time to confess that we are not nearly as “Gospel-centered” as we claim to be. Think about it: Why are we seeing moral failures in the area of leadership? Maybe if these all of these influential pastor’s were resigning due to porn addictions instead “prideful leadership practices” we would be more concerned. We can’t look away from this issue: Pastor after pastor is resigning or being fired for their “leadership failures”. Pastor’s and leaders are sinners. That’s every leader’s biggest problem and the only answer to this problem is the Gospel applied. Leaders, if we do not take the time to think through how our theology shapes our leadership in local churches we are going to continue to see this epidemic of leadership failures and our love for the Gospel will continue to be publically undermined.
Brothers and sisters, I’m concerned. I’m concerned because it is not enough to get the Gospel right in our belief statement if we do not apply the Gospel rightly on our Elder Boards and church staffs. It is possible to have a biblical soteriology and be a bully that denies the power of the Gospel through their leadership. It is possible to have your iTunes filled with John Piper sermons and create a church culture around your own personality. It is possible to have B. B. Warfield on your Kindle and abuse and manipulate those you lead. A Gospel that does not shape how you lead Christ’ bride, is an undermined Gospel. It’s not enough to have biblical church polity and leadership structures in place if we do not raise up and train godly leaders to lead within the contextual constraints of those structures. The New Testament affirms that we should not only care about a leader’s theology, as critical as that is; we must also care about a leader’s godliness expressed in their leadership.
If we care about the Gospel as much as we claim we do, brothers and sisters, we will care deeply about the church that is called is protect and proclaim the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints”. And that means we have to care about the leaders who will lead the church. We must ask difficult questions about the type of leaders we want to raise up. Perhaps it’s time to start prayerfully thinking through what kind of leader the Gospel should produce.
I’m tired of watching healthy churches scramble in the wake of another “leadership failure”. I’m tired of watching new Christians weep as they try to understand how their pastor’s leadership style could have warranted their removal.
Brother and sisters, it’s time to think prayerfully, deeply and theologically about how we are raising up leaders in our local churches.
Let’s talk about leadership for the sake of the Gospel.
A Concerned Co-laborer in the Gospel,