The Pen

Evangelical Priorities Askew: The Trouble With “Leadership Conferences”

Christians looooooooove leadership. It is a favored theme that has a soft spot in the hearts of most believers. I say “most believers” but actually I think it’s probably “most pastors.” More often than not they’re the ones who have an unrequited need to foist leadership principles upon their congregations. They bring in speakers to talk about it, encourage their members to attend conferences on it, write books about it, have website and blogs devoted to it, and even build churches around it.

In fact, for evangelicals, the four week Leadership Sermon Series is one of the High Holy Days on their liturgical calendar, right up there with the Valentine’s Day sex sermon series and the Mothers Day sermon. I know you’ve sat through one of these before- where the Pastor invariably uses excruciatingly awful exegesis of the story of Nehemiah to teach on how and why you can be a better leader. We’ve all been there, and so I won’t dwell too much on that. Needless to say the Leaderships thing is an industry for sure, and essentially it’s one of the five pillars that the Corporate Evangelical Machine likes to promote.

And promote they do. Christian leadership conferences are a dime a dozen.  Catalyst. Global Leadership Summit. Gateway Conference. International Pastors and Leaders Conference.  Leadercast. C3.  In fact, every pastor worth his salt with an attendance over 3000 will probably throw on their own conference that you can add to the mix, so there is definitely no shortage.

And so predictably here at P&P we ask: why are we sending Christians to all sorts of Leadership Conferences when they can’t even articulate the basic tenets of the faith?

Of course this subject is what rattles my cage and is my favorite dead horse to beat. And make no mistake, when it comes to misaligned or misguided evangelical priorities, not only will I beat this horse until every bone fragment has been fractured into a thousand shards, but after my horse is nothing but a soupy, gelatinous mess on the ground, I will bury it, wait 6 months, exhume whatever horse bones are left, have them incinerated, and then have the ashes tossed into whatever Swift river I can find.

Here is my concern- It’s the same issue I wrote about less than a week ago– Pastors are doing 24 week sex series sermons, 10 weeks on how to be more assertive at work, an d 6 weeks on getting better controlled children. They are learning these things, and yet meanwhile if you asked the average congregation member “How are men justified and made right before God?” you will get staring. And more staring. And that tragically oblivious look on their face as they try to delve into the deepest and furthest recess of their minds, racking their brains and sifting through years upon years of evangelical silliness and leadership principles because somewhere in there…years ago….their pastor surely must have said something about this…it rings a bell….if only they could think of what it was….

Right. They can’t. But they CAN go to Christian leadership conferences and have a blast there. If I had it my way, there would be  a questionnaire administered at the door of these conferences-  where you couldn’t attend until you can demonstrate your leadership in Christian theology by answering 10 basic questions. Don’t know what sanctification is? Denied. Can’t articulate the gospel? Roughed up by the bouncers and then denied.  Can’t explain justification? Denied, and given two free backstage passes to Joel Osteen’s Church, which is probably much better suited for you anyway.

Or better yet, I will announce a major leadership conference, called “YOU ARE NEHEMIAH! BECOME THE LEADER AND VISION-CASTER YOU WERE DESTINED TO BE” and get the biggest names out there, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Christine Cain, Matt Chandler [only because he attends every conference. cough!] and TD Jakes featured on all the promotional material. And when someone tries to register and sign up, and pay the non-refundable 199$ early bird special, they’ll get sent an automated message emailed to them saying “By signing up for this event, you have failed at being a spiritual leader. Please go home and read your Bible.” And then if I’m feeling particularly cheeky, I’ll tack on  “Also, your registration fees will be divied up and used to fund various long term missions,, the Caner Project, Pirate Christian Radio and the Alpha and Omega Ministries.”

Now admittedly I’m picking on a biiiiiit of low hanging fruit here, but let’s look past the mushy mega-Churches [I’m looking at you, Osteen] and look to your everyday more-or-less sound, sorta squishy, mainline protestant Church. They many not be engaging in all the nonsense that other Churches do, but these are real problems that still apply to them.

Here’s my rant [that was all preamble, ha!] If you as a Christian can’t articulate the gospel and the basic tenets of the Christian faith, the barebones, primary, fundamentals of the faith, then you don’t need to be spending 250$ on a Christian leadership conference. Pastors- if your congregation members don’t have a firm belief in the basics of the faith, then you needn’t encourage them in this frivolous distraction when you have bigger fish to fry. Why send them to conferences where they can get tips and tricks on how to be a better leader at home, at Church, and in the workplace, when they have not yet mastered or even graduated in being the leaders of their own souls?  You don’t need to be getting pointers on how to lead others if you can’t even lead yourself to a Bible.

It’s probably appropriate at this point to issue a disclaimer that this is not a screed against Leadership Conferences. I’m not against them or the people attending them. I have personally been profoundly blessed and edified by the speakers at the ones I have attended. But I’ve also graduated from milk to meat, and I don’t have my priorities askew.I mixed with people who have been Christians for a twice as long as I’ve been alive, and these people, when pressed for the fundamentals are found… floundering.

It’s also not just that these conferences for many people [not all] demonstrate mixed and confused priorities, but oftentimes the speakers are the usual suspects of heretics,  sheep beaters, or just really plain awful Bible teachers [As noted in the “YOU ARE NEHEMIAH” conference, minus my boy Matt] Why encourage Christians to attend and get exposed to some really awful narcegesis and a live-action demo of how NOT to handle the text? Or in the case of some of the main ones, the speakers aren’t even Christians and yet the congregation is being sent or are going to sit under these men and women speak on spiritual things. This is not ok.

Take for example the 2014 Global Leadership Summit conference, which is the brainchild of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek fame. This conference is simulcast live across  thousands of Churches and featured keynote speaker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, Cory Booker. Does it makes sense for us to be picking up Bibley leadership skills from Cory Booker, a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage,  masquerading as a Christian? A man whose worldview is fundamentally flawed and biblically perverse? The fact that Bill Hybels wants Christians to glean little insights and leadership truths and try to place them in a context in a worldview that is informed and led by scriptures, from a man who denies the authority and infallibility of this very scriptures to promote his own antibiblical worldview, should be profoundly troubling.

Or how about another main speaker at that conference? Do you really think it makes sense to encourage our congregation members, the vast majority who don’t have a solid grasp on the Trinity and couldn’t for the life of them explain it accurately and non-hereticaly-much left defend it against the simplest and most inarticulate Jehovah Witness, Muslim or Oneness Pentecostal- does it make sense to take those congregation members and send them to a “Leadership Conference” where they will get “leadership advice” from Tyler Perry, an actor who attends the Church of, has publicly praised,  and gave over a million dollars to the most famous non-Trinitarian pastor alive today, TD Jakes?

Talk about bad evangelical priorities…

Here’s a novel idea. Churches need to spend less time turning their Christians into better leaders, and more time turning their Christians into better Christians.

Pastors, when you take people with poor and underdeveloped theology, and help make them into leaders, you get leaders with poor theology. This is destructive and foolish and invariably these newly minted leaders will attract more people unto themselves with even worse theological acumen. You don’t want this. If you are a good pastor, you need to spend more time trying to develop their sanctification and knowledge and application of knowledge of who Jesus is. If you are a bad pastor, not only do you need to do the former, but you need to spend less time trying to bastardize the text by breaking your back trying to mine little leadership nuggets from the life of Nehemiah or Moses or whichever other dead bible guy you think existed to teach you about leadership.

When you focus on sanctification and helping them before more like Jesus, teaching them about the scriptures by ensuring they understand it and can explain it, you are caring for their souls in a real and practical way, and in that way you are showing yourself to be a leader. There are priorities here, and it won’t be hard for a real leader to see what they are.

[Contributed by Dustin Germain]