November 2016

Church Leaders Can Learn from Our Nation’s Leadership Crisis

church-shipWhew! We just survived one of the most divisive elections in our young nation’s history.


The challenge now seems to be for newly elected leaders to unite a divided following. There is always another election to think about.


Despite passionate differences, our nation is likely to survive. The challenges facing the Church might be more formidable.


Oddly, small issues are surprisingly lethal to both congregations and denominations. Peaceful resolution is something church leaders preach but have difficulty practicing. While small issues are problematic, large issues are catastrophic.


Perhaps comparing Public Leadership and Church Leadership can shed light on why the Church struggles with leadership on both clergy and lay levels.




Public leaders are elected by a process that is well-regulated and overseen by both elected and volunteer groups.

Church leaders are elected by a process that is controlled by clergy and tradition and are difficult to challenge.

Public leaders are drawn from a deep and ever refreshed pool of potential candidates with varying backgrounds.

Church leaders are drawn from an increasingly shallow pool that tends to be homogenous. Laity who become involved at decision-making levels usually have proved loyalty to existing leadership.

Public leaders are elected after a long campaign. Those voting have a chance to research and follow a candidate for months. The rules are generally well known—part of a grade school education.

Church leaders are elected by an electorate with little opportunity to research decisions. Many of the electing body know nothing at all about the slate of candidates or church procedure.

Public leaders must respond to an elaborate check and balance system that includes independent media.

There is no independent media critiquing the views of church leaders as they rise to power. Most church “journalists” are paid by the people they write about.

Public leaders are elected by a process that includes a diverse electorate.

The church electorate consists of clergy and a few representatives of each congregation—many of them have no background in church governance and are unfamiliar with church issues.

Public leaders are part of a process that is divided by party lines. Dialog is guaranteed.

Church leaders can be viewed as just one party—or as having each congregation acting as its own party. Either way, the opportunities for effective dialog are limited.

The dialog continues after election. Public officials must remain engaged with all the electorate.

Church leaders can operate with little or no engagement with member churches or members until the next assembly (the structure of which they control.)

Public leaders must operate within the law or face legal consequences.

Church leaders operate with considerable distance from the people they serve. They can (and do) claim exemption from secular courts under Separation of Church and State. Secular courts do not want to be involved in church law. It is up to the church electorate to keep church leaders honest. In many cases, the people charged to oversee church legal matters are on the church payroll. Church leaders can abuse power for a long time before being challenged. The clergy segment of the electorate relies on friendly relations with church leaders for calls. Lay people don’t like to think the leaders of their church might stray!

Most public leaders face reelection and/or term limits.

Rules vary, but many denominations consider calls to be permanent.

It is difficult to leave your country when unhappy. There are ways out of messy situations.

It is difficult for devoted Christians to leave the Church. Often, it is the only option as there is no effective course for redressor grievances.


Checking “None” Is No Indication of Atheism

atheists believersBill Maher, host of Real Time with Bill Maher, interviewed President Obama recently. One of the topics that appeared to be nearest and dearest to the comic’s heart was the topic of religion—or more precisely atheism. He questioned President Obama on the role of religion in politics.

Maher is an atheist who feels treated as a minority in society. He seemed eager to promote his position by citing statistics he feels reflect a growing number of atheists. One statistic he quotes has to do with the number of people who check “none” when asked to identify with religion.

There may be some confusion.

“Nones” are not necessarily atheists.

Many “nones” are a growing group of Christians who believe in God but feel shut out by today’s church. In this case, “none” means they feel they don’t fit in. They may very well be passionate about faith.

“Nones” have been hurt. They may feel labeled or excluded. They may feel judged or marginalized. They may feel bullied by church leadership. They may disagree passionately with views voiced by clergy without an equal platform to speak. In the case of our church, our denomination locked our entire congregation out in a land grab. Many of our members are lifelong Christians who are now “nones”—by edict of a bishop that wanted to benefit from the value of our land.

“Disenfranchised” may be the better word.

The growing number of “nones” should concern denominations. However, denominations are often too busy plugging the dike of membership loss to address the problems that cause the leaks.

Clergy were once able to shape church policy, but recent troubles have increased the numbers of sycophants—an oddity among Protestants and especially Lutherans who owe their identity to leadership that showed no fear in challenging the church of its day. Luther fought hierarchy in an age when church leaders actually wielded power in society. It’s harder to challenge power that exists in a system that has little power outside its own carefully defined worlds. It is much easier to discourage malcontents and keep the dwindling number of happy people happy.

Those in the church who don’t want to spend their lives whipping dead horses find it easier to adopt the label “none.” It’s sad. The church’s loss. The church needs to be challenged from time to time.