pastoral leadership

From Big Box to Big Souls

The big box “church-as-business” model that arose in the last quarter of the 20th century was a complete (and short-lived) anomaly in the long 2,000 year history of Christian ministry. It rode the wave of American-styled capitalism and is grounded in the values of American consumerism and market driven strategies — not the New Testament and the Great Tradition of church leaders through the centuries.

The megachurch movement that is the crowning achievement of this phenomenon has already peaked, and many franchise “McChurches” built on the dynamic personality of its founder are struggling to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders. (We’ll leave aside for now the the question of whether filling large auditoriums has actually resulted in effective discipleship or just created more passive religious consumers.)

For now I’ll go on record saying that the future impact of Christianity will depend less on which organizational models it adopts, and more on whether or not pastors recover the essential part of their calling to be spiritual guides and wise sages as well as effective leaders and entertaining speakers.

I played the word association game with my congregation awhile back. I put the following photos on the screen and asked them to describe each leader’s quality or role. I’ll let you decide which photos look most like the typical American pastor.

I have a hard time not placing much of the blame for this shift in the pastoral role at the feet of the Boomer generation who really wanted churches to be big, successful and efficient organizations. Their market-driven imaginations made it hard to respect a leader who stood up front each Sunday wearing a robe and stole; for some reason a guy in khakis and a blue button-up seemed like a more trustworthy investment.

Today, in an age of “life coaches” and personalized fitness programs, the church still gathers in chairs and hopes three songs and a sermon will foster real spiritual growth. The spiritual seekers of the next generations may be looking for the “holy” men and women steeped in ancient wisdom and offering life-giving pathways, and may not settle for slick visionary leaders with an impressive business portfolio.

Titles that are on the way out are:




Executive Pastor


Titles that will make a come back are:

Spiritual Guide

Spiritual Director

Guru / Sage


Life Coach

What do you think? Is there a growing hunger in our culture for pastors who seem to possess a deep spiritual wisdom and want to guide others into greater spiritual depths? 

This is part 2 of a 4-part series. Read part 1, part 3 and part 4.

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