Do you remember the movie Mean Girls staring Lindsay Lohan (pre-rehab, endless court dates and lost touch with reality Lindsay)? In the movie Lohan moves to a new school and is befriended by a group of outsiders. They aren’t cool, they aren’t popular but they offer her real community. But then an evil group of girls who are beautiful, fake, and popular choose to befriend her as well. Her misfit friends send her into this group of popular girls to sabotage them, but along the way she loses herself, abandons her friends, is seduced by being powerful and makes a huge mess of everything. (By now you are thinking, wow Greg you remember way too much about a Lindsay Lohan movie. Just stick with me, this is going somewhere.) Well when I think about the process of making leadership decisions in the church I keep thinking about Mean Girls. Let me explain (please, before you call my denomination or hurl rocks, let me explain).
For years (hundreds of them) the church in America operated from a position of power. People naturally came in our doors because most people were raised Christian or encountered the culture of Christianity in their everyday life. When they wanted spiritual nourishment they came to the church, the question was simply which of the small parishes near your house would you go to. But then the culture started changing and suddenly there were a lot more options for people. Less people were raised in the church, and far more of those who were raised in the church left because it seemed irrelevant. Many churches in the mid-late twentieth century became the new Amish. They continued to hold onto a culture and a way of living that the rest of the culture had left behind long ago.
So the church began to change. Great pioneers and apostles began to rethink how to be the church. They learned from the companies, entertainment industry, and salesman in the culture. Suddenly churches began to make decisions like corporations. They learned to market themselves. We created brands for our churches. They stopped fighting the changes of our culture and embraced them in an effort to be relevant. All of this was done for the sake of the Gospel and transforming lives.
Here is the Lindsay Lohan tie in, I promised it was coming. It is no fun being the outsiders in a culture. It was far more fun to be a dominant force in the culture. The church fell in love with making decisions from this position of power. In doing so (for close to 1500 years by the way) the church lost much of the decision making process that God has given us. Decisions were made based on power, influence, and dominance. These are not the decision making guidelines for the kingdom of God. But when these great pioneers of the church began to change their decision making processes they embraced a culture that was not compatible with the kingdom of God either.
Being relevant is fun. Having people know your name and talk about you feels good. Being cool is an intoxicating drug that can corrupt the soul. As the church began to make choices as corporations we learned some great lessons in leadership and management. The church was run better. In a changing world many churches managed to greatly increase their influence and presence through the processes they learned. The only problem is that they became Mean Girls. They lost themselves.
So as we sit in this critical moment for the North American church we need to acknowledge the difficult process of trying to make decisions God’s way. On the one side we have this desire to be good stewards, to use the rational minds God has given us and to make critical decisions with the most insight and knowledge we can gather. On the other hand the Kingdom of God is an upside down, rationality doesn’t always fly, God likes to do things his own way kind of Kingdom. Sometimes we have to throw our reasonable decision making processes out the window. We must leave room for the Spirit to guide us, in the moment and in our planning. We must hold the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, self control, perseverance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness) as the guides for our decisions. We must be willing to make hard decisions and to do so in God’s way with God’s grace.
This is not easy. Not at all. None of this is easy for us as the church. It takes lots of practice. It takes a deep abiding love of God. It takes a rich knowledge of our Father that we can only truly gather through the Spirit. It takes more than a management class (although those can be helpful) or the latest leadership book (I usually read those too). We have to know our Father in order to know who we are and how we should live. When we do it right it is a thing of remarkable beauty. When we fail it is a Mean Girls worthy cringe inducing painful moment. Let’s try not to become the Mean Girls, shall we?