We've heard the success stories of emergent church leaders for the past ten years or so, now they're starting to confess their failures.
It seems my generation has finally been around long enough to begin experiencing burnouts, moral failures, and conflicts reminiscent of our parents' churches. But will wounded leaders mark the end of the emerging church, or will they continue to lead us by limping into the future?
Last month at the FutureGen conference in Orlando, I met successful young leaders telling tales of personal burnout, struggle with sexual issues, and significant disagreement in their young congregations. This was a shift from what I've come to expect at next generation conferences. Torn jeans, tattoos, creative facial hair configurations, and music loud enough to dislodge internal organs are still the norm, but along with next generation success stories I noticed a new trend—emerging failure.
That may explain why so many were attracted to Mike Sares. At first, Mike seemed out of place among the conference presenters. He wore shorts (a fashion faux pas at a young adult ministry conference, even in Florida), he sported no visible tattoos, his face was clean-shaven, and he was definitely not twenty-something. He did have two things going for him. First, he was pastor of a church in Denver called Scum of the Earth. That alone gave him credibility in this crowd. And Mike also had more life and ministry experience than just about anyone at the conference.
The centerpiece of Mike's talk was Jacob—the proud, defiant, and successful young man who wrestled with God and walked with a limp the remaining days of his life. Mike's point was simple. The best, most trustworthy, and godly leaders walk with a limp. They have been humbled by God and by life, and they lead out of Christ's strength rather than their own. He echoed Paul's advice that leaders not be young in the faith and susceptible to arrogance, but first tested and proven faithful in the small things. I noticed many sympathetic nods from the wounded young leaders in attendance.
To twenty-somethings who have ridden the excitement surrounding "next generation" ministry into positions of prominence and authority, this was a wake up call. How many of us have allowed our ambition for ministry to eclipse our preparation? How many of us have pursued new ministries and churches not from a true calling, but because of our impatience? How many emerging superstars will have their hips touched by God before they become the limping leaders he desires?
The increasing number of young leaders who have acquired a limp should be encouraged and hopeful. Those with limps should not be pitied, avoided, or criticized. These men and women are actually the most qualified to lead God's people. As Scripture repeatedly shows, it is the limping leader, not the sprinter, who can be trusted with the keys to the church.
Reflecting on the rest of the conference, and other voices speaking to young church leaders, I wondered, Why aren't more people calling forth patience and humility from young church leaders? Why aren't more people sharing the virtues of limping with a generation fixated on sprinting?
As a young church leader myself, I hear a lot about pursuing one's passion, being an agent of change, and breaking out of the box of the modern church—it's all about sprinting. There are countless voices inspiring young leaders to stand up and take charge. Who is calling us to sit down and take our time? How many burned out, but gifted, young men and women would still be in ministry if they had heard this countercultural message?