Church Celebrity Deathmatch
Why young people are tired of personality-driven churches.

I haven't seen MTV in years, with no regrets, but I recall a show on the network that impacted me like a train wreck. It was awful, gruesome, and terrible - but I couldn't look away. "Celebrity Deathmatch" featured clay-animated celebrities in a wrestling ring where they pummeled, grinded, or dismembered each other into a bloody pulp of scarlet Play-Doh. It wasn't exactly wholesome family entertainment.

We can pick apart the moral depravity of the show (which is all too easy), or we can talk about why it was so popular with the young (which is probably related to its moral depravity). Let's simply draw this conclusion - the younger generation isn't enamored with celebrities. They aren't cultural gods to be worshiped and respected. They're more like rodeo clowns trying not to be impaled by the paparazzi beasts we unleash to devour them for our own entertainment.

The anti-celebrity sentiment of the younger generation, and the culture as a whole, may be taking root in the church as well. There are two seemingly opposite trends occurring among evangelicals that relate to this. One is the movement away from hierarchical leadership structures. The other is the movement toward hierarchical leadership structures. Let me explain.

The spring issue of Leadership includes an interview with the pastoral team at The Next Level Church in Denver. After building a booming church around the dynamic gifts of a senior pastor, TNL imploded. The senior pastor/preacher left amid controversy and the church's attendance dropped like Wiley Coyote from a cliff. In the aftermath, the remaining pastors reorganized TNL sans senior pastor. They've opted for a team approach with leaders sharing equal authority and responsibility.

They're not alone. Other young church leaders are forgoing the traditional senior pastor model. They prefer a flattened structure with shared responsibility where a team, rather then an individual, has the steering wheel. Thus no one achieves celebrity status in the congregation. Even in next-gen churches with a visible leader there is a trend away from the "Senior Pastor" title. The reason is linked to the scary rate of failure seen among senior pastors. Like "Celebrity Deathmatch," the evangelical church seems littered with the corpses of leaders who've been beaten beyond recovery.

Brian Gray from The Next Level Chuch says, "I wasn't at TNL during that crisis, but I also saw a senior pastor model entirely fall apart at my previous church. It got really bad. I began thinking there had to be a better way to do church. There is something systemically unhealthy about becoming dependent upon a single leader."

May 16, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 31 comments

Jim Kane

May 28, 2008  7:31am

I really believe that team leadership in the church is important and as 'the pastor' of a church, I feel that the personality mania that has been in place (and will never go away, think 1 Corinthians and Paul and Apollos)is part of the problem as well... to me shared/team leadership is essential but hard and maybe a way to keep some pastors and churches from going over the edge

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mike rucker

May 22, 2008  11:31am

BTW, thanks for elevating the maturity of the conversation on Ur. ha! cheap shot, but funny nonetheless. even the slightest glance around this blog's motley crew of commentators reveals that, at the very least, God has one heck of a sense of humor... carry on, Url ... we love ya. mike r.

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May 22, 2008  11:10am

Mike Rucker- Your previous comment wasn't posted because it was too long. Comments are supposed to be 1500 characters max as noted. BTW, thanks for elevating the maturity of the conversation on Ur. -Url (the posterior pinnacled pundunt)

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mike rucker

May 22, 2008  10:44am

c'mon, url - that was a great comment! stop depriving your readers of a good chuckle every now and then... :) just to suck up a minute: i enjoy what you're doing with OoU - the newsletter, the theme of recent posts. keep up the good work. we seem to have a very diverse group of core comment-writers here - that's probably a feather in your cap. of course, your 'good work' shouldn't involve censoring my comments, you butthead... mike rucker

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May 21, 2008  2:38pm

Ultimately, when God wanted to do something in Biblical times, He raised up 'a' leader. If that leader had sense, they submitted their plans to the people around them for input and wisdom but finally one person had to make the call. The problem with a leadership structure that allows for no single leader is that the decision making process can be stuck in analysis paralysis. This may not happen in the first generation of leaders who will have come together with the fire of vision and unity, but as they are replaced, the team can so easily become struck by 'leading by right of veto'. By this I mean that, human nature being what it is, people gravitate toward voting against someone else's suggestions. I've seen this in operation over and over in churches in the UK resulting in churches that have been stalled for years. Nothing happens, and there is frustration, but no one wants anyone else to feel that they are in charge.

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Travis Greene

May 21, 2008  12:35pm

Joe: No, no, no. You don't have the personnel to take up the roles? You're thinking in terms of full-time positions, aren't you? Well, stop. Pray for God to send laborers all you want, but first pray for where God wants to send YOU. "Natural" leaders are probably the worst for churches. They don't need to rely on God at all. I'm not saying to shoehorn yourself into a calling that isn't yours, but if you have 5 people in your church, you have 5 different callings. Don't wait around for some perfect evangelist to show up. Evangelize! You'll probably get better at it. Don't wait for some perfect empathetic shepherd to roll into town. Care for people! It's mostly the thought that counts anyway. What are we waiting for? You're right that God will send all the workers you ask for, but you'll probably be surprised to discover that one of them is you. The priesthood of all believers doesn't mean there are no priests. It means we are all priests.

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May 21, 2008  2:48am

Friends, it sounds great! Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor/teachers. I would love to see that in my church, but we simply don't have the personel to take up the role(s). Are these not God-given callings? Surely none of us can simply decide to suddenly become prophets, for example, or apostles! So we are praying that the Lord would send laborers into his harvest: 'natural' evangelists (who don't make everybody feel under pressure), apostles who would function as truly visionary and authoritative leaders (without lording it over the rest of us), and pastors (who will genuinely care for souls). We also need 'bridging' laborers, who will faithfully preach the Word of God to our youth - without compromise - showing them how relevant God and His Word are to their very existence and purpose. Oh Lord Jesus, send laborers! Let the word of your gospel speed ahead! Build your church! Your Kingdom come! [Incidentally, if my understanding is correct, according to the Granville Sharpe rule, in the Greek 'pastor/teacher' is the one person. Ephesians 4 describes a four-fold ministry, not a five-fold one.]

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May 20, 2008  3:22pm

The model is at the heart of the issue here. When you have one person or one team leading a "church", you have what is known as "clergy" and "laity." You have a "leader" and "followers." You end up with a "performer" and an "audience." This is why we "go to church." This is not being the Church. This is Going To Church. Shifting around the model and bringing back everyone (and I mean everyone) into the equation instead of just a pastor/priest/ elder board/committee will help immensely. This is what the labor pains are that everyone is seeing. This is why so many are leaving and why so many are disillusioned with the church. No one is growing because no one is participating. You can't if you're just sitting there every week, letting someone else do all the work. And why work when you're second class anyway?

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May 20, 2008  10:13am

as someone post-college but under 25, i think i can safely argue that my generation has not in the slightest become disillusioned by celebrity. i mean, this generation has more celebrities who are famous for no apparent reason than they're in the spotlight than any seen yet. i've seen many leadership teams, particularly worship teams, be every bit as exalted as the senior pastors of old. instead of having one cool person, we have a cool clique. i have a hard time seeing this as progress. anyways, when the root of the problem is celebrity worship and idolatry, changing the person in the spotlight isn't going to do squat. you can't fix the heart by getting plastic surgery. personally, i have no quarrel with the senior pastor model. nor with the team model. i've been to healthy churches that use both. but the model really isn't the issue here, is it?

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May 20, 2008  9:27am

James couldn't be more right...

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