Eddie Gibbs is the Donald McGavran professor of church growth at Fuller Seminary. In 2000 he wrote Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry (InterVarsity Press), which won a CT Book Award. Since then there have been many developments in youth churches, postmodern ministries, and other edgy ecclesiologies. A few weeks ago, radio host Dick Staub asked Gibbs about this changing world and how it affects his work.

If you could now add another chapter to Church Next, what would it be?

It would address more closely the issue of leadership. I've learned a lot more by talking to young leaders. That's been a growing point in my own understanding.

What's happening within church leadership?

When you look at Baby Boomers and the generations before them, they all represent a culture of control. Generation X and Generation Y possess a strong reaction against the culture of control. This is another one of the reasons for [those generations] to walk away from the church.

I represent the older generation, and we used to think in terms of delegating ministry. That's the language of control. You can't delegate to somebody what God has already called and gifted them to do in the first place. Instead, we need to use the language of empowerment. We've got to learn the skills of doing that.

I go back to the Bible and its understanding of authority: the authority must be intrinsic. Having been with Jesus for three years, the disciples would say that he was full of grace and truth. That was the authority. Grace is generosity. Truth is authenticity. Your authority doesn't arise out of your position—your authority arises out of who you are. Gen Xers are very sensitive about that.

Is this why they may reject the authority of older generations?

Part of it is that sensitivity—especially if the generation they're reacting against is their parents' generation. They get on much better with their grandparents.

This is a serious point here: I think that we need three generations. We need the older generation who will mentor the younger generation. And often the biggest clash is between your boomers and your Gen Xers. Now, if you skip a generation the whole dynamic changes.

The really healthy Gen X churches that I've been to have three generations. They have older folks there to mentor younger leaders.

You believe we are now at a "strategic inflection point." What is that?

The strategic inflection point is the decision you make that will be determinative of the future. You are poised on a cusp. Things are going to change whether we like it or not, and the decisions you make at this cusp will determine whether you go into a nosedive or whether you enter into a new growth curve.

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So you would argue that churches humming along now will be affected by a fundamental shift that is about to take place?

It's already happening. Many churches are really struggling for survival.

What's the shift?

The organizations that are really moving in the Western world are building on a network structure rather than a hierarchical structure. Previous generations of leaders have not been trained in how to be the leader of a network.

The Gen Xers have a better grasp of that intuitively. But we need to help point out some of the dangers and help with the skills.

The second thing is a knowledge revolution. Knowledge is no longer privileged information. To be in the know is really very important. How we communicate within the life of the church and the strength of the internal communications are crucial. That again is [a reaction] against the culture of control where only the privileged know.

When there are fundamental changes in the church, there have to be fundamental changes in the educational institutions preparing leadership for that church. What's going on there?

Well, we're trying. I think [the change hasn't taken off yet,] largely because we are still looking to the agenda of previous decades. It was very important, especially for evangelicals, to make their mark in terms of the scholarly world and the academy.

We don't want to sacrifice that. We want better scholarship for the future. But at the same time, the agenda has changed in that we have to ask the crucial question: How can we prepare church leaders to be effective in mission within North America?

When I emerged from seminary 40 years ago, the main point was really to look after the flock and to watch the shop. It was a pastoral call. The world in which I was trained to minister in 40 years ago no longer exists.

I think what some of the leaders of Gen X churches are doing is really retaining or winning back a generation of churched or previously churched young kids. What I am more concerned about is the more radical challenge of the never churched.

We don't want to jettison one model for the other. As a pastor, it's my responsibility before God to ensure there's effective leadership in each of the areas [laid out in] Ephesians 4. We need the apostolic, we need the pastoral, and we need the evangelistic. We need the teaching.

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So what must churches do?

A good man said many years ago, pagans out of a secular world don't come ready-laundered.

You do need a strong, disciplined core. One of our problems is we have so many church members who are not disciplined. You need a core of people that are serious about living out the life of Christ, just as the Methodist class system in the 18th century.

When we invite others to join us, it is an invitation to join us on our journey because discipleship is a lifelong learning experience. There should be a reciprocal dynamic at work. As we get to know those who are coming out of a dysfunctional, destructive lifestyle, it should be with the sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit, but not the dumping of our own moral agenda to address those issues.

So we ourselves are being challenged. And I sometimes ask the students at Fuller this question: When Peter went into the home of Cornelius, the centurion, who was converted? Both of them came out of that meeting changed.

Related Elsewhere

Visit DickStaub.com for audio and video of his radio program (4-7 p.m. PST), media reviews, and news on "where belief meets real life."

Earlier Dick Staub Interviews include:

Peter Jenkins Finds Jesus While Walking America | The author of A Walk Across America talks about why angels smiled down at him at a revival in Mobile, Alabama. (Jan. 7, 2002)
R.C. Sproul's Testimony | The theologian and author of Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow talks about how he met Jesus and why playing the violin is like reading the Bible. (Dec. 31, 2002)
Calvin Miller on a Southern Baptist's View of Advent | The author of The Christ of Christmas celebrates the season around the one great miracle (Dec. 17, 2002)
Phillip Johnson | Asking the right questions is at the heart of the evolution debate. (Dec. 3, 2002)
Connie Neal | The author of The Gospel According to Harry Potter talks about leading a friend to Christ through the wizard hero. (Nov. 19, 2002)
Chris Rice | The author of Grace Matters talks about his friendship with racial reconciliation leader Spencer Perkins, his former coauthor and best friend. (Nov. 12, 2002)
John Polkinghorne | The 2002 Templeton Prize winner sees the Bible as "the laboratory notebook" of the Holy Spirit. (Nov. 5, 2002)
Ruth Tucker | The professor and author of Walking Away from Faith talks about doubting God. (Oct. 29, 2002)
Vishal Mangalwadi | The author and lecturer talks about how the Bible shaped India, Western democracy, and his life. (Oct. 22, 2002)
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Dave Alan Johnson | The creator of Doc talks about balancing entertainment with spiritual depth and TV shows with evil plumbers. (Oct. 15, 2002)
Chuck Palahniuk | The author of Fight Club talks about his new book and the need to see culture not on a TV set but by talking to neighbors. (Oct. 8, 2002)
Frederica Mathewes-Green | The author of Facing East and The Illumined Heart talks about her spiritual journey and transformation. (Oct. 1, 2002)
Chris Seay | The author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano talks about men who want to be in the "Christian mafia." (Sept. 24, 2002)
John Sloan | The author of The Barnabas Way says Christians need to kiss more frogs and reconsider their prayers for blessings. (Sept. 17, 2002)
Nancy Guthrie | Two years after sharing her story of Hope with Christianity Today, the modern Job tells of losing another child to Zellweger Syndrome (Sept. 10, 2002)
Stephen L. Carter | The Yale University law professor and author of The Emperor of Ocean Park talks about the lack of religious characters in modern fiction (Sep. 3, 2002)
Francine Rivers | The fiction writer says she starts each book with a question that she doesn't know the answer to. God provides the ending. (Aug. 27, 2002)

The Dick Staub Interview
Dick Staub was host of a eponymous daily radio show on Seattle's KGNW and is the author of Too Christian, Too Pagan and The Culturally Savvy Christian. He currently runs The Kindlings, an effort to rekindle the creative, intellectual, and spiritual legacy of Christians in culture. His interviews appeared weekly on our site from 2002 to 2004.
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