Leading a Mutiny?

OldYoungI need to start off this article with a short disclaimer.  I got started down this philosophical road by an article in Matt Crosslin’s blog, which he started as a response to a Relevant Magazine article, “Is There a Church Mutiny Afoot?” I started my part of the discussion several weeks ago, but was unsatisfied with what I’d written.  I felt that my thoughts on the issue were too muddled, and in some ways I still feel that way.  One of the reasons I write this blog is to put legs on ideas, and in so doing, bring a little clarity to them.  That is the only reason I have put this up.  It is important for any reader to understand that none of this is combative, although the issue of Christian ambition does strike a bit of a sore spot with me.  Further, I have no animosity toward Matt or Relevant.  In fact, I feel the opposite.  Some great illumination has come to me through the reading of both.  It is in the healthy debate that I feel the greatest good is served.

“I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.” G.K. Chesterton

A recent article in Relevant Magazine equated ministry to young adults as a mutiny, particularly when it is “a young adult service” aimed at creating a new expression of worship in a gathering at the church.  I must start this rebuttal by saying, I wholeheartedly agree.  I think that young-adult ministries trying to create their own worship service with younger sounding music and younger-sounding preaching (whatever that is) is at its core born in rebellion.  But in my mind, the real questions are “Why is rebellion always bad?” and “How can younger leaders take over the reins of Church leadership without it being seen as rebellion?”

So if this is rebellion, what is being rebelled against?  Is it the adolescent rebellion that says, “Whatever you say, I’ll do the opposite”?  I don’t think so.   It is less a rebellion of theology, or a rejection of older people in the faith, but a rejection of structures that have been broken for a long time.  Erwin McManus is one of those rebelling.  He has said that his goal is to dismantle the Church, and rebuild it as Christ would want it.  He isn’t rebelling for the sake of wanting to do his own thing.  He is rebelling because he says a deep fundamental brokenness that needs to be fixed.

We also have to look at modern church history and realize that these people aren’t rebelling against Christ-instituted structures that have been in place for more than 2000 years.  In fact, many younger people are more counter-rebelling against a rebellion that started in the late 60’s and flourished through the 80’s.  During that time, much of what the defined the Church was thrown out, sometimes because it was not working, but other times because it was “old.”  I recall hearing a successful Christian leader in the early 90’s say, “People are just interested in hearing about things like salvation anymore.  They just want to know how to fix their marriage.  We can’t talk about those old concepts any longer.”  That was rebellion.

But we have to admit that things seem to be broken at the moment.  Church influence in America is waning.  Fewer Americans are claiming a Christian allegiance.  Young Americans are leaving the Church in droves.  The Relevant article points to this statistic as a sign of arrogance and in some sense, I must agree.  This generation is an arrogant one, and this arrogance must be partly to blame.  But all statistical analysis of this trend shows that the primary reasons for young people leaving the Church is that they just don’t find it essential to their lives (see The Essential Church).  This is also not because the young have decided to go it alone, but because the Church has often made itself irrelevant by continuing to do things because “that’s just what we do.”  Often times people walk away from these events thinking “That simply wasn’t valuable to me at all.”

Younger leaders in the Church see all of this happening and want to do something about it.  After all, eternities hang in the balance.  Matt Crosslin writes in his blog that

“People in the 20 somethings age bracket really do feel that older adults have nothing to offer them. I have heard them say it directly occasionally.”

He says that this disdain is often veiled in an explanation of how older adults advice on how they dealt with a problem 20 years ago is not helpful in dealing with similar circumstances today.  I would agree with Matt that any person who thinks along those lines would be falling prey to the same fallacy that Chesterton’s quote in the beginning of this article mentioned.  I would also agree that there are significant numbers of 20-somethings who would think this.  But I don’t think that forms much of the basis for why wise leaders of this movement of young adults are doing what they are doing.

Why are wiser leaders leading this rebellion?  The common cliché is that “leaders lead.”  But I am sure that the truth of that quote goes far beyond stating what leaders do.  The depth of the statement comes from its reflexive nature.  Those leading are often leading because they are leaders.  Leadership is in them.  It is who they are, not just what they do.  Young leaders are doing exactly that.

Steve Robbins, the director of Vineyard Leadership Institute, points out that one of the reasons that churches must church-plant is that young leaders will leave when not given the opportunity to lead.  He point out that this isn’t because these young people are arrogant or rude, but that they feel they have a call from God to lead.  They feel that they can do something to make a difference in the world around them.

But much of Christendom seems to think that any time that younger leaders want to lead that is inspired by some form of insipid disrespectful, ego lead, rebellious zeal that undermines the Church.  For some reason, the Church is one of the few institutions where it is seen as somehow evil for young people to have ambition and a desire to lead.

Paul instructed Timothy to not allow others to look down on him because of his youth (1 Tim 4:12).  He set up Timothy to lead, and took joy in him.  He also taught him how to lead, and instructed that he learn from those more mature.  Isn’t that what any good leader would do?

I think that we primarily bristle against the idea of young Christian leaders in general because it seems to smell a little like ambition.  We all know that ambition is against God’s will…Um…oh wait…is it?  The Bible guards against “selfish ambition” (Gal 5:20, Phil 1:17, Phil 2:3, Jas 3:14, et al.) and “vain conceit” (Phil 2:3).  But the Bible doesn’t decry ambition on the whole.  In fact, it was Paul’s ambition to take the gospel to Rome.  It was King David’s ambition to build God’s temple.  It was Hezekiah’s ambition to rebuild Jerusalem.  Proverbs 25 somewhat cryptically says, “it is the glory of kings to search out a matter.”  One must interpret this as a validation of ambitious pursuits.  If ambition were an unbiblical quality, then those positive examples would be antithetical.

We can see this in Christian history as well.  Was William Wilberrforce’s ambition to eradicate slavery in the British empire against God’s will?  Was Martin Luther’s ambition to return the Church to Biblical truth ungodly rebellion?  How about Mother Theresa’s dream of changing a nation, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a nation free of racism?

Leaders lead.  Young leaders lead.  Some of them lead out of selfish ambition.  Others lead because God built them that way, and for them to exercise the gifts that God made them is glorifying to Him who made them.  Sometimes they will make mistakes.  But they will do what God made them for.  To prevent that is the real rebellion.

I heard Leonard Sweet once say that God leaders in the post-modern Church must lead like a child on a swing set, leaning back into a rich Christian history and tradition, but kicking forward into the newness of God’s present and future calling.  Good leaders will not forsake the wisdom of those who went before them.  They will stand on those elders’ proverbial shoulders.  They will see farther, Christ willing.  They will stand taller.  Some will think that all old ideas are bad, but I bet on the whole that they will embrace those ideas more than many in past generations, and seek to reach out across generations.  The worst thing we could do is to throw out all of the good that this new leadership will do simply because of the ignorance and childishness of a few.   -Ryan

7 Replies to “Leading a Mutiny?”

  1. Ummmm…. I guess I got a totally different take on of the Relevant article. I can’t find anything in there that says anything about young leaders can’t lead, or that it is always rebellion if they want to. I thought it was more speaking of the recent phenomenon of young adult-only services that never have anything to do with the rest of the Church they are a part of – not just young leaders in general.

    I wouldn’t call arrogance against the old a small problem. Bono himself actually talks a lot about it. Anyways, when I was in college, a certain friend approached me about starting a new church for college students. I knew that he had a bad attitude about anyone over 30, but usually just didn’t bring it up around him. His exact quote was that he wanted to start a Church that was free of “annoying older people.” I declined and really never spoke with him again, but he went on to start a really well known large church for young people, still going. I have gotten a chance to interact with many people that lead these kinds of churches, and frankly their attitudes all reek of arrogance against the old.

    In other words, I have known people that have left the church to lead because they are arrogant and rude. And many that haven’t. I think it is wrong to say that it is either/or.

    The only reason to do anything is because God leads you to, not because of what someone else doesn’t let you do. If God wants you to lead, you will. To make it happen on your own is arrogance. IF God has put someone in place that will let you lead, then it is time to die to self and wait for God to lead. IF they really felt they had a call from God, then where is also the spiritual gift of patience to wait on God to make it happen?

    I remember once when I got frustrated with not being allowed to lead something. I asked God why I couldn’t just go forward. He responded this way: “in order for you to lead out in what you are called to do, I would have to remove 50% of the leaders of this church that just aren’t ready for it. I am working in their lives, but is your call to lead more important than my work in all of these other people’s lives? Do you think your calling is more important than 40 other people’s callings? If it is to you, then maybe you aren’t ready to lead yet. Leaders have to put others callings in front of their own.”

    And that, right there, is the biggest problem I have with some of the people that are leaving churches to start their own work – they are putting their calling in front of all other things. God’s will is what is important, not our calling.

    Most churches that I have been a part of have had mostly young leaders in them, so I can’t agree that “much of Christendom seems to think that any time that younger leaders want to lead that is inspired by some form of insipid disrespectful, ego lead, rebellious zeal that undermines the Church.” I have also been parts of churches that push young leaders to lead really, really fast. So fast, in fact, that I have already lost one friend to suicide. He claimed he couldn’t take the pressure of leading anymore. Very sad.

    “For some reason, the Church is one of the few institutions where it is seen as somehow evil for young people to have ambition and a desire to lead.” I have never run in to that in the church. I am sure it exists somewhere in the church, but would highly disagree that you can hang that label around the entire church.

    Ambition – an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power. I personally don’t think ambition is the correct word to use when describing Paul, King David, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther, etc. But that is just me.

  2. Found this interesting discussion on the root of the word ambition, which probably sheds light on why so many people think negatively about it (even if it is an “old” person being ambitious, it is often not used in a positive light):

    “In ancient Roman law, ambitus was a crime of political corruption, mainly a candidate’s attempt to influence the outcome of an election through bribery or other forms of soft power. The Latin word ambitus is the origin of the English word “ambition,” which is another of its original meanings; ambitus was the process of “going around and commending oneself or one’s proteges to the people,” an activity liable to unethical excesses.”

  3. It seems that both of our responses are quite pregnant with issues of our own experience. I am trying to take all of my experiences from various churches (and those that I know of) as a whole.

    I agree with most of what you say in your response here. A lot of what you are talking about has to do with reasons that young adults start leading on their own, starting their own thing. I was more talking about the emergence of leadership in the Church in general. The reasons that your friends (in those couple cases you mentioned) were all reasons that they should have checked in their own spirit why they shouldn’t have done what they did, even if one of their ventures turned out quite successfully. All church plants come from some sort of place of dissatisfaction (according to Steve Robbins), but a Lone Ranger approach stemming from a sense of real rebellion is a really unhealthy reason.

    I do feel that in many areas of the Church (probably more mainline, old guard denominations) that my statement is correct, although maybe you are right and that is not the norm entirely. I would certainly concede that it is not the norm (or more correctly, no longer the norm) in the Vineyard.

    Umm…if that is the dictionary definition of “ambition” then I need to argue with Dan Webster. I commonly hear people say things like “My ambition is to cure AIDS,” or that kind of thing. The way I would use it would be a nuanced cross between goal, calling, passion, and determination. I’ll have to give that some though. I am always up for a schooling on word usage, but irregardless…

  4. See, that is what I feel is a big problem with society – not up there with hunger or hatred or things like that, but still a problem – people are always re-defining words. Linguists will tell you that people have a bad habit of using corrupted definitions of words, and this is leading to big problems in communication. Censorship is another word that you can even look up in dictionaries and read corrupted definitions of. If we don’t have an accepted standard of communication and word definition – how can we even talk?

    When it comes to the word “ambition”, I have to admit I have little experience with it. It is one of those words I never hear people use much.

    I would have to disagree with Steve Robbins again – I know of literally hundreds of churches that were planted because people felt led to and they actually were sad about leaving their original church – no dissatisfaction involved. Once again, this is my personal experience. I think many people think that since I didn’t grow up in church that I don’t have much experience with a diversity of churches. I have actually been to a wide range for churches in my short time in church, from AOG to Baptist to non-denominational to Luthern to all kinds. I also went through a missions training school for a year and a half that brought in people from hundreds of churches from all over the states to speak to us. Our church in Waco was also part of a loose association of churches from all over the world that work to sharpen one another. I also try to take my experience from the wider church as a whole, but that is a big task. Even if I could visit a different church every week, I would only get 52 a year, which is less than 1% of the churches in DFW alone. So I don’t really think anyone can speak for the church as a whole – we can only speak from our experience at best. In my range of experience, GVCF falls more on the traditional side of what I am used to.

    But, anyways, seeing many young leaders and many church plants in that experience, when I see people that might even have a hint of dissatisfaction in their motives, it really stinks to me. But in most churches I have been to, especially the traditional churches, they have all been hungry for young leaders. I even remember talking to a Baptist pastor of mine who was asking me if I wanted to pastor a Baptist church at the ripe old age of 22. He was saying there were literally hundreds of small, country Baptist churches around that area (Waco) that were looking for young pastors to lead them. They would take any age according to him, but they apparently liked the new ideas that young pastors would bring in. And I have a lot of stories like that where young pastors were wanted and welcomed. And just as many stories of young leaders that struck out on their own and fell flat on their faces. When the church raises them up, they tend to strive for longer than if they get frustrated and leave on their own. I think God was serious when He told us to die to ourselves.

  5. I totally am with you about redefinition of words. I am definitely a linguistic conservative, for sure. However, the mantra of linguistics experts is, “Language is first spoken, then written.” There are many examples of this, along with what I call “word drift” currently. I think that the Internet has been a massive force in the evolution of the English language. I am constantly amused by the use of “anxious,” for instance. Anxious traditionally meant basically to have stress, fear, anger over an upcoming negative event. However, we have used it improperly to mean the same as “eager” for so long that it now has even been changed as an alternate definition in dictionaries.

    If there is a word that fits my definition of “ambition” more appropriately, with less confusion, then I am happy to use it. I just don’t know of one. It would make my point more clear. I didn’t want to get into hair-splitting over “ambition.” I wanted to make the point that wanting to expand ones impact with the gifts that God has given is a honorable pursuit. Not to get into “Christian-inspiration”-candy, but it is very Prayer of Jabez, in a good way.

    For instance, let’s say a person were a street cleaner and felt that they were highly gifted in cleaning streets, that when they did that they were honoring God and felt that they were worshiping God in the exact way that he made them to be. If that person felt that their work was the exact crossroads of their passion and their gifting, we would see that as honorable. Further, if that person said, “My dream is to clean the street perfectly, for the glory of God, then we probably would say that person had an honorable and godly dream.

    But let’s say there is another person who felt the exact same way, but about a different gifting and passion. Let’s say that person was an actor, and that person’s dream was to be able to be in big Hollywood movies, so that their acting would be seen as worship. I know that would bring the person an ability to witness on a big “stage”, but we have to leave that aspect out of it.

    Some Christians would balk at that thought, and would have questions about that second persons motives, saying “Fame is not a godly ambition.” Part of it is from a distrust of the idea of the concept of Hollywood, but some of it might be that many Christians question the idea of exceptionalism at all. In my case, I have no real desire to be famous. I do have a desire to make a massive impact on the world for Christ. I don’t care if people don’t remember my name. I do have a passion to leave the world different. I also feel that God made me with an ability to communicate. It is something that I try to constantly hone and exercise (hence this blog). C.S. Lewis compared his writing to giving birth to something that was growing inside of him. He once said “I am right now very much with book.” When I am teaching/preaching and I use an analogy that works well, or I say something in a way that feels just right, I feel that I have created something special, something that will live past me, maybe. To semi-quote Eric Liddel, “When I am preaching, I feel His pleasure.”

    I have never felt that I am the best that ever was, or that I am unsatisfied with being just normal. There is an old country song that says, “Living that domestic life, happy children and a pretty wife. Cocker Spaniel’s always having puppies. How could anybody be so lucky.” That was my dream as a kid. As of late, I’ve felt a growing passion inside of me to stretch my gift/passion. My prayer is that God will give me opportunity, humility, and inspiration. I hope I never get Olsteen sized power. I wouldn’t want what that would invariably do to me. I do want to do the one thing that makes me feel most alive, and leave the world radically different. I don’t think that is wrong. I am still working this all out inside of me. Please pray for me on that end. I respect your wisdom.

    P.S. I intended to address your Steve Robbins response, but I am out of time now. In short, I think his longer point clarifies your contention. His point was that if those that started a church plant felt that the parent body could reach those that they were planted to reach with the greatest effectiveness, then they would be foolish to leave that church. Instead, most feel that there is a way to reach that group that could be best served in a separate context. That doesn’t mean they have a dissatisfaction that would lead them to leave, or stop loving the church. It just means that the call of God to go there is mashed in with the understanding that God wants to use them in a new way that another church might not be able to. I would hope, and so would Steve, that the church planting group would feel sadness and miss the parent body. I am dissatisfied to some degree with many things. That is the only thing that drives me to make them better, and usually it does not lead me to negativity, or a desire to run away.

  6. Well, it is kind of hard to explain the AMI movement if you haven’t been a part of it. But AMI has either directly planted or helped other churches to plant literally hundreds of churches around the world. In most of those cases, the people starting those churches loved the church they were in. They had no problem with it. They just felt God tell them “move to another part of the city or another country or whatever and start a new church.” And then they go out with the full blessing and support of their home church. They see themselves as an extension of that church in to other places. But there is no dissatisfaction at all – they were totally satisfied with their home church. Sometimes, that is all church planting is – bringing a certain style of church to a physical location where it doesn’t exist.

    If you look through our wedding album, half the people in their are now leading these church plants. They are all over the world, from Belton, TX to the most closed country in the world. So, I know them well enough to know that there was no dissatisfaction (positive or negative) involved at all.

    Personally, I would use the word desire in many cases where you are using ambition. “My desire is to see this happen”, “my desire is to follow God’s calling on my life”, etc.

    You know, I have never seen anyone become delusional about their ability to clean streets. But I have seen many people become delusional about their ability to sing, act, or lead. In other words, you never see anyone getting selfishly ambitious to be a street sweeper 🙂 I have seen many people strike out to lead a church when they didn’t even Bucolically qualify to be a leader. That is one of my main concerns with some of the younger leaders I know – they like to ignore some of the minor epistles altogether. In some ways, that is my concern with the church today: have we created a culture where following a self-described “calling” or “gifting” is higher than submitting to Biblical standards for leadership? When I have questioned a friends ability to lead, I don’t ever get scripture as a counter point – I get this mythical thing called a “gifting” or a “word from the Lord”. Which is kind of dangerous if you think about it – “no one can question it, because it is from God!” When we become our own standard from proving our calling or gifting (we are the only ones that can prove that God has spoken anything to us), we are skating on thin ice. Sadly, I have run in to this attitude more often than not in the Church in general (outside of the AMI movement – they don’t allow this): “who are you to question what God has called me to/gifted me to do?” I wish I could say I was just theorizing with that quote. Once again, there are scriptures being ignored there, I know.

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