By Bob Leopold
How can we form faithful leaders for tomorrow’s Church? With the current structure, we cannot.
Today’s Church trains and employs experts. Parishioners can avoid spiritual work, as it is done for them by expert employees. Jesus said to do many things: clothe, feed, free. Today’s church best implements “do this in remembrance of me.” Liturgy is transactional, not transformational. Modernist “expertification” also alters experts: “knowing about” God/Bible/liturgy is our clever substitute for “knowing” God/Bible/liturgy.
Tomorrow’s Church “knows God/Bible/liturgy” with those doing Jesus’ work outside Church walls: seeking the Holy Spirit already active in their communities and joining in, remembering every do from Jesus. Journeying with the marginalized, tomorrow’s Church has access to the best teachers money cannot buy: those who most earnestly pray “give us this day our daily bread.” Relationships cost little money.
Today’s Church gets stuck fundraising for place and personnel, where success looks like a big budget or weekly attendance. Tomorrow’s Church flips the current model on its head: spending 10 percent on itself and 90 percent outside itself; meeting in shared spaces with few, bivocational, creatively compensated positions; getting disciples out in mission, not attracting new pledging units to pay for unsustainable systems; operating as nonprofit, public-benefit corporations, not outdated tax shelters. Jesus toppled an empire with no pension, no endowment, no budget, and few followers.
Already expert on the material, today’s Church is compelled to learn, not know. Seminary experts form new experts. Books or programs promise fixes. Achievers in this system are unlikely to change, but tomorrow’s Church will be different, with unheard stories heralded. Today’s Church allows for Sunday morning leadership, under experts’ oversight. Tomorrow’s Church utilizes innovative leadership from changing models: college dropouts founding million-dollar companies; Generation Xers and Millennials retiring before their parents; social media creating leaders anywhere.
To form faithful leaders for tomorrow’s Church, today’s Church might have to let go of preconceived notions of what tomorrow’s Church might be. Where the present structure gets in the way of Jesus’ mission, tomorrow’s Church builds new structures. Tomorrow’s Church is a resurrected, countercultural, disruptive industry that is replacing today’s Church. Experts like me have to let go of our need to control, save, or fix, and just let the Holy Spirit work.
Bob Leopold is the 2015 William B. Given Jr. Episcopal Church Foundation Fellow and “expert” consultant specializing in leadership development in missional areas, most recently with the University Episcopal Community in Minnesota.
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One question, eight reflections
This is the third of eight essays in which The Living Church and the Episcopal Church Foundation asked eight of the foundation’s Fellows this question: How can we form faithful leaders for tomorrow’s Church?
The eight voices published here represent only a small cross-section of over 50 years’ worth of ECF Fellows whose work continues to focus on forming leaders for tomorrow’s Church.
ECF identifies and supports scholars and ministry leaders who are committed to forming the next generation of leaders, both in the seminary classroom and beyond seminary walls. The application process for the 2018 Fellowship is now open and the deadline is March 16. If you would like to learn more about becoming an ECF Fellow, be sure to visit the ECF website.