Over the years, we have seen a lot of interesting changes take place in the role and style of leadership. This statement is true of schools, government, and our churches. What has changed even more are the needs of the people these institutions are supposed to be serving. When I started teaching in the public schools of South Bend in 1959, I had kids who came to me wanting help with personal problems. Those problems usually revolved around friends, members of the opposite sex, and other teachers in the school I taught in. At the beginning of the twentyfirst century, I still have kids coming to me, but the problems concern how to find adequate day care for their children or siblings, how to find a place to spend the night, what to do with their siblings' drug habit, how to avoid abuse, and on and on. Teenagers have not changed; they are as wonderful as they have ever been, but their world has changed. Even functional families are influenced by this change because the whole climate of church, community, and school has been radically altered by it.
Prosperity has not met the needs of those who have it. The institutions people have been told to respect--community, church, and country--have let most of us down. Hypocrisy, greed, selfishness, immorality, and a desire for fame have been found in our institutions, and people we have been taught to respect have let us down. This is the world that leadership faces in the early years of the twentyfirst century. The challenges of leadership in this setting are enormous. They are complex and constantly changing, and yet the rewards of good leadership are greater than they have ever been. In this article, we would like to point out some things that we have seen leadership doing that reflects an inability to understand what the real needs are in our day and age. Our comments so far have been generic in nature, but we would like to put these observations in a framework that specifically uses church leadership as our focus, realizing that these comments also apply to school and community
Emotionalism Does Not Meet Our Needs. "If you want to attract a crowd, do or say something that touches them emotionally." I have heard this comment many times in my journeys around the United States, and I do not doubt its truthfulness. Many of the youth rally speakers I have heard in recent years are masters at moving people to tears and triggering emotions by skillfully told stories of great tragedies. I have also watched highly skilled musicians move large numbers of people by getting them involved in not only singing, but clapping and expressing involvement with the singing in body language. These are good things. I enjoy going to a concert of any kind and being entertained and involved to such an extent that I am able to forget for a while all the problems and challenges that face me.
The key phrase in that last sentence is "for a while." When I leave the concert hall, the world is still there. I have been given a respite, but I have not been given any tools to deal with the problems I faced when I walked in. Youth programs that entertain and stir up the emotions of young people are popular because they are escape mechanisms. The problem is that, if entertainment is all that goes on, when they leave the youth program, the problems of faith, family, peer pressures, sex, self-confidence, school, money, career, and failure are all still there. If all that church services provide is an emotional escape, there is little need being met by involvement. For adults, the problem is even worse because life tends to dull and desensitize us emotionally so that escape is more difficult.
Ignoring Basics Does Not Meet Needs. One of the interesting experiences that I had in recent months has been attending a number of workshops. These have been programs in which there were a number of excellent speakers, and seating was provided that could accommodate several hundred and sometimes thousands of people. Many of the programs involved emotionalism or special efforts to help people feel good about themselves. Other speakers were fluent in brotherhood issues about worship styles or congregational structure. The leaders of the workshop felt that these lectures were the ones that people would want to attend. At the same time, there were programs offered in small rooms on problems involving divorce, families, marriages, sex, prayer, and personal problems with the Church or with God. In the classes I attended, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came (in many cases, far more than the scheduled room could accommodate). We have had a huge growth in attendance at our regular "Does God Exist?" lectureship programs. It used to be that we could expect a neutral ground program to have as many people at the first night of a three-day program as the sponsoring congregation had at their worship service on Sunday morning--visitors generally showed up in numbers roughly equal to the members who did not show up. In the past years, attendance at these types of programs has been much higher than that.
It is obvious to me that the subject matter is the issue in all of these cases. Church leadership has always assumed that the people they were dealing with have no problem with the basics--that they have their lives totally in order, believe totally in God, have no doubts which God is the one true God, and have no doubts about the inspiration of the Bible. I believe that many people have struggled mightily with these issues from the days of Jesus on. "Lord, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24)" is not a new cry.
This is not the only area of basics that has been ignored. We cite this because we have data and experience in this field. While leadership has focused on how we should worship, many of us are asking why should we worship? While Bible scholars are worrying about the role of women in the Church, the role of woman in the home has been neglected. The list of basics is huge--especially in moral issues. We want to emphasize that we are not suggesting that the issues that leadership has focused on are not important. What we are saying is that, when you have a class on women and prayer and half the class does not know how to pray or why they should pray, there is a basic issue being ignored that needs to be addressed. It is also important to understand that these comments are also applicable to the school and community. One of the great frustrations I frequently had in teaching science was the fact that many of my students had never learned to do basic math. Many times when trying to get a student to divide 3 by 4, I was told it could not be done because the number was less than one.
Avoiding Contemporary Issues Does Not Meet Needs. Does a cloned human being have a soul? Is artificial insemination right? Is it O.K. to have organ transplants? Is a sex change operation acceptable to God? Is euthanasia ever right? Can a Christian use a recreational drug if it is legal? Is masturbation acceptable? What about oral sex? Will suicide condemn me to hell? Is capital punishment right? Do animals have souls? What rights do animals have? How old is the earth? Is interracial marriage acceptable? How about religiously mixed marriages? Can a Christian accept any form of evolution? Is it acceptable to gamble? Is recreational drinking acceptable?
As you read through this very abbreviated list, what were your reactions? Anger? Disgust? Curiosity? Bewilderment? Let me suggest you do something. Go through the list and circle the ones you have heard taught or discussed in Church. Then go through and circle in a different color all of those you are 100% sure you know how to answer and could defend to others. How many of them did you circle twice. When I have done this at retreats and camp sessions, I have found that most people will have only a few that they have heard taught and are confident that they know how to answer. Realize also that we only selected a few of the areas that are issue areas in our day. We had few family issues, school issues, political issues, or legal issues in this abbreviated list.
If a person does not double circle an area a number of times,
I would suggest to you that there is a need not being met.
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, JulAug01.