I’ve been thinking about this topic for quite some time now. There is a phenomenon happening in the Church right now that is probably not new, but it’s the first time I’m seeing it as widespread as it is. Larger churches are hiring young guys for key positions and getting rid of the old guys. Often, the only qualification the young guy has is that he or she happened to be part of another church that was going through a huge growth spurt.
What tends to happen next is quite heartbreaking. The young guy comes in, starts throwing their newly acquired weight around and either fires or causes all the older, experienced guys to leave. In the process, volunteers become disillusioned and leave as well. What was once a thriving ministry is left in tatters.
Now, one could make the case that it is necessary to cut off the old, dead branches every so often so that new growth can occur. And I agree with that. There are times when people need to be moved on to new areas of ministry. There are times for change. Heck, I’m a change agent. I love change. But the way this happens is often quite harmful.
Then the other day, lo and behold, as I was driving home, I happened to be listening to Leo Laporte’s Triangulation podcast. It’s one of my favorites because he always interviews such interesting people. On this show, he had the chief engineer for the Mars Rover Curiosity program. This is a pretty smart guy, as you might expect. He’s been a part of NASA for over 40 years and has an incredible resume. He said something near the beginning of the show that perfectly summarized what I’ve been thinking about.
“Success is a terrible way to learn something because you get arrogant. Just because it worked, doesn’t mean you’re always right. Being good means being humble and willing to accept new ideas.” —Rob Manning, Chief Engineer for Mars Rover Curiosity.
Go back and read that again because it’s really quite profound. So often, we find ourselves in a situation where everything just worked. And it’s easy to get the idea that it is our brilliant ideas that are making things click so well. When a new church starts growing like crazy, it’s leaders start getting invited to speak at all the conferences, as if they suddenly discovered previously unknown truths in church growth. The reality is, at least part of their success was due to being at the right place at the right time.
The even greater danger is when younger members of the staff of those churches—kids and student ministry guys, tech directors, worship leaders—decide that they must be a rock star because their ministry grew so much under their leadership. I resisted the urge to put quotes around a bunch of words in that sentence. Those rock stars then get the idea that they can duplicate that performance anywhere. And when they’re hired on to a new staff, they immediately set about trying to turn the new church into the old church. It seldom goes well. Within a few years, they move onto another church, frustrated that no one at church #2 saw the brilliance of their leadership, and mad because their track record is damaged.
I’ve seen this happen at dozens of churches all over the country; and it’s probably happening more. So here’s my advice to you if you’re coming into a new church—don’t be that guy.
Now that I’ve set up the scenario, next time, I’ll lay out some specific pieces of advice that might just save you and your new ministry.