by Dr. Keith Farmer
An important part of transformational Christian leadership is the willingness and capacity of the leader to sense where God is and what He is in the process of doing, in order to join with Him and lead others to join with Him.
Clear communication of the vision from the leader/s, and motivation of others to the mission, is also a vital part of Christian leadership.
For the last 5 years I have had the privilege of mentoring about 90 Christian leaders in all States of Australia, and in ministries and churches across the theological spectrum. I have listened to and talked at some length and depth with each of these leaders at least 4 times per year.
Within the last 12 months I have begun to feel that I am gaining a sense of what God is doing and where He is seeking to take His people and His churches in the future.
I offer the following, tentatively and humbly, to discern if others are sensing similarly.
The general situation in churches and Christian ministries in Australia today is quite discouraging to many leaders. Most churches, even those which had been growing well until recently, have plateaued or are in a mild decline with respect to attendance, giving etc. Even strongly committed Christian people are attending church less regularly. I believe there are many discernable reasons for this situation but I will not address those issues in this article.
I sense that the present situation is a temporary testing period which allows us to be open to at least four key ways in which God is transitioning Christian churches to different and deeper paradigms.
The Denominations are still struggling to let their leaders lead. They have not adequately recognised the distinction between leadership and governance roles. Pentecostal networks often place enormous pressures on their leaders by allowing them to be too autonomous.
God is bringing in a leadership paradigm which involves good leadership/governance interaction, empowering leadership, and the leader of leaders working well within a team which expresses the range of leadership gifting (vision, team building, communication, strategising and managing).
Young and newer Christians tend to have a more ‘radical’ approach to their Christian faith than has been traditionally expressed in Australia. The value system of more ‘established’ Christians has not demonstrated any major difference compared with that of the population at large. The ‘integration’ of Christian and societal values (sometimes quite non-Christian, such as consumerism, individualism, hedonism) is not happening as much for younger and newer Christians.
The most attractive and strongly growing churches over the last 10-15 years have tended to be those with a ‘charismatic’ flavour which emphasise their worship events. While worship is continuing to be vital, there is a growing recognition that our gathering together is significant in order for us to be inspired, encouraged and equipped for mission. The attractional model of church services is mostly not working any more. Some have used the analogy of ‘the dressing room’ to apply to our gathering together, with the aim that training prepares us for the game, which happens out on the field.
The attractional model (e.g. Seeker Services) has often proven quite inadequate in the Australian context. Effective mission is more and more motivated by deep compassion for those who are lost (in many senses including an Eternal consequence). Incarnation is becoming more integral with expressions of love and grace being recognised as necessary and inherent to Christian witness. Mission experiences of Australians in an overseas context are having a positive influence on both discipleship and mission in Australia.
I believe God is taking us deeper in order that He may establish more effectively his DNA in each of these areas so that in the foreseeable future Christianity will again flourish in Australia with the eagerly sought possibility of us experiencing revival. My hope and prayer is that Christian leaders will not be discouraged by the present situation, and will eagerly and earnestly pursue and participate in what I believe God is already doing.