How can churches be led without leaders? "Spirit-led" or not, churches "thrive or dive" by their leaders. Especially in this historical moment, it’s the one thing that matters most.

Yet, today’s leaders can’t salvage tomorrow’s church. For their flaws are built into their very roles! In other words, the leadership system is already based on a fallacy. And—even if that were not true—present leadership roles are totally incompatible with the coming world.

Tomorrow’s leaders, for example, already represent a complete departure from Christendom thinking. In fact, future leadership roles make no sense to present thinkers. These roles break the norms of normality. They demand a different set of benchmarks. They are, after all, "incredible," "unthinkable," "paradoxical."

That’s no surprise. We never could second-guess the Holy Spirit. Yet, the urgency of that fact now threatens the very existence of the church.

Many leaders sense this crisis and feel compelled to follow the "Holy Grail" of today’s "relevant" leadership roles. So they excitedly seek out the big-fee motivational speakers who preach the cutting-edge "Word" of corporate America and the commercial "Gospel" of mega-ministries.

But these "new ways" are still the same old ways. For these "postmodern" leaders are really only "hyper-modern." They’re simply draining the last drop of blood out of already dead cadavers.

Does God still love leaders who love him? Of course. But the Lord of History waits on no one. So don’t be "left behind." Don’t miss your moment. The Lord of History is calling leaders beyond themselves.

They are being reintroduced to God.

"Ill-directed and badly formed spiritual leadership causes much damage in souls."1

A Conspiracy of Love

Yet, we suffer an even greater challenge than the flaws of our modern leadership models and their bad fit with the postmodern world. For society is rebelling against all authority—whether that rebellion is deserved or not!

The world is rejecting, for example, "authoritarian" leadership. The institutionally alienated refuse the arrogance of authority and its flagrant violation of power. And the anti-establishment rebels take special offense at the same traits among "churchy" leaders or ordained "experts."

In fact, "our whole value system is now in the process of changing from hierarchical, competitive, aggression-based criteria."2 But watch out. In this change, we risk "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Throwing out "authoritarianism," for example, also risks throwing out "authority."

Yet, this generation claims, "We don’t need any authority." And, true enough. It’s the first generation in history that doesn’t need authority figures to feed them information. We live in the "Information Age," after all. The Net, for example, is a compulsive leveler of would-be authority figures. That means all the command-and-control guys can be bypassed—even ignored.

As a result, people are making up their own minds on their own terms at their own pace. Increasingly, we find Christians with no pastor, no building, no program, and no "official" dogma. They form a "conspiracy" of love and grace, subverting outmoded leadership at the deepest levels.

Of course, these conspirators are also leaving the church. They’re not simply "falling away." They’re "falling into" a deeper commitment. They are like pilgrims exploring the wider spiritual terrain of a decentralized, "open" Christianity. Statistics, for example, reveal a rapid increase of clergyless fellowships, leaderless house churches, family-based worship, and spiritual autonomies in the arts.3

Perhaps we shouldn’t blame our modern clergy. After all, they can’t avoid this exodus. Their roles are the way they’re "wired."

They deserve our profound sympathy.

"Christendom is dead, and with it the institutionalized distinctions of leadership."4

Pastors of the Past

Let’s look at some of the leadership roles the Lord of History is leaving behind.

"Milquetoast Pastors" Beginning with the most vulnerable, we list the weak, passive leader who has been "called" to a congregation rather than to a mission. He is led entirely by his board and other "controllers." As a result, he allows everyone else to set the agenda and avoids conflict at all costs. Desperately "co-dependent," this pastor simply serves and supervises his modest assignments.

In truth, many of these dear souls are burned out or disillusioned church reformers. Many are God’s wounded warriors.

"Churchy Clergy" Career-driven clergy reach the pinnacle of their achievement when they are ordained by the ordained--certified by the certified. These "professional" or "officially" anointed Christians draw their personal esteem from the privileges and entitlements of their "certification."

Most speak "religionese" and wear collars so people will know they are "religious." They hold administrative offices with explicit job descriptions. They love top-down religiosity, spiritual bureaucracies, and legalistic agendas. They revel in all the things about religion that have nothing to do with religion.

Their mission is on a piece of paper which they print in bulletins and hang on walls.

"Hospital Chaplains" With these leaders, the church becomes a hospital where people are healed—a sanctuary where people are protected—and a rest home where people are comforted. In other words, the focus is on the well-being, the happiness, and the health of the flock.

Thank goodness. We need it!

But in this church, the shepherd never leads his sheep beyond their protected enclosure. He never asks his flock to "grow up," to "go out," or to "propagate."

Pastoral care is this pastor’s ministry—his only ministry. And his message is always the same, "Take two aspirin and go to bed."

"Information Brokers" Some preachers are teachers. And many of these teachers imitate the great theological minds of the modern period. Like their mentors, in other words, they impart "knowledge"—they deliver "information"—they mediate the "facts" of faith.

Of course, academic credentials and proper theologies become their primary imperatives. "Since God lives in the logic of the mind," they say, "we unite with Him through intellectual agreement." In other words, the "idea" of God comes first, then—maybe—the "revelation" of God.

Unfortunately, their "ideas" were born in the modern period, which was already anti-mystery, anti-spirit, and anti-emotion. These great thinkers teach us how to think, but they seldom teach us how to live. They give us "just the facts, Mam"—then we’re on our own.

They don’t realize that academic humanism is functionally dead, that their enlightened Utopia was always an illusion. Still, "Surely, God must have read a book before He created the Universe!"

"Ministry Police" These guardians "do" the ministry. The laity may serve on committees or do minor stuff, but the "professionals" are the ministry.

It’s a caste system, a clear divide between those who are "official" and those who are "just lay persons." The "official" ones, of course, are the only ones who know what God wants and who know how to do it. Their greatest fear manifests when someone else hears from God and knows, as well, how to do it.

It’s then, they hastily secure their territory. It’s then, they face conflicts of interest in empowering their believers. It’s then, they silently say, "Keep in your place and don’t get in the way."

"Control Freaks" Controllers belong to the same family as "Ministry Police." They micro-manage the whole church. They brood over "crowd control." They insist on approving everything.

Obviously, they keep a short leash on the laity. They may invite them to help with the "official" ministry, but the laity must do it exactly the way they’re told—no mistakes and no variables. After all, this leader is a command-and-control expert and must be totally obeyed.

These dictatorial leaders are so obsessed with "quality control" that mistakes are rarely forgiven. That means "trial and error" is never permitted and—as a result—individual growth is never enabled.

When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others.5

"Feudal Overlords" These kingdom builders ("kingdom" with a small "k") are primarily concerned about the size and resources of their church. This makes sense, for their church is conspicuously about them. In other words, their spiritual journey is mostly an ego trip.

They’re motivated, of course, by the privileges of position and power. And their ministry is geared to personal agendas. Though "The Son of man came not to be waited on but to serve,"6 they are a little better off than the Son of man.

"Ego-centered, ego-prominent leadership betrays the Master."7

"Marketing CEO’s" Many "managers of the sacred" are also marketing experts. They covet the powers of strategic planning and commercial success. Though caught in the conflict between culture and spirit, they know which way to go.

Their game is a numbers game, so whatever the market wants. . . . Then, the Spirit becomes a commercial product. Lots of "eye-candy" and "ear-candy" offer instant gratification. And the mystical and miraculous seem even better than a trip to the amusement park.

In these addictive versions of the consumer church, pastors harvest where nothing is planted. They barter a spiritual birthright for something "far more successful."


Yet, spiritual seekers still need spiritual leaders. Somebody must discern the destiny, cast the vision, and empower the people in this "anything goes" society. In short, somebody must know how to start a fire, and tend a fire.

Unknown to most, the Lord of History is giving us these new leaders. But this moment presents both a gift and a problem. For these new leaders are not what we think. In fact, there is no way—out of our old notions—that we can even begin to understand who they are.

Nevertheless, an emerging spiritual power is changing the course of history. And within it, the leader of the future will become the very "image of His Son."8

[Read "Are You Ready for Science Fiction Clergy?" for the continuation of this article.]

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt


1. Eugene Peterson, The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado SpringsNavPress, 2003) p. 2162.

2. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture (Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 62.

3. George Barna, quoted in the Friday Fax Newsletter 2005/35 (The comments were taken from Barna’s new book, Revolution.)

4. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1999) p.50.

5. Peterson, p. 2109.

6. Matthew 20:20-28, AMP.

7. Peterson, p. 2162.

8. Romans 8:29.

Future Church Administrator