Context Staffing



The Future of Christian Leadership: Part 3


By: Justin Anderson

Be Watchful Pt. 2

Welcome to the third installment of our series entitled The Future of Christian Leadership. It’s an audacious title, to be sure, but I think it’s a critically important topic for us to be thinking about. I believe - as I’ve said here and elsewhere - that the future of Christian leadership is going to be meaningfully different in the future than it has been in the past. 

Meaningfully different doesn’t mean fundamentally different. Much will be the same. Leadership will still require character, faith, strategy, shepherding, and many other things that have marked Christian leadership for 2000 years.

I am not aiming to reimagine leadership wholesale, I don’t think that’s necessary. Nor do I want to only talk about what the differences will be. What I want to focus on in this series is what aspects of Christian leadership will be especially important for us to focus on in order to be successful for the next 20 years or so.

For this series, I am leaning on 1 Corinthians 16:13–14, which says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” I think this short passage captures several important themes that are in tension with one another. Those themes are the five verbs in the passage, four of which form two pairs of ideas that work in tension with one another. 

The first is “Be Watchful and Stand Firm in the Faith”, which we looked at in last week’s blog. It’s critical for us to be aware of what is happening in the culture around us, and to be students of the ideas and philosophies that are gaining traction in the West. But we have to do it without moving off the gospel. The faith that has been passed down through generations of believers is as relevant and life-changing today as it has ever been and we cannot lean out so far into the culture that we lose our anchor in the scriptures.

This week I want to spend some time answering the question, very practically, what should we be watching for? These are a few of the categories that we should be thinking about when it comes to the way culture is changing around us.

  1. 1. Watch Trends, not Fads

In our internet-driven world, things change so fast, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Some pastors try to keep up with all of the news, cultural shifts, fashion trends, and online dialogue. It’s a fool’s errand if you ask me. Not only does it move too quickly, but it will also consume your time and most of what you will learn will be outdated and useless within weeks. It has the potential to take over your life and offer very little in return.

This is why it’s important to watch what’s happening over years and months, not weeks and days. Fads come and go and have little impact on the world. Trends develop more slowly and tend to take the best (or at least most impactful) parts of a fad and integrate them into existing ideas and structures. These trends emerge slowly and incrementally, so we have to keep our eyes on what’s happening without chasing every whim and tweet.

Here is an example. Sexuality and gender are an arena where these fads are most prolific and volatile. Terms like non-binary, TERF, pansexual, and gender fluidity are used and discarded and replaced by new words. It’s not useful or necessary to try to remember all of these words and what they mean, because the definitions can be as fluid as the sexuality of those that use them. The trend is that culture has been moving away from strict gender language and is embracing a worldview that discards these categories as essential parts of the human experience. 

These ideas are still in flux because the people that use them don’t have anything like a consistent anthropology. So we hear people talk about breaking gender binaries while also advocating for trans people and their right to change genders. This doesn’t fundamentally make any sense and I think that’s a big reason why these words continue to be swapped out and adjusted. It’s possible that a new, coherent anthropology will never emerge and these ideas will die, but that seems unlikely. What seems most likely is that the ideas will live on in practicality in spite of their incoherence.

It’s our job to pay attention to this process and watch it closely. This is important for at least two reasons. First, we need to know what our people are hearing and learning. Whether it’s through explicit workplace diversity training or simply through osmosis, our people are learning these things. Many of them don’t have the philosophical or theological training to understand why the ideas are wrong and even illogical, let alone the ability to refute them. So we need to see, hear and understand the things our people are being exposed to so we can equip them to live faithfully.

Second, what we learn should inform our preaching and discipleship. The future of pastoral leadership will depend in large part on our ability to speak clearly, biblically, prophetically, and winsomely about the ideas our culture has and will adopt. We need to be able to articulate a biblical perspective in ways that unmask the foolishness of the world and its incoherence. We need to also be able to paint a positive, proactive vision of Christian ethics and practice so that we are not only deconstructing bad ideas but reconstructing good ones.

Paul tells us to be watchful and his verb choice emphasizes ongoing action. This isn’t a one-time thing. It’s not one book or one idea, it requires constant vigilance and posture of learning. I will caution all of us to not get caught up in the daily turns and fads. Take a step back, watch the trends, track the trajectory of these ideas, and see where they are going so you will know where they land. We do all of this with the goal of better discipling our people and leading our churches. That is our calling, and we can never lose sight of it.