From Hillsong to Mars Hill: Is there a leadership crisis in the global church?


Barely a day seems to go by now where I don’t look at the news and see yet another article about another controversy regarding prominent leaders in the global Christian church. 10 years ago it was Mars Hill, then it was Ravi Zacharias, and now it’s Hillsong or Dante Bowe and Maverick City Music. The list goes on and on.

What’s worrying is that these examples are only those we know about. It has now got to the point where I imagine it would not come as a surprise to any of us if we heard about another church network with leadership issues, perhaps even our own. This begs the question, when will this end? And what is the cause?

It’s important to note that not all leadership crises are scandalous, thank heavens. But this doesn’t mean that they aren’t as impactful in the long-term. Lack of accountability, the development of personality cults and a failure to follow even the most basic of biblical principles can, and have, led to the disintegration of many congregations and communities, furthering the erosion of public trust in the church. “If they’re no more holy than we are, why should we bother going to church?”

Secularism and political ideology in the West, combined with a rise in the Christian population in majority world nations who lack access to biblical resources, has diluted the theological understanding of biblical leaders worldwide.

According to research used by Langham Partnership (Langham) – a Christian organisation which biblically equips and resources leaders and pastors worldwide – it is estimated that more than 80% of pastors globally, over two million individuals, have little to no biblical training.

I don’t claim to be a statistician, but 80% seems like rather a lot to me.

The issue is not a recent phenomenon either. In the 1990’s, Langham’s founder John Stott quoted J.I Packer in saying the global church was “1000 miles wide and half and inch deep”. John predicted that the lack of depth amongst the mushrooming numbers of church attendees amid chronic underinvestment in leadership could generate the pitfalls of heresy and personality cults.

Whilst surface level characteristics such as charisma, rhetoric, pastoral sensitivity and administrative giftings do play an important role in leading and teaching, they do not speak to the depth of one’s character. Shallow ‘width’ is appealing and easy to spot, but depth? Not so much. We have Google Maps, Google Satellite and Google Street View, but we have yet to invent Google Depths.

When I was growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s there wasn’t any competition for our time on a Sunday morning. No TV, no mobile phones, no football. It was church or nothing. Now, the saturation of information and technology has created an entertainment market which competes for our free time. People are now less likely to commit to anything long-term like church as they risk sacrificing ‘shinier’ options. Our church leaders need in-depth answers, and that is now a global issue.

With that in mind, it would be wrong to blame the decline of the UK church entirely on poor church leadership. Ineffective use of church resources and lack of interest from congregations have also played a part. But the insufficient training of leaders has undoubtedly been a significant contributing factor.

Leaders need books, books need authors, and authors need support to bring their work to life. Building and supporting this global supply chain, along with encouraging pastors to use it, is key to training them and ensuring that they have the knowledge to avoid making the same mistakes as many of their predecessors, instead of being added to the list.

To this end, in the past 12 months, Langham equipped almost 10,000 pastors and lay leaders to teach God’s Word, distributed over 235,000 books and supported 85 PhD students from over 40 countries in theological doctoral programs to deepen church leadership in the Majority World and ensure that the mistakes which happen in the West are not repeated globally.

Is there a leadership crisis in the global church? Yes, but it is one that we can fix.

Simon Foulds is the Supporter Development Manager of Langham Partnership UK and Ireland

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