Leadership vacuums and mega-conferences

One of the blogs I read on a consistent basis is written by a Christian called Doug Wilson. I don’t agree with everything he says, but his rhetoric is pretty sharp and witty and many of his posts do prompt you to think and, occasionally, laugh at the idiocies and fallacies we humans are capable of. Anyways, here’s something that caught my attention today. In his post, he talks about the kinds of troubles that arise in churches and families. One of the two troubles he points out is as follows:

The second kind of trouble is caused because of weakness (or perceived weakness) on the part of the leadership. Challenges, objections, querulous inquiries, and accusations are all made, and they are made simply because those making them think they can get away with it. No other reason is necessary. Nature abhors a vacuum, and always seeks to fill it. Human nature abhors a leadership vacuum (or perceived leadership vacuum) and will seek to fill it.

He then cleverly illustrates this trouble with a marriage example:

A husband and wife go to a family conference in which Husbandly Perfection is extolled and taught with a high-gloss finish put on it, and the husband in question is an ordinary schmoe with a job, three kids and very discontented wife, and so the drive home from this conference is a cold one, with her glaring at him most of the way. When the thing blows up later, it is not because he is a terrible husband. It is because she knows he will put up with it. She talks to him this way because she can. When this is happening, the particular result sought is not really the issue, but rather a demonstration of who really gets to set the agenda around here.

And a church example:

In a church, let us say that the complaints are about _________________ (fill in the blank with “the liturgy,” “the music,” “the preaching,” or “other”). And remember that we are not in category one discussed earlier, where the liturgy is Godforsaken, the music an offense to the heavenly angels and the preaching the kind that could not find its way out of a paper bag. Suppose the liturgy is okay, the music okay, and the preaching okay. It turns out that the average church is not capable of being above average. But the average church is capable of being okay.

When the criticisms are leveled, the point is not whether there is room for an average church to grow, mature, and improve. Of course there is always room for that, and a good place to start is by not subsidizing criticisms that place the average church on an impossible treadmill. The pastor doesn’t preach like John Piper. So? The congregational singing does not sound like a bunch of Welshmen having a revival in a hall with fine acoustics. Not a problem. The average church can’t compete (and it is not a competition anyway).

And that is the truth, isn’t it? The average church can’t compete with the best ones around, but it’s not a competition! I find one of his conclusions rather striking, and reckon it’s pretty sound wisdom:

The widespread availability of media-savvy Christianity, conference Christianity, talent-cluster Christianity, and so on, is that it has precisely the same effect on the attendees that going to the Husbandly Perfection conference had on that poor, murmuring wife earlier. When people visit a place that is rich in resources, teaching talent, and so on, like your average mega-conference, there are two possible results. One is that it makes the attendee more equipped to be a loyal and faithful parishioner to a faithful but average pastor back home. If that is the case, then have at it. Go to the conferences. But if all it does is set up invidious comparisons, then that person needs to quit going to conferences.

You can read the whole article here. For the record, I don’t know who Girard is myself. But I wouldn’t consider that a major stumbling block in understanding the gist of his post.


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