Leveraging our Leadership in a post-Christian Context

This last week I had the honor and pleasure of speaking to our denomination's pastors about how to leverage our leadership in a post-Christian context.  It was just one of several talks given by colleagues.  I love being part of a denomination that works hard to train up leaders as well as values collaborative learning.  Here is the manuscript: 


Good afternoon everybody.  My name is Ben Kerns and I am one of the Lead Pastors at Marin Covenant Church in Northern California.  I have been loving our time together this week and love how intentional our denominational leaders are to push and prod us to be better leaders.

When I think of where and how I am going to put into practice all that I am learning, my first thought is our local church.  It is the place God has called me and it is the people I love.  

I want to leverage my leadership to help our church, our Sunday morning experience, and the programs that surround it be incredible.  For those people who have been in and around the church for a while, I want to make sure the environment is warm and engaging, I want to help grow their hearts towards Jesus and find compelling ways to send them on mission.  

But I don’t just want our church to be incredible, I want to take it to the next level!!

I want to leverage my leadership to make sure that our church, our Sunday morning experiences and the programs that surround it, ALSO make space for those outside the church, for our wayward brothers and sisters when they finally get around to repenting and come back to God.  

So we work hard to use create environments that welcome them, that will engage them and use language and programs that will let them know they are fully welcomed back into the family of God!

It makes sense that many of us in the church would put people into these two camps.

There are the churchy people, and the prodigals.  These two camps come from one of our favorite passages of scriptures.  It is a story that has most likely touched our hearts in some way.  It the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.

There is a wealthy landowner and he has two sons.  One son works hard his whole life, but his heart grows cold towards the father’s love.  The second is a rebellious punk.  He takes his inheritance and skips town.  He heads off to a distant land and lives it up.  But then, he comes to his senses!!  Repents, and turns towards home.  

And while he is a long way off, the father runs to him!!  We love it!  We do church for people with these two stories in mind.  

But what if that son never returned?

What if that son fell in love with a pig farmer’s daughter and started a family.  And then what if those kids found love in the distant land and before you know it, we have long lost cousins who are lost and who are living in a distant land.  

They have absolutely no idea about the Father’s house, his unending love and grace, his dreams for the world and his desire to invite his daughters and sons to partner with him in the family business of expanding the Kingdom of God!

This distant land is totally different to the morality, values, culture, language, and purposes of the Father’s house.  And it is this distant land that many are starting to describe as a post-Christian culture.  

But this distant land, is our land.  Our communities, our neighborhoods.  

While we have been so busy doing the work of church for those inside the church and growing in our grace for those crazy prodigals who are slowly coming back, we didn’t realize that the entire cultural framework has shifted.

But this shift should not cause us fear or trepidation.  This is an incredible opportunity.  Because, while this may be new to you and me, this is not new in the history of the world.  

In fact, what is so incredible is that the good news of the Gospel of Jesus, the story and implications of his death and resurrection have proven relevant and transformative in every context, in every continent, in every language, in every time and place.  And it is just as true for our time and place.    

The gospel that resonates for our distant cousins is the gospel of adoption.

Even Bill Hybles the other night used that language.  It is beautiful and full.  

From God’s perspective this is a beautiful story.

From those being adopted it is a beautiful story.  

But for those already in the family we are struggling.  Because we want to adopt cute little babies who will learn our ways and live within our world and structures.  

But instead of little babies, God is in the business of doing foster adoption.

My roommate this week is my friend Brett.  He is a youth pastor in San Jose, and he has foster adopted three Somali refugees.  And we all think, YES!  PRAISE GOD!!  And because he was faithful to God’s calling, he too is thinking YES!  PRAISE GOD!!  But the second those kids entered his home, it has been a brutal challenge.  

Imagine the complexity, the dysfunction, the conflict, the misunderstanding that happens as their family absorbs these new additions.  

Most of our churches are not prepared for the foster adoption revival that God longs to do in our communities.  God has and will continue to seek and save the lost, and it is on us, the church to be prepared to care for and walk with each other as we all move towards Christ.  

And this is where our leadership development is so vital:

Instead of simply leveraging our leadership to make church inspiring for the older brother, or gracious to the prodigal, we have the incredible high calling and difficult task to create space to welcome and walk with those older, foster adopted kids with all of their unique challenges, worldview, and values.  

Here are four ways that might be helpful for us as we lead our people and prepare for this movement of God:

  1. We must work hard to understand and then help our churches understand this growing cultural divide, and that we are on the shrinking side of it.

  2. We must not fear, and do all the awful things that people do when we fear!  We are people of HOPE!

  3. We must leverage our leadership capital to create, not just beautiful and inspiring environments and programs, but cultural environments where all are welcome, given dignity, and that is emotionally safe.

  4. We must leverage our priestly and prophetic calling to clearly and consistently invite our church, our friends, our communities into the fullness of the family of God, along with all of its rights and privileges.

I am so thankful for this ministerium, for the continued call, encouragement, and correction to grow in our leadership.  May we leverage our leadership and political capital to make space for those coming into the family of God, especially those coming from the "distant land."