LEADERSHIP NEXT: Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture

By Eddie Gibbs


This book is an excellent sequel to the author’s earlier book, Church Next.  The author examines the type of leadership that will be required for the post-modern, post-Christendom era we are now entering.  He cites four trends that suggest that a different type of leadership will be needed to reach the emerging generation:


1.       The numerical decline of the major denominations

2.       The fact that the church is losing the under-35 age group at an alarming rate.

3.       An increasing number of churches that are struggling to keep their doors open.

4.       Fewer and fewer leaders are being trained by seminaries.


Many observers believe that we are on the ”fault line” of a major shift from modernity to post-modernity, as well as the demise of “Christendom”, which began with Constantine in the Fourth Century.  “Christendom” refers to a society in which the church has a privileged, or even dominant, role.  The church’s role is becoming much more modest and marginalized in the eyes of the post-Christendom Western society.  Gibbs writes:


Secularization has marginalized the church and eroded its traditional influence over Western society.


Gibbs notes that many conservative theologians and church leaders react negatively to post-modernity, often with visceral and condemning responses.  They dismiss it out of hand rather than asking where God is at work in the movement.  Even though many of them fought modernity’s conclusions, they have embraced its presuppositions.  As a result, much of our ministry training is based on the assumptions of modernity. 


He suggests that church leaders need to engage with the prevailing mindset, whether modern or postmodern, rather than addressing it from a safe distance.  Postmoderns want to experience authenticity and to hear from authentic witnesses, who freely admit that they do not have the “whole story”, but who bear testimony to what they have grasped and been obedient to in their own lives.


One of the most significant effects of post-modernity is the death of hierarchies and the rise of networks.  Trust and mutual commitment are essential for networks to work effectively.  Without them there can be a loss of cohesion and momentum.  Gibbs writes:


Existing leaders have discovered that they can no longer operate by command and control, but instead have to learn to communicate, debate and negotiate.  Regimentation has become less effective as people expect to be treated with dignity and respect in recognition of their individual uniqueness and intrinsic worth.


One of the major consequences of the demise of Christendom and modernity is that the church needs to be far more missional, with missional leadership.  When the church played a more dominant role in society, pastors were viewed as “chaplains” in the society.  As a result, ministerial training has come to focus on caring for the flock of God and on maintaining the “shop”.  Today, we need a far more missional theology, which “focuses on dialogue with unbelievers and those of other religions.”  Gibbs writes:

“The heart of the Gospel comprises news to be proclaimed and received rather than abstract propositions to be affirmed…Whenever it is prone to judgmental detachment and self-preoccupation, whenever it forgets or abandons its mission, the church stands under the judgment of God…We in the majority of churches in the West face a communication crisis.  We are failing to make known the good news with credibility and conviction.”


Many of the leaders of the emerging church are much more committed to being missional and relational in their leadership.  For one thing, they want to reach their own generation.  For another, they believe that small can be beautiful, because it is not possible to be relational when a body grows beyond a certain size.  One of their mantras is “Low profile, low budget, low maintenance”.  Gibbs believes that some of the most significant growth is among the movements of smaller communities.  He writes:


Whereas the ‘elephants’ (i.e. the mega churches) get most of the attention, the most significant growth comes from the multiplication of the ‘fleas’.”


Gibbs suggests six steps for leading a more missional church:


1.       Beyond ideology-driven evangelism: Leading a values-based community of disciples.

2.       Beyond dispensing information: Seeking spiritual transformation rooted in Scripture

3.       Beyond the controlling hierarchy: Leading empowered networks of Christ-followers.

4.       Beyond the weekly gathering: Building teams engaged in ongoing mission

5.       Beyond a gospel of personal self-realization: A service-oriented faith community whose greatest concern is not how to get people to come to church, but to get the church to the world

6.       Beyond the inwardly-focused church: Leading a society-transforming community of disciples


Another theme that runs through the book is the need for leadership that will make active disciples rather than passive consumers, because “passive consumers usually turn into disgruntled critics.”  The consumer-focused approach to ministry successfully attracted crowds, but it has failed for the most part to transform lives or construct significant personal relationships that provide encouragement, accountability and avenues for Christian ministry.  A new generation of leaders is rising up that is acutely aware of the inadequacies of a consumer-driven church and who are committed to help the church regain its missional mandate.


Leaders are needed that are passionate about the Great Commission.  Gibbs notes that the most direct statement of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) was not written in isolation, but for Jewish believers who had been ostracized by their fellow Jews.  It was a challenge to not “circle the wagons”, but to reach out with the Gospel and to seek to make disciples and not just obtain decisions.  Gibbs writes:


The contemporary church has to face its failure to turn decisions for Christ into disciples of Christ.  We have to recognize that the term disciple is not restricted to super-Christians but is the way to describe ordinary believers.”


The author suggests five characteristics of Christian discipleship:  (1) a personal response to Jesus’ call to follow Him, (2) lifelong learning, (3) learning in community, (4) a life of service and self-giving, and (5) teaching as Jesus taught.


Since leadership is about connecting, not controlling, and because discipling doesn’t occur in isolation but in communities where there is encouragement and mutual accountability, Gibbs devotes a chapter to team-building.  Many emerging leaders “believe individualism isolates the vulnerable and creates competitive and destructive environments in which the powerful gain at the expense of those who have little influence and who are regarded as expendable commodities.”  He notes that “collaboration is not an end in itself, it is a means to fulfill a vision and achieve a mission, a means in which everyone contributes and each person is valued for the input they provide.”


This book is not only very thought-provoking, but also very practical.  For example, the author devotes a chapter each to the traits, the activities, the attitudes and the cost of leadership in the postmodern, post-Christendom era in which we live.  A summary of these four chapters is included as Appendix A.


Gibbs devotes the final chapter of this excellent book to the emergence and development of new leadership for the emerging church.  He believes that we need to train leaders as missionaries who are able to operate in a cross-cultural setting, frequently from the margins of society.  He recommends that the primary focus of a theological seminary should be to make disciples and that the classic disciplines should be taught from a missional rather than a Constantinian perspective.  Leadership training has to move beyond the pastoral care of the flock to an equal or greater emphasis on ministry to the world.  He proposes an “action-reflection” model of leadership development that ensures that students live with the consequences of their decisions.  He notes that mentoring is still somewhat of a novel concept in the church, which is surprising when one considers the New Testament emphasis on mentoring relationships, such as Jesus and the twelve or Paul and Timothy.


Unfortunately, academic ability tends to trump authenticity and clarity of calling in the current theological training paradigm. Although he teaches in a theological seminary himself, Gibbs believes that the traditional method of “extracting” students from their network of relationships for four years of intense seminary training often makes people less effective when they go back to their respective situations.  The present leadership training system is so elitist, slow and expensive that it constitutes a bottleneck rather than a fountain source of leaders.


He concludes that the most significant test of leadership is not present performance but the legacy that leaders leave behind them.  A legacy results from the facts of our behavior that remain in the minds of others, the cumulative informal record of how close we came to being the person we intended to be.


This is a very thorough treatment of a vitally important subject.  Whereas many leaders bemoan the demise of Christendom and our privileged place in society, Gibbs embraces this challenge, because the early church had no privileged place in society either.  In fact, one can argue that the “golden age” of church history was the first three centuries, when the church was a tiny, persecuted, marginalized minority.  Because she was missional, however, she grew to be close to 10% of the Roman Empire by 313 AD, when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which gave the church legal status and legitimacy.  As we enter the post-Constantinian era, we can learn much from the church in the pre-Constantinian era.


                                                                                                John Ed Robertson

                                                                                                June 9, 2006

Gibbs, Eddie; Leadership Next: Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture; Inter-Varsity Press; Downers Grove, IL; ISBN0-8308-3283-1







Leadership Traits


1.       Character shaped by God.  Neither charisma nor competence is any substitute for character: One could summarize much of what he has to say on this subject with the formula used by Paul in I Corinthians 13:13 “Now abideth charisma, competence and character, but the greatest of these is character!”  He writes:


Indeed, leaders who have charisma but lack character are a danger to others and often bring disaster on themselves….Those who are called to guide and guard the people of God also need to be competent, but competence is undermined by character failure…As church leaders model godly character with humility, believers come to a better knowledge of how they are supposed to treat one another and how Christ-like character is related to authenticity.”


2.       Called by God, not to the point of being obsessed with one’s sense of calling so that we marginalize those around us or use them to serve our ends.


3.       Contextually Appropriate Ministry Methods.


4.       Courage Forged by Faith:  “courageous leaders stand up for their beliefs, challenge others, admit mistakes and even change behavior when necessary.”


5.       Competence Arising out of Gifting and Experience, including specific skills and knowledge, the ability to establish and maintain personal relationships, willingness and ability to accept responsibility and a knowledge of one’s own limitations.


6.       Creativity Expressing the Nature of God: “The reality is that a leader does not have to be creative, but he or she does have to be adventurous and secure enough to recognize and accept good new ideas, believing in those who have them.”


7.       Compassion of God Expressed in Love for Others: Creativity must be balanced with care and concern for the personal well-being of present members, valuing their contribution to ministry.


8.       Confidence in Walking the Path of Faith.


Leadership Activities


1.       Seeing the Broad Picture


2.       Identifying the Mission: “In leadership circles, ‘mission’ is that which identifies an organization’s central abiding and non-negotiable task.”


3.       Incubating the Vision: Vision represents a provisional reality and also its consummation in a future hope.”


4.       Linking Vision to Passion: “Vision is spawned by faith, sustained by hope, sparked by imagination and strengthened by enthusiasm.” – Oswald Sanders


5.       Initiating Strategic Action: “Strategic thinking is the ability to think and plan with long-term insight, in the light of current developments and to identify consequent deliverable key areas of action.”


6.       Exercising Imagination


7.       Inspiring the Team: “Leaders who struggle with low morale and are weighed down by defeatism are typically in no position to inspire a team.  They project their low or negative expectations by their attitudes and actions.  However, inspiration is also sometimes triggered by desperation.


8.       Including the Willing.


9.       Interpreting the Confusion: A leader encounters three kinds of conflict:

a)      Supra-Conflict with Satan and the Forces of Darkness

b)      Contra-Conflict with other religious leaders

c)      Intra-Conflict: Tension among an inner group of disciples


10.   Improvising with Limited Resources: “Managers of initiatives that require large amounts of capital before they can begin are likely to continually beg for resources, but entrepreneurial leaders move ahead one stage at a time.


Leadership Attitudes


1.       Passion: “Passionate leaders exercise power through their energy and inspiration, but such power must be handled with great care.


2.       Independence/Resisting the Pressure to Conform:  Many churches have been abandoned by those under 35 because they refused to conform to the church’s subculture…from frustration that the church had become a barrier to reaching out to their own generation.


3.       Creativity: Exploring Innovative Approaches: 


4.       Curiosity: An Insatiable Appetite for Knowledge and Understanding: Many emerging church leaders in today’s postmodern context recognize that everything is related to everything else; consequently one must learn to approach challenges laterally.


5.       Hope Sustained by a Faith in a God-Assured Future:  Unwarranted optimism is not the same thing as irresponsibility or avoidance.  Hope is born of faith, whereas fantasy is generated in the fog of denial and delusion. 


6.       Interdependence: Building Authentic Relationships


7.       Forgiveness: A Positive Response to Failure:  “Early on in their walk with Christ, new believers need to be taught that the church has many blemishes and that we are called to exercise forgiveness while holding one another accountable.”


8.       Humility: Accessibility, Approachability and Empathy: “Power, control and hierarchical dynasties have no place in networking organizations that are decentered and fluid.”


The Cost of Leadership


1.       Willingness to Take Risks: A high percentage of new initiatives flounder, so leaders must be prepared to carry a burden of personal failure.


2.       Showing Patience and Perseverance: In a culture that demands instant gratification and results, the qualities of patience and perseverance are both rare and essential.


3.       Facing Resistance to Change and New Ideas: “It is sobering to reflect that the most conservative institutions in the church today began as radical movements at their inception.”


4.       Surviving Criticism: “When popularity becomes the touchstone of leadership, the leader has no way of surviving criticism.”  Leaders should address legitimate criticism in a positive way, recognizing both its genuineness and concern.


5.       Enduring Loneliness


6.       Dealing with Competing Priorities: When the people a leader is trying to lead are busy, they are not necessarily less committed but are trying to balance priorities.


7.       Suffering Reversals


8.       Changing in Response to Growth: “A relational style of leadership can be maintained only with a limited number of people.”  When the number of followers approaches 65, a change of leadership style is required.


9.       The Pressure of Making Decisions: “the pressure can become intolerable when leaders have to make too many decisions within a short span of time.  One secret is to limit the decisions to be made.”


10.    Making Do with Limited Resources


11.    Recruiting Constantly: Wise leaders also expect and plan for a high turnover in leadership.


12.    Physical and Emotional Weariness


13.    Sharing Risks: One of the risks of leadership is the necessity to give up our lives one day at a time.