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3 Key Church Leadership Failures

church leadership failures

It doesn’t take a research expert to quickly come to the conclusion the Western church is not healthy. We must assess why, and when we do, there’s plenty of blame to go around for all of us in the church. Today’s church leaders are often taught that leadership is everything, that the church is dependent on its leaders and it won’t succeed beyond its leaders. I don’t agree with the substance of that message, but if that’s the case, then church leaders must be willing to step back and see these church leadership failures.

3 Key Church Leadership Failures

1. A failure to make disciples.

If you’ve never heard a pastor say, “We have to keep the main thing the main thing,” then you must have been living in a cave for most of your adult life. The problem is most churches do not keep the “main thing” the main thing, and most church leaders do not personally keep the “main thing” the main thing for them. That “main thing” is the Great Commission of the church, which is to make disciples:

“Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age,’” Matthew 28:18-20.

Church leaders spend too much time arguing over whether “go and make disciples” means making new disciples through evangelism, or discipling Christians. It means both, as should be obvious from this passage of scripture! And most church leaders fail on both counts … many have little or no interest in making new disciples and expend little effort at doing so, and it’s beyond debate that the church has failed wildly at discipling Christians.

This failure is related to the second . . .

2. A failure to teach.

Part of the Great Commission is once we “go and make disciples,” we are supposed to “… Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you …” How have our leaders done at this responsibility to teach? Just this past week, yet another article was published about a recent study revealing that a majority of Christians — not unbelievers, but Christians — say they don’t know what the Great Commission is. Other studies reveal that most Christians are biblically illiterate, don’t hold a biblical worldview, don’t believe several of the core tenets of the Christian faith, don’t know the great doctrines of the Bible, and don’t even know what “theology” means.

I believe one huge aspect of church leadership failures was giving up use of biblical terms — dumbing down teaching — in favor of replacing key biblical terms with rambling paragraphs of wordy explanation with the excuse that non-Christians don’t understand “Christianese.”

Then teach them!

Many ministers think it’s easier to teach a doctrine with many words as an explanation or description than teaching the meaning … of a single word! For example, you rarely hear a minister use the word “propitiation” because they think that word is too “Christianese,” but they’ll expect people to learn a long explanation of it. How do people remember explanations or meanings? By attaching a single word to it! But because so many leaders have been afraid to use more biblical language, many Christians couldn’t tell you what atonement, ransom, reconciliation, redemption, adoption, justification, sanctification, or propitiation mean because they haven’t been taught the word. It’s much harder to be taught a concept that isn’t attached to a word than it is to introduce a word and then teach the meaning of it.

Simply put, adequate teaching has been among the key church leadership failures.

3. A failure to equip.

What often is NOT talked about much in today’s leadership circles is the fact that the equipping of the saints is a primary reason why there are leaders in the church:

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ,” Ephesians 4:11-13.

Most church leaders in most churches do nothing — zero — to equip church members how to effectively share the Gospel with non-believers. But wait, isn’t making disciples the “main thing,” and leaders say we have to keep the “main thing” the main thing? Then why don’t they equip the saints?

That’s a good question!

Especially knowing that God intends to use His saints as His means of carrying out the ministry of reconciliation:

“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.

Most churches today are unequipped for ministry.

Are these really the top three church leadership failures that most impact the church? If not the TOP, they are among the top. Just step back and think through this — what would the church be like if our leaders made the Great Commission the “main thing” in their local church AND their personal ministry? If they taught all that Jesus commanded us? And if they diligently equipped the saints for the work of ministry?


This article on church leadership failures originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

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Dr. James Scott, Jr., is a minister, former church planter, Christian clinical therapist, certified Personal Trainer, and author. He currently serves as Founder and President of Scott Free Clinic, an international parachurch ministry. Follow him at ScottFreeClinic.org.