Dumbing Down: How Church Leadership Has Set Up the Exodus

Dumbing Down: How Church Leadership Has Set Up the Exodus February 23, 2016

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The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism. – Reinhold Niebuhr

Church LeadershipIs the massive exodus from the church due to the dumbing down over the years? What are ways we have dumbed down, and is the trend reversible?

The statistics show that all the major denominations are losing members at an alarming rate. There’s little if any connection with Millennials. The choirs are aging without the infusion of younger voices. Members are separated into fragments divided by opinion, and not unified by faith, tradition, or spiritual focus.

We criticize others who don’t think or act like we do or like we sanction. We are against “others” who are not as we are. Throughout history, there’s been one group after another that we are against giving privileges to, such as:

  • Native Americans – who do they think they are, wanting to join our church?
  • African-Americans –  they were slaves, they can’t be like us…
  • Other Ethnic Groups – they make us feel uncomfortable
  • Women – some still limit women’s participation and champion sexist language
  • Drums and Guitars – hell no, we’re not having drums in our church
  • Alternate Sexuality – “proof-texting” our arguments from badly translated scripture is our argument

Members have become so disagreeable that many have forgotten the source of the disagreement. We’ve disagreed within our congregations and we’ve disagreed with the culture to lock out people who “don’t belong.” We’ve gone from the model of grace and love, and judge people on where they put their penises.

Leaders have set up this judgmental culture because we have dumbed down and minimized our vision. We’ve brought in badly conceived and performed “contemporary music” to “attract the young people.” Our “traditional” worship is no longer consistent with our tradition and not relevant to life as experienced by people in the pews.

Pastors mostly don’t study worship or leadership in seminary and continue to do what they have inherited or have seen modeled, mandating content and bossing church musicians without the skills, knowledge, or understanding of music in worship. Church musicians are petulant and churlish, pushing for their way as music being the end rather than serving the worship.

The void has been created by dumb leadership. The system is broken and nobody is naming it. The church consultants are doing more harm than solving problems. They are the “answer men” who give advice…the same kind of advice to each organization…one size, therefore, fits all. The consultant model is broken…as it has been for quite a while.

When Marva Dawn wrote Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down quite some time ago, she not only traced the past, but she defined the future…where we are now. The first chapter in her book gives painful details of how education has dumbed down over the decades. Alfie Kohn, in different words, describes the dumbing down of standardized testing as an ethnic cleansing of the culture.

What are the ways we as a church have “Dumbed Down”?

  • Music – style over content
  • Worship – attempting to please rather than listen to God
  • Mission – dumbing to the “No Mission” Mission Statement of the Great Commission
  • Children’s Sermons – what John Leith calls “a form of child abuse”
  • Politeness – being polite as a substitute for being kind and honest

It’s the leader’s duty and delight to set the pace and the tone for the team. The pastor is the spiritual leader of the congregation and not the CEO as commonly practiced. In the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the pastor is charged with ordering the life of the congregation, among other things. How does this pastor order dysfunction? How does this pastor reconcile the conflict between being CEO and being the spiritual leader of the flock? A void in leadership skills only makes things worse.

God must really grieve over what we have done to God’s church.


Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist TM
Read about me on Forbes

(c) 2016 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.
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