Gary McBride

The Leadership Conundrum in Assemblies

One large issue facing assemblies is that of leadership. There seems to be two facets to this problem. One is an aging population of elders, and the other is a dearth of younger men to step up.

Experientially, most assemblies I visit have an aging group of elders. Men primarily in their 60’s and 70’s, “old geezers like me.” This is no reflection on their mental competency or spiritual maturity. Most of these men are exemplary in their conduct, gracious in their conversation, and Christ-like in character.

Culture is changing fast!

The problem arises from the fact that our culture is changing so rapidly. In the middle decades of the 1900’s, change was gradual; families lived in the same house, and were committed to a local church attending every meeting.

Over the past three decades, change is constant as the world and culture moves from one norm to another. I’ve realized that many in my age range have a limited grasp of what it is like to raise children in this changing world. Challenges such as stretching a paycheck, daily commuting time, and the pressures children experience in an increasingly godless society, are present realities.

We “old fellows” can easily dismiss these things based on our experience and with the view that “we did it in our day.” In light of this generation gap, it is possible for older believers to become critical and perhaps in some cases even cynical.

Issues of the current culture

Here are some potential issues not necessarily faced in previous generations.

-Few people now walk to a local church in their neighborhood, so distance is often an issue. This can have an effect on the ability or willingness of bringing children out in the evening. In some areas, parents may feel it is not very safe to drive at night.

-More and more people carry their Bible in an electronic device. By in large the literacy level is changing especially with regard to reading and poetry. Language is evolving, expanding and words are changing their meaning as well.

-An apparent lack of spiritually connected men in the 35-55 age range. In larger Assemblies in the mid 1900’s there was a “next generation” of men available. They were men who existing elders could train, and who would gradually develop into the role.

The reality in many Assemblies is that the “next generation” is missing. There may be men with young families, men already stretched with responsibilities and involvement but lacking the spiritual maturity and experience to be in leadership.

There may be a desire or wish that things were different and these problems would just correct themselves. If younger men would make different decisions with regard to jobs, location, time management and commitment the issues will disappear. This may be possible in some cases, but for the most part, it is the “wish list” of the older people in the Assembly. The segment who long for the “good old days,” times when things were simpler.

A lack of biblical direction

As far as I can see, there is no scripture that addresses these realities. There is no “thus says the Lord” on either succession of leadership, or how to handle these types of issues. In the absence of such direction, current elders need godly wisdom to move forward.

Scripture is silent on the mechanics of how to recognize new elders in an existing Assembly. The Bible does not address the structure or format of Church life. It gives principles but does not speak to the operation of the Assembly, or envision people driving many miles to attend meetings.

A challenge to the older generation of elders

Here is a suggestion, not written in stone, but with a view to dialogue. Existing elders could invite spiritually minded younger men to meet with them on a regular basis. Remember Scripture does not talk about “elder’s meetings” so it could be possible to expand to include others. This would allow older men to receive input from younger men, to hear about their life and struggles. This would perhaps lead to some changes or decisions that address the realities of life in the 21st century.


We need to remember that the local church is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship. One man in his 70s or 80s will not likely be in tune with the third or fourth generation below him. This can lead to stagnation in assembly life and an inability or even unwillingness to adapt to a changing world.

Gary McBride

    1 Comment

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    Thanks, Gary. Nice work, brother. Here are a couple of observations (not disagreeing with anything you said—just observations.

    In the mid 20th Century, we had a generation come along that had been trained to be leaders. By the age of 30, this generation had survived the Great Depression, won WWII, come home and started families, businesses, and careers. They are called “The Greatest Generation” by demographers. And they are unique in human history. Very serious, very capable, very committed people. Also, by training, very hierarchical. I have suggested that this gave us a 20th Century assembly model that is somewhat different from the First Century model we claim to follow. And this is the model we have in mind, when we think about the “good old days of the Assemblies.”

    The 20th Century model features an oversight that is trained in the military and industrial “leadership” model. The First Century model featured an oversight that was organically “recognized” out of a local body that had “all things common.”

    The 20th Century model features elders that play a management role…dealing with schedules, budgets, capital improvements decisions, and (most unfortunately in my observation) succession planning. If we trusted the Holy Spirit to raise up the last generation of elders, why would we not trust Him to raise up the next generation. By dabbling in succession planning, we risk all manner of evil. Laying hands suddenly on men who are not ready. Ignoring qualified men, because their gifting is not immediately evident (like introverts, for example). And nepotism. The First Century model features elders who are much more “a part of the body,” rather than a ruling class that is separate from the body (which, by the way is very different from the secular model of that time). They occupy themselves with spiritual things. And touchy issues such as conflict resolution and Church discipline.

    The Word of God is silent on things like succession, meeting schedules, and management responsibilities. I believe this is for good reason. And as a wise man used to say, where the Bible speaks, we should agree. And where the Bible is silent, we should be silent.

    I am excited by the gifting I see among Millennials in our assemblies. Have you noticed the number of people under 30 at the past few iterations of the conference formerly known as “Rise Up?” I can well imagine that the Lord is growing men and women. I easily envision who the elders might be in 20 years. I am a little uncomfortable (as I suspect you are) with the notion that the local assembly will look a little different, as the Lord accommodates the changes in culture that you cite. But we should trust Him in these things. He’s gotten it right so far.

    Again, thank you for addressing a major issue of concern. I appreciate your sensitive handling of this and other issues.


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