Shaun King’s Warning to the Church

On Tuesday the Internet Monk’s Chaplain Mike shared his thoughts on Shaun King’s resignation from Courageous Church in Atlanta.  This was the first that I had heard about it, and I have spent the last couple of days reading more about what is going on there.  Courageous Church is in for a tough season, we need to be praying for them over the coming months: losing a pastor is hard, but I would have to imagine that hearing that pastor say he no longer believes they are doing church the right way is like getting kicked in the gut.

What intrigued me the most about the whole story was a blog post by Rai King, Shaun’s wife, sharing a grittier version of why they are leaving the church.  Reading her post, I felt it.  I know the frustration that she speaks of, the exhaustion, and the loneliness that sometimes comes with being in church leadership.  Three distinct thoughts came to mind while reading her post:

  • The Cool Church.  Being the cool church is hard work.  The effort that needs to go into developing a cutting edge Sunday morning experience is more than most churches can afford or desire to invest.  Churches that make the required investment have an ever increasing standard which they are required to meet or exceed, or else people lose interest and start to look for other ways to spend their time.  I learned long ago, while serving in the New York City area, that there is nothing that I can produce program wise that will compete with all that is available in New York City.  What I needed to focus on was communicating the message of Christ in a way that is excellent and engaging, and providing a space for authentic, Christ inspired relationship..
  • Ministry Wives.  Ministry wives have it rough.  They see some of the darkest sides of the church, experience all the frustrations of leadership, and often do not have the ability to speak into the problems, or have a safe place to vent.  Churches need to be intentional in the way they care for the families of their pastors, and we as pastors need to be far more aware of how we feed into their frustrations with the church.
  • Stepping it Down.  The era of the mega-church has been upon us for about thirty years or so now.  Televangelists, TV networks, and the internet have created ways for people to take part in a church service without really being a part of the church, and this has carried over into the life of the traditional church.  The idea of going to church on Sunday, singing a few songs, saying a few Amens, and listening to a well crafted sermon before going home until the next Sunday has become mainstream.  A radical departure from this mindset generally does not end well (just ask Shaun).  What we need to be thinking through is how to gradually step our society back from this mindset, and return to a more holistic faith mindset that focuses less on production quality, and more on genuine life change in the people we are called to serve.

While I don’t have any hard facts to back this up, this kind of disenfranchisement among pastors who were leading “successful” churches seems to be happening more and more.  I am wondering if we shouldn’t sitting up and taking notice of this as a warning to the church, and what we should be learning from this.

What do YOU think… is this a growing trend, a random occurrence, or a warning that the church needs to pay attention to?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    Perhaps the tension has come from realizing that we need to be more outreach/mission focused, but we’ve been trying to make that work with the old attractional model. We’re now realizing that the old model doesn’t work for effective outreach. The church is changing culturally, which can still work in an attractional model. But when the church changes culturally and missionally, something has to give. The trouble is that aside from house church models, there aren’t too many other viable alternatives that are widely known right now that can support the kind of mission that guys like Chan and King want to do.

    • Matt Steen

      I think you are on to something… I would go further and suggest that our training institutions (seminary, bible colleges) are not helping the situation either.  Whereas the research university is involved in innovation, they are more interested in maintaining (protecting?) the status quo (one of my college professors said his job was to keep us from getting fired in our first two years on church staff… what?).  Seminaries and bible colleges are cranking out one of my profs called “22 year old old men”, who are armed with the best thinking from 100 years ago, instead of thoughts of what could be, or how to reshape the landscape of the church in the years to come.

      Thanks for commenting, Ed!

  • Austin Lee

    Shaun King isn’t even in the same league with Francis Chan. Chan’s church was a dynamic growing church while King’s church was floundering with little or no direction.

    • DaveB

      Why so personal?

  • Jeff

    Great post Matt.

    I think we are going to see this kind of churches dividing over which models to jump on more and more.  

    I agree with you that there needs to be a gradual stepping down.  Innovation in church models is slow.  We are trying to replace people’s framework of how they connect to God.  It demands believers redefine themselves.  That is really tough stuff.

    The problem is we have waited to long.  Our issues (strategic and theological) have been building for decades, but we’ve been to busy celebrating ourselves to deal with them.  Now they are upon us.  Like in Jeremiah, the seige of Jerusalem is beginning.  The exile has started and it is catching us by surprise. 

    The pain will start (has started) with smaller congregations.  As the core of the membership ages out they will become more and more desperate to keep the doors open.  This will cause some to take unwise radical steps (such as trying to go attractional over night or grabbing onto innovation they don’t understand).  Others will flee to the larger institutions through mergers or just shifting attendance.  Which will keep those large institutions from feeling the pain…which in turn only perpetuates the problem. 
    To quote John Legend, “The future started yesterday and we’re already late.” 

    • Matt Steen

      Thanks, Jeff… so what does a “stepped down church” look like over the next 5, 10, and 20 years?

      • Jeff

        That’s the million dollar question right now isn’t it.  I think it is a radical rethinking of what it looks like to be the church by every congregation.  We need a Jesus revolution to break out that will rebuild everything.  It’s going to be a lot of hard probing conversations.  Everything needs to be questioned.  I think we could have a time of fantastic diversity in the future.  I don’t think there isn’t going to be one magic bullet model emerge.  Lots and lots of innovation has to happen before stuff starts to settle.

        That’s bad news for our fast food, “do it, write it up, sell the book, boxed ministry” culture.

        We’ve (church leaders) have to move slow and bring our people along with our processing making them ask hard questions about why we do what we do.  The difficult part will be learning to live on less for a while while we recreate ourselves.  

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know much about the situation other than the little I read but I do think it brings to light one HUGE question that has to be asked…

    What is the role of the pastor to their congregation?

    Do you lead them to where you want them to feed or do you lead them to where they are willing to eat?

    Feed them and then help them grow their strengths to change the world.  Don’t assume that just because they eat, they will be ready.

    So he quit.  I don’t see it as a big deal.  His model failed.

    • Matt Steen

      It sounds like he started by feeding them what they wanted, realized that it was not healthy for them, and tried to take them to something healthier… and then realized that there was no desire to eat healthier.  I don’t know that his model ever really got the chance to be fully embraced, the light switch method of change sabotaged that from the begining… I think the model can work, but you need to build it in a church’s dna from the beginning.

  • Steven

    I feel Shaun’s pain.  I didn’t start the church I serve like Shaun did, but, like Shaun, I have discovered that the idea of disciple-making and that mission we were given was abdicated to “pastors” a long time ago.  Changing the culture in a church or city that has known nothing else for generations is an extremely difficult task.  Since Shaun is a planter, I can see how he could walk away when he realized he couldn’t turn the ship.  He simple starts over with a different understanding of how to make disciples.  The hard part is when people show up who don’t buy in…because they will…

    “Realize that some will always be spectators!” – Bill Hull. The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ (p. 262). Kindle Edition.

    • Matt Steen

      So, what are you doing out there to reset the expectations in your church? And are you going to be at Catalyst?

  • Elaine

    Unfortunately this scenario is far too familiar. My husband and I have planted three successful church plants over 30 years.  The last one ending with my husbands breakdown in part to an autoimmune desease, but also unrealistic expectations.  Ministry is brutal, the cost is painful, the carnage is great. But there is hope! I have come to “know” God more in the last 7 years being “out of the church” than I ever did in 30 years being in the church.  With our lives being turned upside down it was a good time to try something new… enter our journey of vulnerability, transparency and accountability as if our lives depended on it (because they did.)  Through Celebrate Recovery, Trios and Mending The Soul we are finding wholeness through brokenness.  There aren’t answers for everything but there is hope!

    • Matt Steen

      Elaine, thank you for sharing part of your story… I would greatly value hearing more of it if you feel comfortable doing so…

  • David Patchin

    Having had some brief interactions with Shaun, and helped in a Haiti, I can tell you he is a passionate, very high energy guy. I read of his departure, and Rai’s comments with sadness. This is what burnout looks like up close. Pastors burn out every day. Pastors resign every day. The social media (which Shaun loved) just lets more pastors know. 

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  • Jacob Giffin

    I have felt this way for years Matt. It is no surprise to me that when faithful men of God get the same feeling Shaun did that there will be more leaving for a “fuller” ministry. Maybe there should be a longer discussion on whether or not this NEEDS to happen so that we as pastors can begin preparing Jesus with the Bride that He deserves and not one that only comes because they are entertained or because we are more “hip” then the church down the street. Preach the Word. Thanks for your blog brother it speaks loudly.

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  • David


    Reading Shaun and Rai’s blog, I was surprised by how little time they gave it.  I realize he is probably more of a Church Planter and it would have been better for him to plant and leave. The fact that they only gave it 6 months once they made the change and only 3 years total shows me that they had unrealistic expectations of their congregation.  Rick Warren has been building and discipling Saddleback for decades, successful traditional pastors like John Piper have been at the same church for decades, some smaller missional churches have also been working on their models for decades. Most people (even “on fire” missional believers) need years to change their thinking and pastors who go with the misconception that it will happen in months or just a couple of years will most likely burn out.

    I am on the mission field and have been working among a very resistant people for more than a decade with little fruit.  The fruit that is here is decades in the making, with a lot of bumps and failures in the process.  For us here, we have to disciple them through a totally different culture and religion, and then still have to deal with the same difficulties pastors then have to deal with in the USA.  If I lived with unrealistic expectations, I would burn out in a year or two or less (I have seen it happen).  Pastors in the USA need to lower their expectations of what they can accomplish (i.e. trust God to bring the fruit), faithfully follow God’s call, and be patient — knowing that any fruit that comes is from Him (it is ultimately not OUR methods, personality, or great preaching).

    We can analyze what he did wrong or right, but God tells us to be diligent and faithful and that is what we will be held accountable for.

    (to be fair, I am only relying on what they said in their blogs — not delving into what may have been some unspoken personal issues)

    • Matt Steen

      David, thanks for sharing this… I would love to hear more of your experiences.  

      I would agree with you that often times church planters and pastors in the states are far too impatient with the process of change… but I also get a sense that there is more to the story.  I don’t know anything, so I have nothing more than guy instinct to go off of.

      Having said that, my first reaction to your comment about discipling people through a totally different culture and religion made me think you might be ministering in the states.  😉  

      Thanks again for sharing.

  • Ladymegan

    It’s definitely a growing trend. My church’s attendance averages 250 every week, we are 5 years old, and we have to practically beg people to show up to help when we need something done. I think you NAILED all three points. I think it’s heartbreaking that we have watered down Christianity to a point where we bow our heads when we walk through the doors and then bail on the church for the other 6 days of the week after we walk out. Thank you for this post.

    • Matt Steen

      Thanks for stopping in, Megan, and for commenting.  

      Why do you think it is so hard to get people to engage in your church?  Is it a lack of expectation from the beginning, a lack of understanding of church needs, a vision problem, or something else?  

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