This should not be rocket science, but we live in a new age.  We have shifted from the Industrial/Informational Age to the Conceptual Age.   So, if that is the case, why are we still using the same old leadership principles used during the Industrial Revolution?  Ask yourself, what does it take to lead the church in the 21st century?  Will the same skills used during the Industrial and Information Ages work in the Conceptual Age?  What personality treats of a conceptual leader will invite the church to move past its current place, to be where God is leading?  With churches closing faster that we can plant them, is there hope of moving forward in the 21st century?

With the shift from the left brain dominance of the Industrial/Information Ages to the right brain dominance in the Conceptual Age “church leadership” needs to redefine what it means to be a “leader.”  Long gone are the days of “Jesus as CEO” or “Pastor as CEO.”  Long gone are the “Maxwellian” views of leadership and the left brain dominance of such teachings.  The Conceptual Age invites us to explore our right brain and invite others to explore a right brain personality to bring the church back to life.

How do we make that shift?  How do we shift from the left brain to the right brain?  I believe for this to happen we need to ask four very important questions, and seek honest and open answers.  These questions are, Where are we now?  How did we get here?  Where do we need to be?  How do we get there?

Our journey of leadership from the Industrial Age, to the Information Age, to the Conceptual Age, to me, brings about some very interesting points.  One shift is the shift from leaders benefiting the organization to leaders benefiting the organism.

The Industrial Age brought about the industrial church; the church as an organization, as a legal entity – a corporation – an institution.  I am of the mind that the Industrial Revolution, more than any other event in history, moved the church from organism to organization.  It is this relationship of the church as an organization that can be seen as the biggest problem the church faces.  It is this industrial model that the current church still uses to lead.  These churches became a micro-causim of the economic base of the community.  With the advent of electric lights, the work day was expanded to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The church separated themselves into groups that echoed the Industrial Revolution.  The rich went to one church, the poor to another.  The division of labor was repeated loudly in the industrial church.  The church organization was being geared for the Industrial Age, so leadership needed to shift to meet the needs of the Industrial Age.  The Industrial Age could be seen as the gold age of the church.  The church grew during the Industrial Age and created many other organizations, para-church organizations.  These para-church organizations filled the gap between what the church should have been doing, caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, visiting those in prisons and what the church was doing.  Within the Industrial Age we saw denominations form, split, unite only to split again.  The dissemination of information became more formal.  Usually through books and places of higher education; formal education became the foundation for careers and professions.  Institutions of higher education showed a status and ensured your success in the business world; in the Industrial Age, where you studied mattered more than who you studied with.

The Industrial Age brought us to the point where the leader focused on the organization.  Everything decision the leader makes is made with the idea of how that decision will benefit the organization.

The Conceptual Age can best be described as an age where creativity, empathy, innovation, beauty and design find a home and are the focus of our being.  It is global in context, and local in implementation; it rejects the blind consumerism of the industrial and information ages and understands the needs of the environment and people in relationship to production. If the church is not careful, they will miss the Conceptual Age as well.  As Daniel Pink writes, “The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers.  But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands.[1]”  This is where the shift takes place, moving from the industrial church to the conceptual church, moving from the industrial style leadership to a conceptual style leadership.  For the church to meet the needs of the Conceptual Age great shifts in thinking need to occur in the minds of church leaders.  We need to put aside the ideas, concepts and principles of the Industrial Age and embrace the Conceptual Age.  In the Conceptual Age, information is vast and free.  It matters little where you study, but who you study with.  Some may argue that the information available, in many cases, has less “authority” and some even seems “crazy” but that matters little.  What matters more is the amount of information made available to every person.

The Conceptual Age shifts our leadership focus from what benefits the organization, to what benefits the person, the organism.  The focus is not longer how our decisions effect the organization, but how we affect the lives of others.

There is no magic bullet, and there is definitely not a program to help in this shift; but I do believe there are six personas that are essential to the future of the industrial church to change and reach a conceptual mind and stop it from entering the boneyard.  These six personas are: to be Open, to yourself, others and mostly God – to Dance, to feel the rhythms and tempo of the community – to Create and invite others to create – to Listen, to yourself, the community and God – to Play, to enjoy the gift of life God has bestowed upon us – and Story, to know the narrative of Christ, to know the story and learn to intertwine your story with others, and with God.  Over the next few weeks I will be posting articles on each of these personas – So, how do you lead?

ABOUT JOHN:  John O’Keefe is the author of “boneYARD; creatives will change the way we lead in the church” (available on  He is a pastor, author, speaker and consultant. He is the founder of, a place where our ancient faith meets the 21st century.

John holds a BA in Business from The University of Nevada at Las Vegas, an MDiv Drew University and is working on this Dissertation for his DMin in Leadership in the Emerging Culture, Future Studies from George Fox.


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[1] Pink, Daniel H.  A Whole New Mind; Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future. Riverhead Books, New York NY.  2006.  Page 1.