Focussing on the few in order to reach the many may seem a sound principle in Christian ministry, but unfortunately it can lead to golden boy syndrome.
GBS can manifest itself in certain Evangelical ministries where judgements are made at an early stage about who is going to be strategically influential for the future. The condition can thus develop in some young men and women who are targeted for special attention and mentoring by the leaders of their mega-church youth groups, teenage summer camps, Christian Unions or student church plants.
The Evangelical leaders do not deliberately set out to spread the disease but we can if not careful in our approach to cultivating the ministers of the future create the conditions in which it can thrive.
The spiritual conditions supporting golden boy syndrome can in fact continue beyond the youth group and student church into full-time ministry and even into incumbency. A couple of years ago even cc was invited by an Evangelical organisation to a special conference with a well-known Evangelical preacher not open to all of his peers in ministry.
Apart from the fact that he felt the bottom of the barrel was being rather noisily scraped, your curate refused on principle. By God’s grace, he has never been and never will be a ‘strategic’ boy.
Of course, it can make sense for regular preaching groups of Evangelical ministers in nearby local churches who meet for encouragement and help in sermon preparation to be invitation only. You don’t want to be debating theological presuppositions at such groups but rather sharpening up each other’s sermons for the edification of the local churches we are called to serve.
But creaming off golden boys from their peer group of Evangelical ministers for a special fast-stream session with a top preacher is surely a different matter.
The problem with the golden boys of youth is that they can become the self-appointed messiahs of middle-age. The perception that they are strategically golden goes to their heads and in their 30s and 40s they can come to believe that they are the only proper preacher in town; that their ‘brand’ of church plant is the only one worth supporting; and that in the final analysis they own the copyright on Christianity.
Such arrogance can enormously damage the cause of the Gospel and we are all prone to it.
Advocates of the strategic boy approach will argue that Jesus concentrated on twelve and within the twelve on three. That is certainly true, but our Lord never flattered them or fed their egos or worse used their admiration and dependency to feed his own.
Unless being fairly regularly called ‘dull’ and ‘slow to believe’ amounts to being treated as a golden boy.