A Lesson in Leadership: The Passing of David Barrett

For decades we have all read in books, magazines, and websites all of the amazing statistics about the growth of global Christianity. We hear about the millions of new Chinese Christians, or the explosive growth of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa, or the remarkable church planting movements taking place in Latin America. Have you ever wondered where they get all of these amazing statistics? Who has time to count the Christians in China?  Are the Christians in China even countable? Well, the man behind all of these statistics is Dr. David Barrett, who passed away yesterday (Aug. 4). I can say that I had the privilege of knowing David Barrett. He was truly a genius and a master of statistical analysis. He understood demographics and the significance of growth trends for the church. Twenty years before Philip Jenkins made the global shift in Christianity popular through his book, The Next Christendom, David Barrett was quietly documenting the shift through painstaking research.

However, I am writing this blog to do more than mourn the passing of David Barrett. He was a wonderful, congenial, brilliant man. But, he was more;  he was a leader. He possessed a specialized knowledge in an area where he had no real peer. No one brought together his level of statistical expertise, with his profound knowledge of global Christian demographics. No one had the research materials he had collected over decades. But, he understood that a great leader does not try to consolidate his or her power, but raises up others to carry on the work. In other words, the mission is greater than the founder of the mission. It is quite rare – very rare – to discover leaders who deeply understand this principle of leadership. David Barrett understood it. During all of the years he developed his research and methodology, he was training up a younger successor, Dr. Todd Johnson. Today, even with the passing of David Barrett, the work of statistics and global demographics of the World Christian movement continues under the leadership of Todd Johnson. I also know Todd well. Todd is just like David. Todd has a small circle of young demographers who he is mentoring and training. For twenty years I have opened up the International Journal of Missionary Research, or the latest edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia or World Christian Trends and read statistics about global Christianity. I do not have any doubt that I will be able to do that twenty years from now. The reason is leadership. David, we will miss you greatly. I feel the loss of your passing. But, I see you in Todd Johnson. I see Todd Johnson in the faces of younger leaders. Thank you for your leadership. Well done, thou good and faithful servant. The mission continues.