Thinking Out Loud

March 20, 2010

Unfit to Serve: Issues Raised

Today’s post is a continuation of my wife’s guest post yesterday.   I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively.

1.  How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Andy Stanley’s Fortune 500 survey company found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement.   On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year!   Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.”   Where’s the balance?    Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2.  When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before.   One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough “capital ” in years of service to be trusted…”    Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected.   For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” is simply too much kommle-bonnaugery.    Which brings us to…

3.  Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other.   But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know.   (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.)   Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age.   There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator.   Which brings us to…

4.  Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons.   (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.)   Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it.   Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members.   Again, another comment received this week; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’   It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike  and run the show.”   Which brings us to…

5.  What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth?   Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had two weeks ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs.    They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week.   My wife was baptized there.   Our children were dedicated there.   Her husband served on paid staff there for four years.   And nobody knows her?   Maybe what this is all about is really…

6.  Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place?  Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that.   In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction.  “Run, Forrest, run!”    Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office.   And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service.    And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge their carefully developed status quo.  People like that are, simply put, a threat.   This is not where organic leadership is taking place.   Which bring us to…

7.   Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt.    Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their province.   Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace.   Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8.  Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely.  People are flawed.   They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife.   Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there.  (As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”)     It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. So the obvious question is…

9.  Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church.   The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve;  all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go.   (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on haitus for other reasons.)   Besides, this church is our HOME.   Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10.   Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry have only four or five years left themselves.   And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them.    But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts.   So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I keep watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better.   Things can only improve.   Of course I’ve said that before…

Related post:  April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post:  May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”


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1 Comment »

  1. [...] Internal links:  If you missed the two-part series on the weekend, my wife Ruth grieves the loss of our church (again) on Friday, while I look at the issues of who gets to serve — and who decides — on Saturday. [...]

    Pingback by First Spring Wednesday Links « Thinking Out Loud — March 24, 2010 @ 5:24 am


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