Thinking Out Loud

September 22, 2016

A Pastoral Career: The Parabolic Curve of Church Size

Filed under: Christianity, Church, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Conrad sat in the living room staring at the “yearbook” that Central Church had given him when he resigned several years ago. Well, “resigned” wasn’t exactly the right word, but other than that, there was nothing about his time pastoring the 700+ member church that did not evoke fond memories. He was only the third pastor Central had ever known, and while he did not experience the rapid growth of his predecessors, he’d seen the church grow from 556 members to 703.

Not that it was about numbers. Well, maybe it was. His first church was 168 members, but he was only there for three years. Then he jumped at the opportunity to go to a 289 member church, where he stayed for five years. Next, he entered a four year term with the 374 member — oh, my goodness; it really was about numbers; he couldn’t believe he had remembered all that detail.

Short StoriesBut Central was the pinnacle as it turned out, twelve years, and average weekend attendance just under a thousand in two services, with 703 of those people full members.

And then he got sent to East Valley on an interim pastor assignment, that ended up lasting six years. Smaller numerically. A little backward culturally. He was balding now and the 414-member church was an older demographic that signified, along with his own age, the numbers might start dropping. And then it did.

Before he knew it, he was doing a meaningless job in the district office waiting out the years to retirement. He had ridden the entire parabolic curve of church size.

He put the yearbook down and sighed.

“You’d better get ready to go;” his wife Carla admonished from the kitchen, “The service at Whispering Willows starts at 2:00 PM.”

So this is what it comes to, he thought. Sunday afternoon chapel services in the local seniors’ home.

The pianist assigned from the Salvation Army didn’t know any of the hymns he’d bookmarked. “We tend to do Army music;” she confessed, “But I can do Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.”

“That’s all they ever want to sing anyway;” Conrad told her, and at 1:55 Whispering Willows staff started wheeling in the dozen-and-a-half women and three men who had signed up to go to chapel that week, plus two staff. Okay, a few of the residents used walkers, but he noticed that everybody that week had some type of appliance necessary to get them around.

At 2:00 he opened in prayer. At 2:01 they sang How Great Thou Art. At 2:05 they sang Amazing Grace. At 2:08 he asked the pianist if she would play a little number from her Salvation Army hymnal. She gladly obliged, but the tune was unfamiliar and the melody was incomprehensible. But now it was 2:10.

Conrad checked his watch again. These services ran an hour, usually 40 minutes of singing and a 20 minute message. He knew he needed to stretch, so he asked if anyone had any prayer requests. “Just put your hands up.”

Surprisingly a woman in the second row did just that. He nodded toward her to share anything with the group and she said, “This isn’t the dining room.”

“No it isn’t;” Conrad replied.

Silence.

More silence. He noticed the ticking of a mantle clock he’d never noticed before. Things had never been this quiet.

“You know;” the retired pastor said, “I come here each month and I’ve never really told you much about myself, so before I share today’s scripture reading and message, perhaps I should share my story.”

So he spoke about his call to ministry late in high school, and how he had gone off to his denomination’s Bible college, and how he graduated and started climbing the ministry ladder. The problem was, as he had done before leaving for Whispering Willows, he was sharing more about the metrics of the various churches than about anything else that had happened in those various communities.

There was no story about Fred, or Jill, or Michael, or Jennifer, or anyone else. It was about the 168 and the 289 and the 374 and the 703 at Central Church and down to the 414. There was no reference to Carla standing by him in all those years in ministry, or raising a daughter and two sons in those various churches.

And then Conrad stopped. He had been listening to his own story. And he realized that it sounded pathetic.

It wasn’t that all he cared about were the numbers; it’s that he was bitter about never again getting the adrenaline rush associated with being able to speak to a thousand people each weekend. About being bounced down to a smaller church. And then left to deteriorate in a useless administrative position in the district office.

Another resident raised a hand, this time one of the men.

“You left out a number;” he said; “22. There’s twenty-two of us here, twenty-four if you count yourself and the woman who can’t play the piano.” (Of course he had miscounted by one and ignored the staff, but…)

“Well actually;” he said, trying to do some damage control, “I think she did those hymns really well, she just doesn’t know the ones that are in your book.”

“Well I grew up Salvation Army, so hey, Miss, do you know Thou Christ of Burning, Cleansing Flame?”

“I don’t think we know that–” he started to say, but the pianist suddenly lighted up and launched into a rather rousing introduction, uncovering previously hidden keyboard skills, and the man stood to his shaking feet and in a loud and clear voice sang verse after verse.

As it turned out the song had a hook, a line that repeated constantly and by the 4th verse, all the residents were singing. Singing loudly, “Send the fire, Send the fire, Send the fire.”

By now it was 2:40 and he was back on schedule.

He read the text for the message, a sermon from the files of the glory days at Central Church, slightly shortened to fit the 20-minute window. In his mind he was back there. Two services. Almost a thousand people every weekend.

One of the two staff members held up a cardboard sign that said “One Minute Left.” He thanked everyone for coming and gave a short benediction. The staff members started getting ready to pull wheelchairs out of rows and into the hallway.

“Wait a minute! Stop!” yelled the man who had introduced the last song into the service mix; “That number you forgot. We aren’t 703 members, but there’s twenty-two of us, and we’re the best damn twenty-two people you’ve got right now.”

Conrad looked deep into the man’s eyes, and then noticed the smile.

And then he smiled back.

And then time froze and the staff stopped moving wheelchairs and everyone waited for Conrad to say something in return, except he couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. So he said the first words that popped into his head.

“This isn’t the dining room.”

 

September 12, 2016

Selah

guitar-solo

The Saturday Ramblings column at Internet Monk always proves interesting. It’s basically like our (occasional) Weekend Link List, but they tend to feature different types of stories.

Like everyone else, they’ve been captivated by what Adam Ford is doing at Christian fake news site, The Babylon Bee; and recently featured the item below, which sparked me to get creative. First, the article:

Ancient Documents Confirm ‘Selah’ Best Translated ‘Extended Guitar Solo’

ISRAEL—Ancient documents uncovered by archaeologists working in the West Bank confirmed Friday that the disputed term “selah” present throughout the Psalms and Habakkuk is actually best translated “extended guitar solo.”

While many scholars had previously believed the Hebrew word referred to either a period of quiet reflection, a musical pause, or a time of heightened musical crescendo, the recent discovery of scrolls in remarkable shape lend overwhelming evidence to the theory that the term actually instructed Hebrew worship bands to shred across all six-strings in a blistering, melodic guitar solo.

“This is an astounding find—it really can’t be overstated,” biblical archaeologist Dr. Thomas Earl told reporters excitedly. “While we knew that Old Testament worshipers often incorporated instruments into their singing of the Psalms, we had no idea that biblical worship was often accompanied by a gratuitous, performance-oriented electric guitar solo.”

Other experts in Old Testament language studies have confirmed that scribbled on the back of one of the newly discovered scrolls was a piece of tablature notating a rudimentary version of famed guitarist Slash’s soulful solo from hit single “November Rain.”

“While many Christians have cautioned against excessive use of showmanship and flashy musical performances in our times of worship, well—it seems like the Scripture now confirms it’s okay to wail, if the Spirit so moves,” Dr. Earl continued.

This prompted me to leave prose behind with this free verse concoction:

The lyric screen goes blank.
The guitar solo begins.
We stand there.
And stand there.
We have heard this solo before.
It’s a copy of the one on the album.
We take a deep breath to sing the next line.
Nope.
Too soon.
He’s going for another eight bars.
An older woman sits down.
A small child follows.
They’re dropping like flies.
The computer guy puts the next verse up in anticipation.
I’ve lost the worship vibe completely.
Now I just want the song to end.
This isn’t right.

Guitars in Church

 

September 6, 2016

The Problem of Inaccessible Leadership

Filed under: Church, Christianity — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

Inaccessible Leadership

I actually have two unpublished books. Longtime readers here are aware of one of them, but on the weekend I came across the manuscript for the older one, a book which predates the owning of a computer and would therefore need to be manually retyped in order to serialize it here.

The theme of the older book is about change in the church, empowerment of the laity, the need for new types of churches, etc. Sound familiar? It got really trendy really fast. In other words, in the years that followed my going into the distraction-free room in the basement and typing a little each day, my topic became part of a much larger movement, and my book was rewritten by others at least, no exaggeration, about a thousand times.

Still, re-reading it was interesting, especially for the stories it contained which I had forgotten.

One was about a California church I visited regularly throughout the late 1970s and early ’80s. They had three services, 8:30, 10:00 and 11:30. After each service, the lead, teaching pastor would be outside for about 15 minutes to greet people. “Hi! We’re the Logan family from Iowa, and we drove for three days just to see you in person!”

Standing next to the pastor was a staff associate. His job was to keep the long, post-service lineup moving. Everybody got about 20 seconds. 30 seconds if the pastor was seemed truly interested. (There was probably some type of visual code.) Regulars probably didn’t use this time very often, deferring to the Iowa tourists.

It was said at the time that if you really wanted to make an impact, you lined up after the third service, when things were less rushed. If you had an idea, or a concept, or a thought that the pastor might be interested in, you lined up over several successful weeks. If that worked, he would say, “Why don’t you make an appointment to drop by during the week? Tell my secretary I agreed to meet with you.”

That was how you got to speak with the lead pastor. By working your way through a complex filtering system…

…My visits to American megachurches are somewhat sparse now. We have no money. We have no inclination to visit a country characterized by gun violence. My wife has no interest in visiting any more megachurches. (That third factor may be key!) But I’m told that several pastors whose sermon videos I download make it a point to be in the lobby or on the patio when the service is over, and while they may have handlers, I haven’t heard horror stories about restricted access.

Some pastors however do not do this at all. Well one in particular. He disappears into the depths of a labyrinth of inner offices.

Either way, the megachurch creates a system where access to the person you would call ‘my pastor’ if anyone asked is rather limited, if not non-existent. The days of the country parson at the door shaking hands during the organ postlude are long, long gone. Churches do have staff, and parishioners often find a staff member with whom they identify and then enjoy greater contact with that person…

…Was the church — by which I mean now the definition that delineates the place where you worship on the weekend — ever intended to be that big? How did we get from the “meeting from house to house” in the book of Acts to the place where we have 10,000-member congregations?

Furthermore, even with the presence of home church groups or house fellowships or small groups, is it logical to have someone speaking into my life 52 Sundays per year, and I never get to say anything in return? I can’t find that model in the Bible, and I can’t imagine anyone in the history of the church deliberately conceiving it.

Without the direct feedback, I would argue that the megachurch is going become immune to change. When the next church-culture shift happens, the larger churches are going to discover that it’s hard to change course quickly when you’re steering a big ship; and this isn’t even taking into account the challenges of what personality driven churches do when the founding pastor deems it time to move on.

I suspect there will be a number of large auditoriums for sale. But we’ve already looked at that possibility here before.

 


Several hours after this was published, I noticed this at yesterday’s Master’s Table blog post. You can decide if it’s relevant to this article.

Real Church

September 2, 2016

Doing the Church Hop: The How and the Why

Doing the Church Tour

church-hopping bunny 2

Think church-hopping is just a summer thing? Do your hopping off-season and blend in with the natives.

This is a 2014 article by Peter Chin on the blog Third Culture, a webpage launched that year by Christianity Today. He called it,

Why A Little Denomination Hopping Is Not A Bad Thing

Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to be identified as an American Christian because it feels like we fall into one of two camps: either we hate everything that we are not familiar with, or hate everything that we used to like.

A good example of the former is a controversy that recently sprang up at Gordon College, where undergraduates were scandalized at the introduction of a strange and foreign type of worship experience during their chapel services: gospel music. Yes, GOSPEL MUSIC, one of the oldest and richest liturgical traditions in American faith.

Examples of the latter are too numerous to count. The Christian blogosphere and publishing industry are filled with memoirs of people ranting about how terrible their church experience was growing up, and how their current place and style of worship is what Jesus had in mind all along. When cast in this adversarial light, what should have been personal stories of finding one’s home in faith instead read like a harrowing escape from a doomsday cult, and serve as yet another salvo in our nation’s already raging cultural wars.

These two tendencies have unfortunately come to define Christians in this country, that we either despise everything with which we are unfamiliar, or the exact opposite…

church hopperThere are some great Tweetable moments in the article:

  • It is this exposure that allows me, and others who share my background, to avoid that terrible tendency to either despise other Christian traditions, or despise one’s own.
  • [D]o any of us willingly and easily engage with things with which we have no exposure?
  • I don’t believe in a denominational promised land, just an eternal one.

To read the full article, click the title above or click here.


I started to write this as a comment, but it got lost in the ether. So I’ll share it here.

In my local community, I tell people they need to “do the tour.” I recommend taking four weeks. If you’re Evangelical do the high church tour. If you’re Mainline Protestant check out the Pentecostals and the Wesleyans. These days, with multiple services, you can do this and still not miss anything back home.

I also tell them that the point isn’t to consider making a switch, but to return with a richer understand of your own denomination’s place in the broader spectrum.


Five Reasons to Church Hop This Week

church-hopping bunny 2I didn’t write this one either. Maybe I wish I had. Credit goes to Kirra at the blog Thoughtful. (Click the title below to link.) While some people consider church-hopping to be some type of rampant plague or scourge, the point is that most people are very faithful to their faith family week-in, week-out. This was written to encourage them just to one-time consider a one-off visit somewhere else. Is that such a bad thing?

5 Reasons Why You Should Attend a Different Church Next Week

If you’ve been attending the same church for more than a year or two, it might be time to visit another church next Sunday. This isn’t a permanent change but just one Sunday to do something different.

When we go to the same church for years, we get comfortable. We know the people, we know the songs, and we know the church. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is good for us to leave what makes us comfortable once in a while. There are many good reasons to visit a different church once in a while. Here are five.

1. Remember what it was like to be a guest.
If you’ve been attending the same church for a long time, you may not remember well what it is like to attend a church for the first time. You don’t know anyone. You don’t know if the place you chose to sit if that space is someone’s “spot.” Will they serve communion? How will they serve communion? Will you know any of the songs they sing? When you visit a new church and then come back to your home church, hopefully you will find yourself more sensitive to those who are attending your church for the first time.

2. Appreciate a different style of worship. If your church sings hymns, try one that has a praise band. This is not just about music; if your home church is casual, try out a church that is a little more formal or liturgical. Put on a tie or a dress. Church can be done in many different ways; you don’t have to love the new style, but learn to appreciate the different ways the church worships.

3. Get a different perspective. If you’ve been listening to the same one or two preachers for a while, listen to someone else’s teaching. You might not agree with everything they say, but sometimes the best way to sharpen your beliefs is to consider the ideas that you disagree with. On the other hand, you might learn something that you find rings true that you’ve not heard taught before. Just be sure to weigh carefully what you hear, whether at new churches or your home church.

4. See what other churches are doing. Observe their methods, programs, and activities. How do they do Sunday School? Do they order the service in a way that seems more conducive to worship? If you see something you especially like that you think could work at your church, approach the leadership and humbly offer your suggestion.

5. Recognize the body of Christ is all over the world and all over your city. The people at the church you choose to visit may be strangers, but we are all going to be sharing heaven together. Christ only has one body.

August 21, 2016

Most Popular Church Website Tag Line

new-website-small

Years ago my wife and I noticed that the phrase, “A Different Kind of Church” was becoming so ubiquitous to the point of being meaningless. It was a decade of great ecclesiastic shuffling, books were being written at a furious pace, and church planting was the de rigeur activity for any younger pastors or leaders who wanted to keep up with the times.

Even today, the phrase will produce about 114,000 results on Google; change the word Kind to Type and you get 42,000 more. The fastest growing church network in Canada, The Meeting House boasts it is a “church for people who aren’t into church,” which will get you almost 1,500 more results.

But these days, it seems like, where I live anyway, the most popular tag line for church websites is something like,

Website Under Construction

Admittedly one was hacked, but one church signed up with a new provider only to find themselves being down for over a year. It’s up and running as of a few weeks ago.

This week we’re visiting a church that is in-between websites, and it’s frustrating not having the advance information as to what to expect, or if the regular pastor will be speaking. At least we were able to verify the service time, and get the location from Google Maps. You are referred to a Facebook page, but it seems to be more about reflecting back to the previous weekend than looking forward to the one to come.

Someone has said that in the 21st Century, if you’re not online you don’t exist. It’s true. I’m betting that internet searches now exceed word-of-mouth as the top reason people visit a church. And don’t even mention those adverts in the weekend newspaper. Waste of money.

I recently tried to contact a pastor whose church is about 45 minutes east of me, only to discover they never had a website. Not even a static, single page. That’s a major blunder as I see it.

Service industries and other commercial ventures couldn’t tolerate being down for more than a few hours. An IT guy would be called in to fix the glitch and get the thing going. So why do churches let it slide for so long before the sites become operative again?

I think a greater level of urgency and prioritizing is needed when the site goes down. Your church can’t afford to be without it.


A year ago we linked you to this related article by Derek Ouellette

If you’re not already aware of it (and don’t mind the title) check out Church Marketing Sucks

August 12, 2016

To Christian Parents of LGBTQ Children

Yesterday we linked to a blog post by John Pavlovitz and last summer we featured his writing at Christianity 201, which we’ll probably do again soon. But this time I want to present an article in full because — and I hope John agrees — I want to make sure all Thinking Out Loud readers get to see this. I know there may be readers who may not agree 100% with everything here, but below is the link to the article. You can read it at source, and I’ll turn off comments here so that you may respond there.  Also, if this issue hasn’t come home to roost at your church, be assured that it will happen.

Christian Parents of LGBTQ Children: The Church Has Been Wrong

by John Pavlovitz

Christian Parents out there with LGBTQ children: I see you.

I see your held back tears and the weariness you wear and the weight upon your shoulders.

I hear you when you tell me how difficult this all is. I hear you when you talk about your frustration. I hear you when you share your stories of tears and humiliation.

I hear the grief in your voice when you talk about the faith you used to have or the prayers you used to say or the church where you used to feel welcome or the God your child once believed in.

I hear you when you say you feel like a failure—and I want you to know that you haven’t failed.

Your children haven’t failed either.

The Church has failed you.

It is the Church, not you who have been wrong:

If the Church ever made you feel like you had to choose between loving God and loving your LGBTQ kids, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever made you believe that your children couldn’t be both gay and Christian, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever forced or pulled your child out of a ministry position he or she loved simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, the Church was wrong.

If The Church ever caused you to resent your son or your daughter without realizing it, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever shunned your family with silence or forced distance upon you because of your desire to love and accept your children fully, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever caused a fracture in your friendships or your marriage or your family, the Church was wrong.

If the Church openly embarrassed your child by name on social media or from the pulpit or to the congregation, the Church was wrong.

If the Church threatened you with Hell for choosing to defend your children from its cruelty, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever told you that you and your child could pray away something that was the truest part of who they are, the Church was wrong.

Now The Church for you, may be a pastor or local church staff you know well. It may be a group of people in your faith community you used to call friends. It may be a denomination or organization. It may be a high-profile Evangelist. It may be a callous, hateful stranger on social media.

Whatever the source of the damage done to you in the name of Jesus or on behalf of God, I want you to know that these people didn’t have the consent of God when they did these things—and I’m sorry that they’ve done them.

I’m sorry for every pastor, priest, preacher, Sunday School teacher, worship leader, small group member, sign holder, bullhorn wielder, or pew sitter who ever became a barrier between you and your children, or between your family and Jesus.

Christian Parents of LGBTQ KidsThey were wrong.

You deserve better.

Your children do too.

These words won’t undo the damage or repair your relationship with the Church or give you back all that you’ve lost, but maybe it will make you feel less alone, maybe a little more hopeful, maybe a bit more sane.

Maybe this apology, even if it’s not the one you need or deserve, will bring some peace.

Your children, as you’ve always known or are just beginning to remember—are beautiful.

They are deserving of your pride and your celebration and your bragging on them. They are deserving of joy and lightness and laughter, and I hope they have these things in great abundance for the rest of their lives.

I hope you never let the Church when it is wrong, temper your love for your children, your confidence in your own worth as a parent, or your belief in a good God who completely adores you and them.

If you ever need a pastor who will say the words your family should have heard from a pastor long ago, you know where to find me.

Be greatly encouraged today.

 

August 11, 2016

A Rare Moment of Calvinist Transparency

Happy Rant Podcast logoI mentioned a few weeks ago I wanted to return to a discussion that happened several weeks ago on The Happy Rant Podcast, with Ted Kluck, Barnabas Piper and Ronnie Martin. This takes place on Episode #94 when the subject of the Kickstarter project for the documentary Calvinist comes up in the discussion.

At first, the guys are just having fun with the various fundraising levels, but around the 30:00 minute mark (the whole topic is introduced at 23:45) the discussion about the need for the movie gets more serious. First Barnabas Piper says,

Nobody is going to watch this that’s not already a Calvinist… The only people who like talking about Calvinism are Calvinists and nobody likes talking about anything more than Calvinists like talking about being Calvinists… almost as much as introverts like to Tweet about being introverts.  It’s how Together for the Gospel thrives year after year without ever doing anything different… So this will succeed… I don’t understand why Calvinists love being Calvinists so much; I just don’t get it.

Then Ted Kluck chimes in,

I think it has something to do with when kids get to college and join fraternities. You just want to belong, you want to be part of something, you want someone to sit with at lunch.

Ronnie Martin says,

It carries such a heavy a weight of a label… Baptist love going around saying ‘I’m a Baptist.’  What’s fascinating about the Calvinist position, if you take that there’s two positions, Calvinist and Arminian… is that nobody walks around holding up a card that says, ‘Arminian, that’s me; arrow pointing at me;’ but Calvinists carry the weight and the title and the identity and wave the flag of this thing given that the other position never represents themselves with that position, but you have this position which we think is Biblical and it has the most clarity… we’re drinking the Kool Aid, we’re wearing the t-shirt, we got the sticker, we’ve got the conference, we’re writing the books, we’ve got the publishing companies, we’ve got the — wait for it — podcasts.

To which Piper replies,  It’s fascinating like a nature documentary

Martin: Then what are we doing right now?

Piper: We’re making fun of how strange it is.

Martin: But we’re one of them.

Piper: Yes and no; because there’s different ways to define them… There’s the theology; there’s Reformed theology which, at its best informs how you live life, it informs how you see the world, it informs how you read scripture, it informs how you interact with God… Then there’s the culture of Calvinism which I want absolutely nothing to do with because it’s absurd.

Martin: How do you separate them?

Piper continues:

By not being a jerk… It’s like you can be a college student without being in a fraternity.  You can still go to class and study hard. You can still pursue a degree. You can still make friends. You can do all of those things in college. You just don’t have to pledge and binge drink and generally be an idiot…

[later] …

When I hear people, and when I see stuff like this… people love the label Calvinist … that label is divisive not helpful… When I say I want no part of it, I’m talking about all of the things that are divisive about it because I believe a truly Reformed person should  absolutely be able to interact with an Arminian and a Semi-Pelagian and a Buddhist and a Hindu and whoever else… You’re arguing for the gospel, you’re not arguing for Reformed theology. If you want to come back and say Reformed theology is the gospel, you’re wrong. It’s not. The gospel is bigger than Reformed theology; it is a way of understanding… But Arminian people are saved too, and too many Calvinists act like they’re not and those people are morons

[later]

… I’m talking about every aspect of the culture that I would deem to be divisive, or just dumb… When I saw this documentary, I just want to go, ‘Why?’ Who benefits from this. This is naval gazing by a naval gazing crowd. We love talking about ourselves, and how Reformed we are, so let’s make a documentary about Reformed Reformed people are.

[later]

…I’m talking about what will happen with it [the film]. …You know who’s going to watch this? Calvinists. And then they’re going to Tweet about it. And other Calvinists are going to re-Tweet it and they’re going to get their Calvinist buddies to watch it and we’re all going to be a little more Calvinist at the end of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 8, 2016

The Minister’s Personal Library: Then and Now

When the books don't sell: Look very closely at the bottom left corner; the picture is actually unsold books waiting to be pulped. Many Christian titles suffer the same fate, but some should never have been printed in the first place.

When the books don’t sell: Look very closely at the bottom left corner; the picture is actually unsold books waiting to be pulped. Many Christian titles suffer the same fate, but some should never have been printed in the first place.

One of the peripheral things I do related to my work involves collecting used books for something called Christian Salvage Mission. I should add that I’m not very good at this as most people simply donate their books to the local thrift shop, but every once in awhile someone will greet me with a trunk load full of boxes, and often it’s a retired pastor who has reached the stage where they are giving up their personal library. They say you can’t take it with you, but these old guys — and by old guys I mean five minutes older than me — would gladly take their theology collection to heaven if they could figure out a way.

Because I’m basically nosy, I usually take the time to rummage through these boxes to see what books and reference materials shaped their ministry. Recently, I realized these books are characterized by what isn’t there:

  • there are no books on leadership principles
  • there are no books on leveraging your platform
  • there are no books on growing your church
  • there are no books on hiring best practices
  • there are no books on promoting your next sermon series
  • there are no books on launching a satellite campus

It was the first one — leadership — I noticed more significantly. I wonder how much of our present emphasis is diverting attention and energy away from pastors simply immersing themselves in the knowledge of scripture. Instead, the libraries I see include:

  • Bible commentaries
  • Bible handbooks
  • Greek and Hebrew word study
  • more commentaries
  • classic sermon transcripts
  • …did I mention commentaries?

Do you think there is something we’re losing — and I mean the church as a whole in terms of where the focus now lies — by getting entangled in so many secondary or tertiary concerns?  

In a few days, the Global Leadership Summit launches at Willow Creek. This is a great opportunity for people in business and service industries to hear from the best, including both Christian and general interest speakers. I know that many pastors also attend these events, as well as a gazillion other conferences where the goal is to extract leadership principles that can be applied to their local church. I am not dissing the idea of nurturing leadership principles in pastors and church leaders.

I’m simply noting that — if their libraries are any indication — such an emphasis did not exist in times past.

 

Theological Books

 


Yes, today is 8/8 so I posted this at 8:08. My own little OCD moment.

August 1, 2016

Church Overseer Positions Should Have Term Limits

Admittedly these Mormon leaders aren't the subject of this article, but it kinda set up the vibe we were looking for. Your church's head office dress code may vary.

Admittedly these Mormon leaders aren’t the subject of this article, but it kinda set up the vibe we were looking for. Your church’s head office dress code may vary.

If you attend a denominational church, somewhere, in some city, there is a head office where resides the President or Bishop or whatever your church calls the guy with the biggest office. It is undoubtedly a multi-staff office with various sub departments dealing with the major aspects of church life. For example, one office is probably assigned to the Director of Missions. Another may concern itself with the movement of pastors from one part of the country to another as vacancies arise. A third might give oversight to both local church and national office finances. You might even have 20 or 30 such titles held by various people.

Additionally, if your church is of any size, there are regional or district offices which in some respects replicate the positions of the national office.

The number of people employed at the national or district office is beyond the scope of this article, except to say that it is very easy to move into an office and simply never move out. Such people, I would call, church administration lifers.

Many of these are former pastors, which is a rather odd way of saying that they are now — currently — trained as pastors and hold theological degrees, ordination and denominational credentials. If they chose to, they could at any time step into one of their local church pulpits.

Often the district overseers do that just that on the occasion of the anniversary of a church, the ordination of a pastor, or some other special occasion. This may involve simply preaching the same sermon in different locations, with little advance preparation time required. After the service, they shake a few hands, possibly stay for lunch, and then Monday morning they are back walking the administrative halls of their tribe.

It is nice work if you can get it, and many pastors in the trenches aspire to be promoted to a district position; still in ministry and still salaried, but free from the messiness of having to shepherd a local church congregation.

…and now we get to the meat of this article…

I would contend that with time, this drift away from involvement in a local church is detrimental to their ministry life and eventually impedes their effectiveness as an overseer. True, I’ve heard stories of some very senior church administrators who continue to teach a Sunday School class in their local congregation, but such stories are rare. I would argue that many overseers are cut off from church life, especially if they have been at the position for some time.

When I worked in Christian camping, I made a suggestion one year that each of us on senior staff be associated each week with a cabin and a counselor. I remember doing this myself. At least once a day I ate a meal with the boys, I spelled of the counselor for evening devotions one night, and I went on a one hour boat trip with the kids to a nearby island. While doing all this, I continued to do all of the administrative things required of me in the course of a day.

A few other senior staff caught the vision for this, but mostly, the concept was not well-received. The built-in assumption was that those of us in leadership were to somehow distance ourselves from what was going on in the cabins. The campers were the junior staff members’ responsibility, not ours. I disagreed. I felt we could only do our job effectively if we were maintaining direct contact with the people we served. For me, this was a matter of management style.

Twice in my life I did consulting for Christian publishing companies, while at the same time being a vendor for their products. I was involved in setting policies — including a couple of price increases — which would directly impact me as a customer. In both cases, the senior leadership of the company felt that I brought a freshness to their operations that could only come from also being a customer.

But we’re drifting away from denominational and district offices of your church’s denominations.

The thing I want to end with here is the idea of people being church administration lifers. I don’t think that in the case of ordained clergy who have come up through the ranks this is a good idea. I’ve heard stories of church overseers who reached their “Where do I go from here?” moment and decided to head out to the mission field. Brilliant!

For most however, a return to the trenches is a logical option. Which is why I think there should be term limits on these administrative positions. After a given point in time, the term expires, a new person is given the office, and the former President or District Superintendent returns to some form of pastoral ministry.

Who did I have in mind when I wrote this? Nobody in particular, though these articles often begin with conversations involving specific people. But this has been brewing in my head for a long time, and it is evidenced in my associate cabin leader concept at camp that this isn’t a new philosophy. Rather, I think it’s something that is desperately needed. It’s a win for the denomination because they experience different people in leadership. It’s a win for the local church which gains a pastor who has such a big-picture perspective. Finally, it’s a win for the man or woman whose skills I believe would otherwise atrophy doing the corner office thing and the potluck lunch circuit for all those anniversaries and ordinations.

head of the denomination


Fun image-based, partially-relevant places to visit after reading this article:

July 19, 2016

A Caution to Seniors in the Church

…and Those on the Cusp of Becoming One

seniorsSo I’m sitting at my computer compiling tomorrow’s link list and I see this article and I’m thinking, ‘This is gold! How do make absolutely sure people read this?” Then I remember I still haven’t posted anything this morning.

This is by Thom Rainer. That’s right, the LifeWay guy. Me and LifeWay are not usually on the same page, I know. Still, you should click through (on the title below) and read this at source because you really want to read the comments as well.

Oh… before you think you really should forward this to somebody else, you might want to remember that if you’re not already there, you soon will be!

Five Things I Pray I Will Not Do as a Senior Adult in the Church

I received my first AARP material in the mail six years ago.

I turned 61 years old two days ago. One of my sons says I am fossilized.

I am a senior adult.

Have I noticed any differences in my life at this age? Certainly. I move more slowly. My idea of a mini-marathon is running to the kitchen from the family room. I see things differently. I don’t know if I am wiser, but I certainly have different perspectives.

And I have to admit I view church life differently. In fact, I sometimes scare myself with my rigid attitude. I need to write these words quickly lest I become too comfortable or too complacent.

I have five specific prayers. They are for me. They are for my attitude about my church. They are reminders I will need to review constantly.

  1. I pray I will not feel entitled because I am a key financial supporter in the church. This attitude means I consider the money my money rather than God’s money. That means I am giving with a begrudging heart.
  2. I pray I will not say “I’ve done my time” in the church. Ministry through the local church is not doing your time, like serving a prison sentence. It is an outpouring of joy and thanksgiving to God. I love those churches where senior adults are the most represented among the nursery workers. I need to be among them.
  3. I pray I will not be more enthused about recreational trips than ministry and service. There is nothing wrong about me getting on a bus and going to Branson, Missouri, or Gatlinburg, Tennessee. But there is something wrong when that is my dominant involvement in ministry in the church.
  4. I pray I will not be more concerned about my preferences than serving others. I’ve already blown it on this one. I did not like the volume of the music in the service at my church a few weeks ago. I complained about it to my wife. And then I was reminded of all the young people in the church that Sunday worshipping and praising God during the music. I was more concerned about my preference than seeing others worship God.
  5. I pray I will not have a critical spirit. I attended a business meeting of a large church some time ago. The total attendance at the meeting represented fewer than five percent of the worship attendance. One of the men who recognized me approached me before the meeting, “We come together at these business meetings to keep the pastor straight,” he told me. In reality, they came together to criticize the pastor and staff. I pray I will not become a perpetual critic. I don’t want to grow old and cranky; I want to grow old and more sanctified.

Now that I am a senior adult in my own right, I need to make certain I am not a stumbling block or a hindrance to health and growth in my church. I pray my attitude will be like that of Caleb:

“Here I am today, 85 years old . . . Now give me the hill country the Lord promised me on that day . . . Perhaps the Lord will be with me and I will drive them out as the Lord promised” (Joshua14:10-12, HCSB).

May the Lord grant me wisdom and service all the days of my life, including my senior years.

Let me hear from you. I bet I will.


Related: From 2014, here’s a look at the ideal, the multi-generational church.

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