Thinking Out Loud

February 25, 2019

“Harvest Could Never Happen At Our Church”

 

Harvest Bible Chapel Elgin Campus

It’s easy to sit back and self-righteously congratulate ourselves on not attending a megachurch with a megalomaniacal pastor. If your weekly attendance runs 200, or 400 weekly and your pastor is a grandfatherly type trying to build God’s Kingdom and not a personal empire, it’s somewhat comforting to be able to relax and say, ‘That could never happen here.’

Harvest Bible Chapel – Elgin campus

But I would argue that on closer observation it can, and possibly does.

In the last six months, we’ve seen people at various levels of leadership at Harvest defend the institution and its pastor or both. While at least one former Harvest elder has stepped forward and apologized, there are no doubt others who will want to defend its decision-making processes, past and present.

I would suggest that this practice of putting spin on things is alive and well in many of our congregations. People get hurt because leaders have some agenda probably contrary to God’s, but are able to make it seem somehow correct and appropriate for the situation at hand.

A few days ago I re-ran something that Ruth wrote in which a church which is always telling people to know and employ their spiritual gifts pulled her aside and told her that this somehow didn’t apply to her and gave her a cease-and-desist order because she dared to demonstrate pastoral compassion in the face of a situation facing a particular family that a new pastor could not have articulated.

Years later, she asked if she could have a reprise of her former worship leadership role, not regularly, but just for a single Sunday; as an opportunity for healing all round. The elder she met with concocted the most foolish of all reasons for saying no, simply because otherwise he had no grounds for so doing. “We don’t have guest worship leaders.” Again, I gave opportunity for her to explain how this was both insulting to her and the congregation.

In my mind, it was a case of spiritual abuse; an example of an elder putting spin on a situation.

And guess what? Not three weeks later, they had a guest worship leader; a recording artist whose commercial success gave him a pass on their unofficial rule. In a postscript to her article, I wrote,

“At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight what he did at that meeting at night constituted spiritual abuse, not to mention certain aspects where we now know he was lying through his teeth. He continues in a leadership role that leaves me totally mystified.”

In her case, the woundedness was overshadowed by ministry opportunities elsewhere. The Bible states that a person’s gift will make a way for them. Just this weekend, I saw those gifts affirmed in her life on a level which is unprecedented. But the Harvest situation reminded me of the lengths that some in leadership will go to in order to fulfill a role they believe God gave them to keep things orderly. That reminded me of another article I wrote where I asked the questions below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Why do we keep coming back?

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

Remember, I wrote this in a small-town context and long before we had the colossal present-day failures involving churches pastored by Perry Noble, Tullian Tchividijan, Mark Driscoll or James MacDonald. But the presence of spin is identical in both, until you reach the point where you just can’t keep pretending.

Unfortunately my wife never got to see such vindication in terms of that church, but was able to find it elsewhere.

 

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September 16, 2018

Culture of Confrontation

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:37 am

One of the great axioms of church leadership is that if you grew up in a denomination where church discipline and even excommunication is practiced, you approach church fully expecting that at some time you will be called upon to administer said discipline and may in fact always be looking for situations where it needs to applied, even among (or especially among) other people in church leadership.

The corollary to the axiom is that if you grew up in a denomination having a culture of confrontation, and you look down the block at other churches and observe situations (especially the recent #MeToo type of situations) where absolutely nothing was done, or it wasn’t done quickly enough, you are going to be completely appalled.

Where nothing is done (or not done soon enough) the reasons are spread across a spectrum ranging from an attempt to mete out grace and mercy, to simply bad leadership.

On the other hand, not every church has a scandal; each is not in the middle of a crisis; and the leader (deacon, elder, board member, etc.) who is looking under every rock for evidence of someone to persecute has completely missed out on an understanding of not only grace, but what the church is and what the church is supposed to be about.

October 16, 2017

Skye Jethani’s State of the Modern Church Address

Those of have heard Skye Jethani speak, be it a sermon, conference message, or podcast conversation, know him to both extremely forthright and wonderfully articulate on matters related to church and culture. He brings this gift to a new book, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. released last week by Moody Press.

The book is a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; interconnected, but presented such they can be studied in any order. While I have heard him touch on many of these before, as assembled here, much of this material was new to me.

Skye Jethani’s forté is analysis, and a major part of his analytical toolkit is a knowledge of the broader sweep of modern church history, some of this no doubt afforded by his years serving in various departments of Christianity Today, Inc. and as a local church pastor. While much ink has been spilled over the last 20 years lamenting the state of the modern church in North America, Australia/New Zealand and Western Europe, the words here are more prescriptive; a look at where the church may have lost its way presented alongside healthy doses of routes we might take to get back on track. Each essay ends with two or three “next step” questions or applications.

Some standout chapters for me — many of which were brought to life through some clever analogies — included:

1. Ambition (and motivation; always a good place to start)
3. Wastefulness (versus efficiency which can enslave us)
6. Dramas (there are three playing out in church leadership)
8. Simplicity (versus the complexity we see everywhere else, discussed in chapter 9)
9. Complexity (the longest chapter in the book; Jethani at his best)
10. Redundancy (an interesting approach to the matter of pastoral succession)
12. Illumination (another longer chapter; on sermon expectation and who might preach)
15. Platform (this chapter is gold; a look at how we confer authority in the local church)
16. Celebrity (analysis of the rise of the “Evangelical Industrial Complex”)
18. Consumers (again, I preferred the longer chapters; this one is about church choices; some of the other chapters not listed I would like to have seen fleshed out in greater detail.)

And then there was chapter 24, an even more autobiographical essay which strikes at the heart of ministry from the author’s early experiences as a hospital chaplain. A fitting ending in so many respects.

On a personal level, if I’ve learned nothing else in the last 20 years, I’ve learned that while ecclesiology is by definition the domain of pastors, books about ecclesiology are widely read by a variety of lay-people who who feel a sense of ownership in the local churches in their community. With so much reconstruction taking place in the look, feel and purpose of weekend gatherings; many want to champion these changes while others are fearful of going too far and thereby losing the plot. So while the book is being marketed more as an academic title for Bible college or classroom discussion, I think the finished product is something I would encourage many of my friends to read.

 


Read a short sample from Immeasurable at this link

Related: Skye Jethani on news and media

Related: A review of the 2012 title, With.


Photo: Skye Jethani on the weekly Phil Vischer podcast.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource Distribution & Marketing for a review copy of Immeasurable.

March 28, 2017

When You’re Unfit to Serve at Your Church

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. So this post is a continuation of that; you really need to read it first.

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

Many years ago, Andy Stanley hired a Fortune 500 survey company to interview people at their church and 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” was simply equestrian feces. 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?

Typically, in many churches today board members are people who are successful at their vocation. Is your insurance business or car dealership doing well? Expect to be asked. Ditto teachers. But 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 in response to the first article; “…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 seven years ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs. (I’m being polite.) 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. (See also the footnote to yesterday’s article; turns out they brought in a guest less than a month later.) My wife was baptized there. Our children were dedicated there. Her husband served on paid staff there for four years. And nobody would know 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 the carefully developed status quo. People like that are, simply put, a threat. This is not where powerful, fruitful, organic ministry 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 jurisdiction. 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. What my wife was subjected to in that hour was simply not of God. So the obvious question is…

9. Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns simply 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 hiatus 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 really have only four or five years left themselves. And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them. (‘What goes around…’) 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’m 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!”


December 16, 2016

The Resource Nobody Wanted

Short Stories 2When Pastor Craig and his wife Linda were one of three hundred couples in ministry selected to fly to El Paso last winter to preview a new type of video teaching series, they knew right away it would be a great fit for their church. Churches had two weeks to consider the series and get introductory pricing, but Craig completed the forms signing up on the spot.

The series was a hybrid of every elective the church had offered before rolled into one super-course. The twelve weeks were divided into three weeks each on marriage, parenting, spiritual development and finances; but all interwoven with material from the other sections to form a holistic approach to Christian family life.

Craig’s hunch about the series proved correct. They did registration by families, irrespective of whether one or both spouses would attend, and out of a just-under 500-member church with weekend attendance averaging around 900, he was thrilled when 154 people signed up representing 96 families. In other words, during the course of the 12 weeks, about one in every 6 people in the church were taking the course.

During each session of the videos, there were promotions for something called the Home Resource Kit. While these were available from the same source as the course itself, they were also sold in Christian bookstores. Craig was a bit wary of the $40 per kit price, but when he found a store willing to sell it to him for $30 — albeit non-returnable at that price — he figured about a third of the families would buy-in and committed to 32 kits.

The 96 families paid a $29 fee which covered the cost of buying the videos, renting a neutral auditorium in the community and also having coffee and snacks. A future showing of the series would someday put the church ahead financially. But immediately Craig saw that selling the Home Resource Kit was going to be a challenge. About half of the people really didn’t think the teaching offered anything new, although they stuck it out with only a handful dropping out. But the other half felt the course material was so helpful that no further aid was needed.

So Craig cut the price to $25 with the church taking a loss of $5 on each kit, but again found himself with no — as in zero — interest in owning the home kit. When he cut it to $20, it soon became apparent to everyone that he was holding a fire sale, which resulted in him finally announcing in week twelve that if there were families that would commit to using the resource kit, they could have it for free. All but a couple of the kits were then claimed; after all, the price was right.

church-budgetBut there was this small matter of the bill for the 32 kits, which was over $1,000.00 with State Tax. The problem was, that while Craig and Linda had gushed over the course and got the church finance committee to approve the cost of the seminar series at the last minute — confident that it would be recovered — there had never been a budget approval for the resource kit purchase; and in their denomination, purchases over $500 needed to be pre-authorized.

While $1,000 in a 500-member church averaging 900 people per weekend may not seem like much to you or me, this was a church that took their finances seriously and there was considerable discussion that the pastor had acted unilaterally without going through what is, in church governance, called process.

So Pastor Craig found himself the target of a very upset group of board members on a Thursday night just two weeks after the course had ended — they quickly named another similar transgression a year earlier which apparently they had quietly voted to overlook — to the point where he started to reach in his wallet for a blank check before realizing this was the very day of the month the payment for his daughters braces was due to come out of the account…

So what do you think? Was this expense, not covered by a line item in the church budget, the unforgivable sin? Was there not a reasonable expectation that participants would purchase the Home Resource Kits? Should Pastor Craig pay this out of his own pocket just to keep the peace? Also, why did Craig and Linda stay an extra night in El Paso? And how will Max the dog communicate effectively to the church finance committee that little Timmy has fallen down the well behind the church parking lot?

 

June 11, 2012

Church Governance Issues: Succession Plans

On the weekend I linked to the stories concerning the impeding departure of Darren Whitehead from Willow Creek in northwest Chicago and Shane Hipps from Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids.

When the subject of pastoral succession comes up, I usually dodge the question and instead discuss my personal pet peeve: Transition times.  I believe that churches of all sizes suffer greatly during the time between the moment the senior pastor leaves and his (it’s usually a ‘he’) replacement arrives; which can be a span of months or even years.

At the time I concluded,

Something; anything, has got to be better than the status quo way of doing things.

This time around I want to again somewhat dodge the question and look beyond the relatively simple  — or seemingly simple — task of choosing a successor to the present pastor; and look at the underlying cause of problems instead of the symptom.

My guess, and this is complete speculation on my point, is that somewhere in the back of his mind Rob Bell knew that some restlessness was stirring in his spirit when he invited Shane Hipps to join the staff.  Shane’s letter to his church family indicated that he inherited a role that was in part, customized to shape Rob Bell’s unique giftings and outside ministry to the larger Christian community. But when the church decided to retrench and return the pastoral role to something more traditional — albeit absent the actual sense of control that many pastors enjoy — Shane decided that this wasn’t the trip he signed up for.

Less speculative is that Bill Hybels — possibly the number one American pastor on the subject of leadership issues — had a clear sense of succession in mind when Gene Appel was hired as teaching pastor. But that didn’t quite work out. Then, out of the land down under, came Darren Whitehead.  I listened to podcasts of both men, and enjoyed the teaching ministry of both. But now Bill and the Creekers are back to square one where the role of teaching pastor — which is really one step away from being senior pastor — is concerned.

While I don’t know all the nuances of Mars Hill, I do know that Willow is not going to miss a beat as long as Bill Hybels keeps showing up for work on Monday morning. (Actually, he says he does his best writing in a nearby coffee shop.) He’s still there. There are lots of good people on staff. There are probably dozens of people in the church’s ‘farm team,’ (the Willow Creek Associates ministry network) that they are aware of. There are good men leading the satellite campuses.  And they — and to a similar extent Mars Hill — can call up just about anybody to speak on Sunday morning; people who would be thrilled to honor the invitation.

But what does your church do when there is no heir apparent?

Here’s how I would armchair quarterback this:

First, most of our local churches are far too personality oriented. We want to see the back corner church office — the one with the extra window and the larger desk — occupied. We need to get past the idea that church life revolves around a single individual. And I include myself in this; I need to think of North Point as North Point, not “Andy Stanley’s church;” I need to refer to Saddleback as Saddleback, not as “Rick Warren’s church.”

Second, we need to see succession as an ongoing process; not something that surfaces in urgency at the moment a resignation letter is issued. I alluded to the ‘farm team’ earlier, and certainly any professional sports team is always scanning the horizon to see who is upcoming through the ranks and who is setting records on other teams. So also local church leadership needs to have in view the people who God is using.

Third, especially in medium and smaller churches, we need to empower the laity.  I don’t care how small your church is; right now there’s a layperson in your church who is capable of doing a sermon next Sunday, and it would actually be a pretty good sermon, too.  This means that a pastoral vacancy, when it happens, is just that, a vacancy, not a crisis of national emergency proportions.

Fourth, we need to periodically do some teaching ministry cross-pollination among our churches. The notion of a “pulpit exchange” has become all but antiquated, but we need to allow congregations — from the largest megachurches to the smallest chapels — the privilege of hearing different voices.  Many pastors are afraid to surrender their pulpit on Sunday morning; instead, the exchange notion should be ritualized; and I hold up  the 5th Sunday of every third month as a possible day for it to take place.

Finally, we need to look at our own scriptures and borrow a chapter or two from Israel’s history and consider the possibility of co-regency.  Many of our Bible timelines are messed up, and our apparent “Bible contradictions” exist because of a failure to understand how some of the Jewish nation’s kings actually ruled as co-regents.  The idea of a “senior pastor,” “teaching pastor,” and “executive pastor,” is an attempt to divide the pastoral role in a larger church so that the absence of a single individual doesn’t cause a collapse of sustained ministry or future visioning.

Too many churches are weakened by not having a vision of what the church is going to look like in two years; in five years; in a decade. These are critical times for the church in the western world, and we do ourselves and God’s Kingdom a great disservice when we don’t bring our best to the church leadership table.

Personnel will change; God will call people to new fields; we need to allow the same Holy Spirit that is leading pastors to also lead local church leaders.

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 to swallow.    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 hiatus 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!”


January 16, 2009

First, You Send the Pastor Back for a Road Test … Then, You’re Next

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Church, theology — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:27 pm

driving-test-sample-questions-scenario1With my mind wandering during a post-supper phone call, I wondered what would happen if, just as some jurisdictions require you to do a fresh road test after 20 years in order to keep driving, your pastor had to appear before a doctrinal committee like the one that ordained him (or her) originally.  Just to make sure all his (or her) doctrinal oars are still in the water.

But why target pastors?   Board members and Sunday School teachers would be next, followed by you, the average Joe (or Joanne).   After a couple of decades serving on committees or helping in the nursery or whatever it is you do; you’d be brought before a group of examiners to make sure that you still have a grasp on, and still hold to the basic tenets of, the core of what we call the Christian faith.

Would people be as nervous leading up this event as they would be if they had to do a fresh road test to keep their driver’s license?   Do you think you could pass?   Would you be praying they asked easy questions?   Do you consider, “Why did Jesus have to die?” to be an easy question?

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(What triggered my mind wandering was the suggestion by the person at the other end of the telphone that the senior Robert Schuller ought to be asked that last question.   It is hard to imagine him answering it, given the style of rhetoric he’s more accustomed to.)

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