Thinking Out Loud

December 4, 2018

Mark Clark on the State of Online Discourse Among Christians

Mark Clark is the pastor of Village Church in Vancouver, Canada and is the author of The Problem of God, which we reviewed here in September, 2017. Yesterday evening he posted a thread on Twitter that probably few of you would happen to see.

Increasingly, Twitter is becoming a long-form medium, but experience teaches me that many may not bother to click through to see an entire series of posts. So, as we did with a Skye Jethani thread around the same time last year, I’m going to take the liberty of sharing it here. (A few things are softly edited because there’s no character limit.)

December 3, 2018

Christian: Reformed or Charismatic, left or right, get out of your own echo-chamber. Your naive, dogmatic, tribal and simplistic ideological ideas are painful to read over and over again. Straw men arguments are not respected. Dig deeper. Let’s work together around ACTUAL data.

No, pragmatics aren’t the enemy! No, good doctrine isn’t the enemy. No, passionate preaching is not empty. No, doctrinal preaching isn’t always boring.

No, that successful pastor in the States with the big house and big smile probably isn’t Satan’s servant. No, the local small church pastor of 200 isn’t less qualified for ministry. No, your non-educated self isn’t more organic or Spirit-filled than “educated” pastors.

No, that church’s view on women, or governance, or preaching or whatever isn’t the enemy; Satan, sin and death is. No, video preaching isn’t wrong. No, faithfulness to expository preaching isn’t wrong. No, fighting for experiential Christianity isn’t wrong.

No, big churches using methods you don’t aren’t WRONG. No, small churches aren’t better or more godly. No, God doesn’t love big churches more.

No, unhitching from the Old Testament isn’t a good strategy. No, ones who suggest it from a missional heart aren’t necessarily heretical or false prophets.

No, ‘those’ churches aren’t always weak and flashy. No, ‘those’ churches aren’t always boring and irrelevant.

No, celebrity pastors don’t always sell out and do it for themselves. No, small church pastors aren’t always humble and selfless.

No, your self appointed group is not the standard holding Modern Christianity ‘accountable’. No, the solution is not to dissolve all accountability.

With that, Mark suddenly breaks the thread. But there are a few more postscripts which follow individually:

No, systemic racism is not over or a made up myth. It’s real. No, the ‘white man’, or men in general, are not to blame for all our problems.

No, our government leaders aren’t Messiahs. No, they aren’t completely evil and incompetent.

No, atheists aren’t always smart. No, Christians aren’t always smart.

I hope that, like me, you were able to see some people or institutions — or most importantly, some part of ourselves — in what Mark wrote. All our online activity, from scholarly insight to common ranting, won’t in itself change the world or advance the Kingdom.

I’ll concede that as it stands, what’s above is a short essay in desperate need of a closing statement or paragraph. (Update: In a note to me on Twitter, Mark explained that his phone’s battery ran out! That got me wondering if Martin Luther would have gone past #95 if he had more paper.)

So where do we go from here?

That’s up to me and you.

 

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September 18, 2018

When Everything is Working; While Together, Nothing Works

You have to feel sorry for this tourist.

After taking a funicular to see a hillside neighborhood up close and also be able to overlook the city, we discovered, like the man in the picture, that the latter was impossible.

The park benches were placed so that people could sit and enjoy the view.

The shrubs were planted probably to add some greenery, or stop erosion.

The tall trees probably had a mind of their own. It’s too bad nobody noticed them in their younger years and projected what might happen. Still, if they were the only problem, you would still get a good look at the city below.

The benches, as you can see are working perfectly.

The shrubs have grown in nicely.

Together, they have created a place from which to have a view of nothing.

…I’m always looking for analogies, so let me attempt one here. Thinking Out Loud is all about church life and church and culture, so let’s imagine for a minute that the bench and the shrubs represent different ministry departments in our churches.

Now I recognize that Christ is the head of the capital ‘C’ Church and that He also ought to be the head of our small ‘c’ local churches. Under God’s authority, local pastors are appointed, and I would think that about now you’re saying, “Whoever is in charge simply needs to point out that the view from the benches has been completely obscured by the shrubs.” That will solve everything. (Maybe there’s a blogger in the church who can find a pithy way of pointing out the current dilemma.) Perhaps nobody has noticed so far.

It’s like you can’t see the trees for the forest.

Or something like that.

I never said I was good at this, did I?

But many times in our small ‘c’ local churches different departments are allowed to flourish without anyone noticing they are actually running in opposite directions.

For example: The church has an amazing choral program, with junior and senior choirs, beautiful robes and a recently released album. You have to audition three times to get in.

But the youth minister is having great results with a very engaging program, and many teens are becoming part of a church family for the first time, and that leaves said youth minister wishing that the Sunday morning service was just a little less choir-y.

What’s the solution?

Back to the illustration.

You could cut the shrubs.

Or you could move the benches. (There’s a nice view just 50 feet to the left.)

Or you could decide that shrubs are also something worth looking at. (The guy in the picture seems a bit bewildered, though, doesn’t he?)

Back to the application.

Actually, I won’t. I’m already annoyed with myself for choosing a music-based example.

I’m all for empowering both laity and staff members to grow their departments. But in a decentralized structure (or even a top-down centralized one) there are going to be times when ministry objectives are in conflict.

Then again, we’re not just an organization; we’re also a family.

We can make this work.

August 7, 2018

Willow Creek: The Nightmare That Doesn’t End

Happier Days: Passing the torch, on the weekend of October 14th and 15th, (left to right) Steve Carter, Heather Larson, Bill Hybels. Click the image to read our reporting on that event.

Steve Carter, the teaching ministry heir to Bill Hybel’s position at Willow Creek has resigned. After years (literally) of developing a succession plan at Willow, things continue to unravel. Returning to a regular habit of watching Willow Creek online on Sunday afternoons a few years ago, I have greatly, greatly appreciated Steve’s preaching. As I watched yet another chapter in that church’s drama unfold yesterday, while some of it might have been continued jet-lag, and some of it might have been the heat wave, it is no exaggeration to say that I felt physically ill.

Furthermore, I feel we’re not done yet with this story. Attendance at the church seems to have been holding — I’ve tried to get more information — with the likes of David Crowder and Chris Tomlin leading worship; and guest speakers such as Henry Cloud (Boundaries), Christine Caine, Danielle Strickland, and former Willow teaching pastor Darren Whitehead. But over 200 comments on Twitter yesterday, responding to Steve Carter’s resignation letter, would indicate some might not be intending to stick around. Hence my title for this piece referencing “the nightmare that doesn’t end.”

You have to feel especially for families whose children are immersed in Promiseland and youth programs who shouldn’t have to be a casualty in all this; who should have to break up a routine and have friendships fractured.

For those not up to speed, I’m going to do something different here and share with you the top three items on tomorrow’s Wednesday Connect so you can track the story for yourselves:

♦ Author, seminary professor and veteran blogger Scot McKnight calls for sweeping restructuring at Willow Creek Community Church in the wake of new accusations concerning the personal conduct of Bill Hybels

♦ …and most of you know by now that Willow teaching pastor Steve Carter has resigned. ” I offered my resignation many weeks ago, but I was requested to delay an announcement and continue with my duties until the leadership determined how to make the decision public. At this point, however, I cannot, in good conscience, appear before you as your Lead Teaching Pastor when my soul is so at odds with the institution.”…

♦ …and in this statement from the Global Leadership Summit, don’t miss the wording of the section which forms the hyperlink: “Bill’s engagement with the Summit and Willow Creek Association was completely severed in early April. He has had no involvement in the 2018 Summit or Willow Creek Association since, and there is no path for him to return.”

That last item, the Global Leadership Summit is important. If your church’s biggest deal each year is an annual Christmas or Easter pageant, know that the GLS is Willow’s highest point on the calendar.

It’s next week. Craig Groeschel has stepped up to take a larger role, as have others, but right now the church wants to get past this — over 100 of about 700 remote location sites have pulled the event — to then focus more fully on the situation at the church itself. (The GLS is structured as a distinct organization, but intricately entwined with the church and (formerly) Bill Hybels.)

…I truly believe that the at the outset, the leadership at Willow wanted to believe in Bill’s innocence. I say that because I know I did. My first reaction was denial; in other words, mistrusting those bring the accusations forward to the Chicago Tribune (and now, the New York Times.) That turned to wanting to minimize the severity of the charges, to finally accepting the situation, and then to refocus on the leadership and the way they kept trying — possibly with some measure of sincerity — to sweep the situation under the carpet.

I can’t imagine the pain this is causing the church leadership, the church membership, the Hybels family, and now, Steve and Sarah Carter. Praying.

Steve and Sarah Carter. Steve had been mentored by Bill Hybels before coming on staff at Willow Creek.

 

July 19, 2018

A Church Paradigm Which Should Not Exist

Darlene Kirk smiled at the greeter at the church’s west doors, but with a 3-month old in one hand and a bag of diapers in another, taking a church bulletin was physically impossible, so she simply walked by. Fortunately, her husband Tom had taken the other three children when he left early for the worship team sound check.

Arriving at the nursery check-in station she met Cynthia, who was in her small group.

“Have you heard?” asked Cynthia; and then without waiting for a reply, continued, “The entire church staff has resigned. Everybody including the janitor.”

Darlene just stared at her finally got out the words, “There are 14 people on full-time staff here.”

“It’s a policy;” continued Cynthia, “from before we all started coming here. When the senior pastor resigns the other staff are expected to tender their resignations. It’s supposed to be a courtesy thing, but the new pastor has the option to accept or reject their letters, and the new minister has chosen to accept all their resignations.”

Darlene was non-plussed. “You mean Melissa’s not the Children’s Director?”

“No. And Derek is not the youth pastor, and Maggie is no longer the secretary.”

“So who is going to do those jobs?”

“Right now, it’s up to the new pastor, but he’s not from here, so I don’t know how he’s going to do that before he gets here.”

“This is just wrong.”

“Apparently it’s church policy and it’s a fairly common thing in churches.”

Common or not, I have to agree with Darlene. This is just wrong. Under whatever conditions it was instituted, it seems to harken back to another time, another place, another set of conditions.

It also reflects a world in which the pastor is all-powerful, all-authoritative. A world where the pastor is a God.

To go along with this, a pastor has to be determined to miss out on what God might have for his own personal, professional and spiritual development; the benefits that come when, over a lifetime, you get to interact with people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests.

It is, if anything, the first step to denying the uniqueness of the town or city in which you are called/sent to minister. It’s an attempt to plug in a ministry module — in this case, the man himself and those who think and act like him — into what is believed to be a “one size fits all” ministry situation.

It turns local church ministry into a revival roadshow where the traveling carnival team pulls into town not for a few weeks of meetings, but for several years. Stories of men who bring their own secretary with them are not unheard of, but given the interaction that a church administrative assistant has with the congregation; it becomes difficult to do this in a location that is completely foreign.

It disrupts the lives and stability of people like Darlene who are trusting Melissa, the Children’s pastor for the oversight and care of her four children, including that 3-month newborn. It changes the dynamic for her husband Tom, a respected worship leader who has been given much latitude by the present Music Director that allows him a freedom in worship that the congregation recognizes and embraces.

It’s also an admission by the incoming pastor that maybe there are people out there with whom he can’t work; with whom he can’t get along.

Or it may be a giant power play.

It shatters the careers of eight of the 14 people in Darlene’s church who are in full-time vocational ministry and moved to this community to further their calling in visitation, discipleship, music, youth (2), Christian education, seniors ministry and urban outreach; all of whom must now circulate resumés and prepare to re-settle, one of whom just arrived six months ago from the other side of the country.

No exceptions. No compassion. No face-to-face meetings with the people just dismissed.

This is standard operating procedure in many U.S. denominations and at least one in Canada. It’s a policy that needs to be repented of.

Darlene opened the door to let Cynthia in.

“Good timing, Cynth; the kids are all settled down.”

“You sounded like it was important.”

“Yeah,” Darlene continued; “We’ve decided to leave Central Church.”

“Is it because of the staff thing?” quizzed Cynthia.

“Yes and no. I can get to know new people, and I’m sure they’ll be qualified; but it bothers us that a system exists that allows this to happen; that everybody accepts that this is how it’s done. Tom found about a fairly new church about five miles further that’s desperate for some help in their music department, and the kids will fit in right away because they use the same curriculum and they know some of the kids from school. I’m sorry….”

“No, it’s not your fault. We’ve been wondering about all this ourselves… Maybe we’ll come to visit on Tom’s first Sunday leading the worship.”

July 25, 2017

Church Funding in Europe

We almost walked by this little office, but the word “Evangelisher” caught my eye. A wonderful 15-minute conversation awaited us inside.

Actually, if a search engine brought you here and you’re looking for the definitive article on this subject this isn’t it. If you can deal with the pop-ups, this website is quite helpful.

But I do want to share some impressions we took away from a very brief meeting with an English speaking worker at Evangelisher Informationsladen in Nuremberg, Germany.

North American ears probably miss the significance of the phrase “registered church.” It’s part of life in many parts of the world. In Germany it’s significant in terms of the church itself being registered with the government, but also that members identify with a registered church. And here it gets interesting: 8% (in some areas 9%) of the members’ personal income is taxed and given to the church.

Solves the whole tithing problem, I suppose.  Or does it? Stay tuned.

If you did click the first link (above) you noted that a lot of people simply have themselves taken off the rolls in order to avoid the tax, even if they continue to hold a personal faith. That alone is enough to skew religious affiliation data. In both the Czech example mentioned a few days ago and this situation, it means potentially there might be more Christians in Europe than any official government stats show, just for different reasons.

But here’s another factor: Newer Evangelical or Charismatic groups don’t register at all. They meet in homes or find other spaces. Our contact was worried that these groups are becoming more numerous and more vocal.

It’s a concern for two reasons. First these groups have arrived on the religious scene under the banner of young earth, six day creation. Second, they have an extreme view of the sovereignty of God which leaves out any room for free will, even in more trivial details of life. We covered this a few days ago at this article. But it also means that numerically, some disappearing off the rolls of established Lutheran or Catholic churches are attending these newer churches, which would, by necessity, have to rely on something similar to a North American tithing model to meet any expenses that might arise, even without having to maintain an historical building…

…A few weeks ago Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario told the story of a visitor asking, “How do you fund all this?” I guess he thought there must be some support at one or several levels of government in order to maintain their megachurch auditorium and adjacent Christian education meeting rooms and classrooms. Bruxy explained the people support it, but we know statistically that North Americans, on average, are not tithing 10%, or even 8%.

According to The State of the Plate study, in North America, the state of tithing moving forward may depend on the behavior of “young (i.e., future) donors. But their habits may prove difficult to capitalize on. According to the survey, people in their 20s and 30s are much more likely to miss church in the first place, making getting in-person connections and donations much harder…”

The report continues, “Young people (the same demographic) are also more likely to give less frequently than other generations, with 6 in 10 giving no more than twice per month and sometimes only once every few months. Perhaps most damagingly, though, only about 3 out of 5 (63%) young people give 10 percent or more of their income to church. For everyone aged 40 or over, the average is 4 out of 5 (83%)…”

According to the website Charity Navigator, “Total giving as a percentage of GDP was 2.1% for three of the four years, 2013–2016… Historically, Religious groups have received the largest share of charitable donations. This remained true in 2016. With the 3.0% increase in donations this year, 32% of all donations, or $122.94 billion, went to Religious organizations. Much of these contributions can be attributed to people giving to their local place of worship.”

But comparing the 8 or 9% church tax in Germany to the North American 10% tithing ideal changes when you consider that it’s not 8% of income, but 8% of income tax. A 2015 article at Catholic News Agency (CNA) notes, “When Germans register as Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish on their tax forms, the government automatically collects an income tax from them which amounts to 8 or 9 percent of their total income tax, or 3-4 percent of their salary.”

Do Christians in Germany make additional contributions? Is the offering plate passed on Sunday morning? Giving is part of Christian worship, so we must assume that is the case, but would someone contributing through payroll deductions bother to put anything additional in the plate? That was a question we didn’t get around to asking.

According to a Wikipedia article on Religion in Berlin, “The largest denominations as of 2010 are the Protestant regional church body of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia (EKBO), a united church comprising mostly Lutheran, a few Reformed and United Protestant congregations. EKBO is a member of both the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Union Evangelischer Kirchen (UEK) claiming 18.7 percent of the city population.”

But that needs to be seen in perspective as the article also says, “About 60 percent of Berlin residents have no registered religious affiliation. Berlin has been described as the ‘atheist capital of Europe’ in 2009.”

Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church in particular doesn’t retain the church tax it collects, as the infographic in our initial link reminds us that, “a sizeable portion of the Catholic money is also channeled to The Vatican.”  Catholics who opt out face other issues as the CNA article notes:

German bishops – who each earn an average salary of 7,000 Euro per month (some up to 14,000 Euro along with free housing and cars, according to Lohmann) – issued a decree in September 2012 calling such departure “a serious lapse” and listing a number of ways they are barred from participating in the life of the Church.

The decree specified that those who do not pay the church tax cannot receive the sacraments of Confession, Communion, Confirmation, or Anointing of the Sick, except when in danger of death; cannot hold ecclesial office or perform functions within the Church; cannot be a godparent or sponsor; cannot be a member of diocesan or parish councils; and cannot be members of public associations of the Church.

If those who de-registered show no sign of repentance before their death, they can even be refused a religious burial.

And while these penalties have been described as “de facto excommunication,” the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, wrote in a March 13, 2006 document that opting out of taxes in a civil situation was not the same as renouncing the faith, and thus excommunication did not apply to such persons.

So while a cursory reading of a statement like, “The church gets 8% of the personal income tax collected;” seems to indicate a measure of financial strength and stability, declining membership and secularization would seem to threaten the future of that source of funding.

 

 

 

 

December 18, 2016

What One Church Lost

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:52 pm

On the way home from church today, my wife shared a story a part of which I had never heard before even though it was now many years later. Basically, it was about a woman who had been involved in a leadership capacity at her church and was asked to step aside (I’d heard that part before) and how one family decided this was the last straw and they were going to quit the church and how that same woman talked them into staying (which was the part I’d never heard before.)

vhstapeAs she related this, some old feelings started to rise up about the injustice of the whole thing when suddenly I heard a voice in my head say, “Don’t worry about it. The world chose VHS over Beta.”

For those of you under a certain age, there were two different video cassette formats, and everyone agreed that Sony’s Beta provided the better picture, but a variety of market forces and distribution alliances caused VHS to eventually win the war. (Some would argue that the popularity of the PC over Mac is a similar situation.)

Perhaps some people are simply too good at what they do to suit the standard of mediocrity that prevails in many churches. They’re seen as too intense. Their attention to detail is too detailed. Basically, they pose a threat and the sooner an opportunity to comes along to replace them, someone seizes it.

In church life, the challenge is to find the Beta people and support and encourage them and in some measure protect them from the people who don’t get it and find their passion a little overbearing.

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?

 

September 6, 2016

The Problem of Inaccessible Leadership

Filed under: Christianity, Church — 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

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 5, 2016

The “A New Broom Sweeps Clean” Church Staffing Policy

This first ran here three years ago, but on the weekend I was reminded that this crazy policy still exists in some denominations…

Darlene Kirk smiled at the greeter at the church’s west doors, but with a 3-month old in one hand and a bag of diapers in another, taking a church bulletin was physically impossible, so she simply walked by. Fortunately, her husband Tom had taken the other three children when he left early for the worship team sound check.

Arriving at the nursery check-in station she met Cynthia, who was in her small group.

“Have you heard?” asked Cynthia; and then without waiting for a reply, continued, “The entire church staff has resigned. Everybody including the janitor.”

Darlene just stared at her, then finally got out the words, “There are 14 people on full-time staff here.”

“It’s a policy;” continued Cynthia, “from before we all started coming here. When the senior pastor resigns the other staff are expected to tender their resignations. It’s supposed to be a courtesy thing, but the new pastor has the option to accept or reject their letters, and the new minister has chosen to accept all their resignations.”

Darlene was non-plussed. “You mean Melissa’s not the Children’s Director?”

“No. And Derek is not the youth pastor, and Maggie is no longer the secretary.”

“So who is going to do those jobs?”

“Right now, it’s up to the new pastor, but he’s not from here, so I don’t know how he’s going to do that before he gets here.”

“This is just wrong.”

“Apparently it’s church policy and it’s a fairly common thing in churches.”

Church StaffingCommon or not, I have to agree with Darlene. This is just wrong.  Under whatever conditions it was instituted, it seems to reflect another time, another place, another set of conditions.

It also describes a world in which the pastor is all-powerful, all-authoritative. A world where the pastor is a God.

To go along with this, a pastor has to be determined to miss out on what God might have for his own personal, professional and spiritual development; the benefits that come when, over a lifetime, you get to interact with people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests.

It is, if anything, the first step to denying the uniqueness of the town or city in which you are called/sent to minister. It’s an attempt to plug in a ministry module — in this case, the man himself and those who think and act like him — into what is believed to be a “one size fits all” ministry situation.

It turns local church ministry into a revival roadshow where the traveling carnival team pulls into town not for a few weeks of meetings, but for several years. Stories of men who bring their own secretary with them are not unheard of, but given the interaction that a church administrative assistant has with the congregation; it becomes difficult to do this in a location that is completely foreign.

It disrupts the lives and stability of people like Darlene who are trusting Melissa, the Children’s pastor for the oversight and care of her four children, including that 3-month newborn. It changes the dynamic for her husband Tom, a respected worship leader who has been given much latitude by the present Music Director that allows him a freedom in worship that the congregation recognizes and embraces.

It’s also an admission by the incoming pastor that maybe there are people out there with whom he can’t work; with whom he can’t get along.

Or it may be a giant power play.

It shatters the careers of eight of the 14 people in Darlene’s church who are in full-time vocational ministry and moved to this community to further their calling in visitation, discipleship, music, youth (2), Christian education, seniors ministry and urban outreach; all of whom must now circulate resumés and prepare to re-settle, one of whom just arrived six months ago from the other side of the country.

No exceptions. No compassion. No face-to-face meetings with the people just dismissed.

This is standard operating procedure in many U.S. denominations and at least one in Canada. It’s a policy that needs to be repented of.

Darlene opened the door to let Cynthia in.

“Good timing, Cynth; the kids are all settled down.”

“You sounded like it was important.”

“Yeah,” Darlene continued; “We’ve decided to leave Central Church.”

“Is it because of the staff thing?” quizzed Cynthia.

“Yes and no. I can get to know new people, and I’m sure they’ll be qualified; but it bothers us that a system exists that allows this to happen; that everybody accepts that this is how it’s done. Tom found about a fairly new church about five miles further that’s desperate for some help in their music department, and the kids will fit in right away because they use the same curriculum and they know some of the kids from school.  I’m sorry….”

“No, it’s not your fault. We’ve been wondering about all this ourselves…  Maybe we’ll come to visit on Tom’s first Sunday leading the worship.”

 

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