Thinking Out Loud

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.

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January 28, 2018

Youth Pastors: Avoid Any Hint of Compromising Situations

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 am

All of the stories currently circulating of Youth Pastors facing charges for inappropriate sexual contact or assault reminded me of something that happened when I was doing itinerant youth ministry. If I didn’t have a booking on a particular Friday night, there was one youth drop-in where I would hang out. One night Mike wanted to talk.

So yes, this story involves another guy, but the principle is the same.

Mike said he needed to speak to me privately and confidentially about an issue he was struggling with. He was a 15 year old boy; do the math. It was then that I got a brilliant idea and created a situation that I would then repeat several times in successive weeks when someone felt the need to unburden themselves.

I took my car — my hatchback car that was all windows — and repositioned it to the parking spot that was right by the door. (There were no handicapped spots back then.) That way, even though people were passing by — coming and going every few minutes — Mike could talk and I could listen.

I later did this when some of the girls wanted to talk. Nobody could say, “We saw Paul and ______ sitting in his car;” because the whole point was that they were able to see Paul and ______ sitting in my car. Nothing looked untoward because everything was in full view.

Is this in the Student Ministry training textbook? I don’t know. It worked then and to me it was just youth ministry common sense.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t girls in the group I wouldn’t have liked to date; but for the most point there would have been an 8-10 year difference. Creepy then. Creepy now.

I later married a girl where there was a similar age difference, but we were both older. Definitely no creepy factor.

As to the current headlines, I think that many of those situations could have been avoided if the student pastors had a day-to-day accountability partner. Another pastor on staff. Another youth pastor in the town or city.

February 3, 2017

Review: The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks

Zac Hicks should write a novel. In his book The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams (Zondervan) he proves himself as a master of analogy. Not one or two, but more than a dozen comparisons between the person you might see on the stage at weekend services leading us sung and spoken worship, and other ministry and non-ministry occupations with which you are familiar.

the-worship-pastorThe need for these comparisons is simple: Worship leaders wear many hats. Those who are paid full-time to do this vocationally at larger churches are definitely multi-tasking, but even in smaller congregations, the task of directing us, as well as leading the worship team itself, is multi-faceted.

For that reason, I would argue that for those who perform this function, this is a book that will be referred to on a constant, ongoing basis. The Worship Pastor is basically an encyclopedia of everything related to the responsibility of planning and executing what is, in many of our churches, up to if not more than half of the total service time.

The author has been writing at his blog, ZacHicks.com since May of 2009. His bio notes that he “grew up in Hawaii, studied music in Los Angeles, trained in Philosophy and Biblical Studies at Denver Seminary, and his current doctoral work is in the theology and worship of the English Reformation. Zac’s passions include exploring the intersection of old and new in worship and thinking through the pastoral dimensions of worship leading.”

Indeed, the brilliance of the book is his ability to speak to two vastly different audiences: Those leading in a traditional, liturgical setting, and those serving in a modern, free worship environment. In both cases those leading have more in common in than they realize, and face many of the same challenges.

Back to the analogies. At the book’s website, these are spelled out and it helps you understand the book best to restate them here:

Chapter 1: The Worship Pastor as Church Lover
Chapter 2: The Worship Pastor as Corporate Mystic
Chapter 3: The Worship Pastor as Doxological Philosopher
Chapter 4: The Worship Pastor as Disciple Maker
Chapter 5: The Worship Pastor as Prayer Leader
Chapter 6: The Worship Pastor as Theological Dietician
Chapter 7: The Worship Pastor as War General
Chapter 8: The Worship Pastor as Watchful Prophet
Chapter 9: The Worship Pastor as Missionary
Chapter 10: The Worship Pastor as Artist Chaplain
Chapter 11: The Worship Pastor as Caregiver
Chapter 12: The Worship Pastor as Mortician
Chapter 13: The Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd
Chapter 14: The Worship Pastor as Liturgical Architect
Chapter 15: The Worship Pastor as Curator
Chapter 16: The Worship Pastor as Tour Guide

The title of the book (reiterated in each chapter) also deserves a second look. Hicks clearly sees the job as pastoral and would have those who serve in this capacity see it as nothing less. For those of us who have been criticized by pastors who felt their toes were being stepped on by a music director wanting to express this type of role in the statements, readings, and off-the-cuff remarks on a Sunday morning, this book grants them the authority to pursue their calling as a pastoral role. 

I couldn’t help but note that for a book written by a musician, this one definitely builds to a crescendo in its later sections. 

Wondering about that 12th chapter? “Death is the unspoken anxiety of North American culture…Our people bring all those fears right into the services we plan and lead. Each week, death is the biggest elephant in the sanctuary.” That one was fun reading. (Full disclosure, the chapter also deals with worship directors called upon to assist with funerals.)

Chapter 14 is actually a high point in the book and one that is anticipated throughout earlier sections. We’re presented with a worship flow (my word, not his) which then maps onto various liturgical and contemporary church service models, from Vineyard to Anglican.

But what about choosing some songs? Hicks doesn’t get around to anything as pedestrian as song selection until Chapter 15, and he does it in a rather unique way: By calling on the various ‘people’ in the previous models he is basically asking us to consider what songs ‘they’ would choose. (As a practitioner, I once commented that a longtime worship leader has heard about 5,000 compositions, but song selection isn’t about the five songs you choose, but the 4,995 you have to leave out.) He applies this also to choosing prayers (and how they are worded) and considering transitional segments.

Through the use of illustrations from the author’s experience, this book is accessible to all, however having said that, I believe it is also written at a somewhat academic level, thus I would expect The Worship Pastor to appear in textbook lists for worship courses. For those who want to go deeper, the footnotes represent a vast array of literature which sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. I would love to see Hicks explore those writers in greater detail. (The Worship Pastor: Director’s Cut, perhaps?)

My recommendation? This should be required reading for both worship leaders, singers, musicians, and senior pastors.


zac-hicksThanks to Miranda at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to read The Worship Pastor. Any physical resemblance between Zac Hicks (pictured here) and Steven Curtis Chapman is purely coincidental.

September 10, 2015

Am I Ever, Inadvertently, Part of My Pastor’s Problem?

That books like these ever existed is proof that the challenges faced by pastors and ministry workers are nothing new.

That books like these ever existed is proof that the challenges faced by pastors and ministry workers are nothing new.

I discovered a link leftover from yesterday’s news roundup that I decided was worthy of greater attention. It was a piece at the website Foundations – Life Coaching which in turn linked to a piece by Thom Rainer, The Twelve Biggest Challenges Pastors and Church Staff Face:

In my latest non-scientific Twitter survey, I asked the following question of pastors and church staff: What is your biggest challenge in ministry? Here are the top twelve responses with representative quotes. I’ve taken the liberty to expand most of the quotes from their abbreviated form in Twitter.

  1. Apathy and internal focus.  “I have been in ministry for over twenty years, and I’ve never seen church members more apathetic and internally focused.”
  2. Staff issues. “I inherited staff from the previous pastor. It’s not a good match, but I don’t have the credibility to do anything about it.”
  3. Leading and keeping volunteers. “It’s a full-time job itself.”
  4. General time constraints. “I end every week wondering why I got so little done.”
  5. Getting buy-in from members. “I spend half my time developing a consensus from members about decisions from the mundane to the critical.”
  6. Generational challenges. “It seems like the older generation is determined to nix any new ideas or excitement from the younger generation.”
  7. Finances. “You can sum up our challenge in four simple words: We need more money.”
  8. Holding on to traditions. “I wish our members would put as much effort into reaching people for Christ as they do holding on to their traditions.”
  9. Criticism. “Some leaders in the church have appointed themselves to be my weekly critics.”
  10. Leadership development. “We miss too many opportunities in ministry because we don’t have enough leaders ready.”
  11. Majoring on minors. “We spent an hour in our last business conference discussing the fonts in our bulletins.”
  12. Lack of true friends. “One of the toughest realities for me as pastor was the awareness that I have no true friends in the church.”

What is fascinating, if not discouraging, about this survey is that virtually all of the challenges noted by these pastors and staff were internal challenges. It appears that many of our churches in America are not effective conduits of the gospel because the members spend so much energy concerned about their own needs and preferences.

So let’s look at Rainer’s list and look at our role in the life of the pastor and church staff at our local church:

  1. Am I as passionate about my church as I once was? As passionate as I could be?
  2. In striving for continuity, was our church too insistent on locking-in the existing staff positions?
  3. Am I doing as much volunteer work as I could? Have I quit doing something in our church’s ministry that I should have stuck with?
  4. Have I ever created situations or projects which are a distraction to the church staff? Or even stayed too long at a mid-week drop-by and prevented some work from getting done?
  5. Am I ever skeptical about new church initiatives or slow to get on board?
  6. Do I truly recognize the multi-generational character of the Body of Christ? Or do I tend to focus on people in my own age bracket or socioeconomic situation?
  7. Am I practicing systematic, intentional, regular percentage giving?
  8. Do I let my love of the familiar in the life of our church prevent us from trying some fresh approaches and new initiatives.
  9. Have I ever vocally criticized the pastor or church staff? Have I ever by my silence seemed unsupportive, even something so slight as a rolling of the eyes in a conversation?
  10. Is our church mentoring the next tier of lay leadership? Are we creating situations where people can step up and have more ministry responsibility?
  11. Do I allow myself to get mired in minutiae; caught up in non-issues?
  12. Have I put myself in a position where I’m willing to just be a friend to people our pastoral staff and not just have a connection that is task-related only?

It may be that these questions just scratch the surface, or perhaps don’t do the original article justice. (#2 Was a tough one to individualize because it’s beyond the scope of most parishioners, and sometimes a complete change of staff can be deadly.)

But I hope these give you something to think about as you engage in conversations at your church. I hope it serves as a type of ‘checks-and-balances’ set of questions.

 

February 23, 2015

The City Guy at the Christian Camping Mini-Conference

Short StoriesAs I thought about tomorrow’s 7th anniversary for this blog, I started reading some of the early stuff. This one seemed worthy of a third time around…I think that many of our organizations and local churches would be different if we could take this to heart…


 

The director of a large regional camp center had just returned from a large Christian Camping conference when he decided to host an all-day meeting for directors of smaller facilities who would never be able to attend such an event. He gathered the names of about a dozen small places from around the state, found 14 people who were interested in coming and amazingly found a Tuesday that they could meet.

Some of them only ran day camps, and one of them had a parcel of land that only operated as a camp for only two weeks out of the summer. He shared some things that had taken place at the conference but was careful not to be the big camp telling the small camps how to do things. They watched a few video clips, ate lunch together, and gave a tour of his site to those who hadn’t seen it before.

Mostly, he led discussions. Realizing that it was becoming a one-man show, he tried to get someone to come as a speaker to wrap up the thing before dinner. Everybody he picked, including members of his own staff and board, were tied up that day, so he invited a guy from his church who was a good Bible teacher but honestly wouldn’t know the difference between a camping facility and a dairy farm.

At 4:00 PM, his friend arrived, coming straight from the office in the city still wearing a suit and tie. Not a jacket and tie, but a suit that looked like he had just stepped off a New York subway into downtown Manhattan. He stood and stared at the group of nine men and five women who were wearing mostly jeans and golf shirts.

If he didn’t feel out of place enough for that reason, he had also realized about half-way through the day that he’d left his Bible and his notes somewhere else. However as he kept driving — and praying — a backup plan slowly began to take shape, so that when he was introduced, he knew the exact direction he wanted their time together to go.

“I don’t really know much about what you do;” he started, “but I want to ask you just three questions about your facilities. The first question is, ‘Do you have hard water or soft water?'”

This took everyone by surprise, including the person who had invited him. But it recovered quickly into a lively discussion on how all water is not the same, and mineral levels, and how it affects everything from laundry to making coffee.

“The second question,” he continued, “is, ‘Do you have hard soil or soft soil?'”

This time around they knew the drill, and discussed not only the growth of plants and trees, but lime and phosphates, and how soil type affects drainage during a storm, or putting up new buildings.

After another few minutes on that one, he put up his hand to calm the discussion and asked a third question.

“The final question,” he said, “is, ‘Do you have hard people or soft people?'”

One person laughed out loud but mostly there was silence.

At this point he said, “You know, I got invited here because I teach the Bible at our church, but the truth is I’ve checked my car twice at lunchtime and my Bible and notes aren’t there, and I’m lost without them.

“But I really felt directed to talk about this. In any organization there are people. Some work behind the scenes and only interact with the other staff. Some work on the front-lines and interact with the broader community. But all of us need to be people who the Holy Spirit can work through and can be seen working through. All of us need to lose the tough and rough edge and be people who have been softened, so that the higher purpose of what we do is evident to anyone who meets us. All of us need to develop the ability to communicate the love of God to people, not over the course of several days or hours, but over the course of several seconds. Those first impressions count. The love of God needs to be something we wear on our faces. There needs to be a difference.

“The problem — and I expect it’s true in Christian camping as much or more as anywhere else — is that we’re so task driven and so physically stretched that we lose sight of being the people God wants us to be in encouraging others and being salt and light in the bigger world. We miss the moment. We miss an opportunity to show that what we sing or confess on Sunday morning is a real factor in our lives. We appear to have it all together, when in fact, Christianity is meant to be a community of broken people. We give the impression that the job at hand is more important than the people we’re doing it with.

“I guess that’s it;” he concluded. He had driven for an hour out to the country to deliver less than 300 words of exhortation.

He decided the closing prayer would take the form of silence, with each person praying their own benediction on the time they had spent together.

So… here’s the question: In your church, in your ministry organization, in your family, do you have hard people or soft people?

~PW, originally published July, 2006

 

June 14, 2014

Elderly Need Ministry, Too

Tony Campolo has written an interesting piece this morning at Red Letter Christians, which I am re-blogging here with emphasis added.

The church I attend currently has five people listed on the roster of ministry staff.

  • Lead Pastor
  • Associate Pastor of Care and Discipleship (a former youth pastor, currently in the process of moving to a new church, whose focus was on twenty- and thirty-somethings)
  • Youth Pastor
  • Director of Children’s Ministries (not quite full time)
  • Children’s Outreach Director (part time)

Other than the administrative assistant, there are no other paid staff. So you see the demographic consequences here, most of the ministry dollars spent on salaries are benefit parents with young children and teens.

Tony writes:

Tony CampoloIt seems strange to me that churches should show such favoritism to the youth and do little, if anything, for the elderly. When a church adds a new staff member, it is usually someone to work with the young people in the church, even though the young people constitute only six or seven percent of those who show up on Sunday morning, whereas a third of all those in attendance are over the age of 65.

In spite of this reality, the church is ready to appoint a youth minister, but not a minister with a specific assignment to the elderly. It is assumed that elderly people don’t need special ministry, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sociological studies indicate that elderly people are more likely to lose faith in God than young people. Through the years they have seen much suffering; they have seen too many unanswered prayers; and in the face of death they face incredible uncertainties.

I’m not saying that Youth Pastors are unimportant but what what I am saying is that churches go out of their way to add a youth worker position so that this person can help build up the church’s youth ministry, with the goal of attracting more youth to come to church. At the same time, there is already a large portion of the church that attend every week, give their tithes, and volunteer in church ministries but do not receive the attention or care that is essential to their spiritual well being. Churches are in greater need of a hired hand to assist with the day to day needs of the elderly than they are for the youth.

When I was younger I never realized the amount of time and energy that it takes to be old. Today, I spend countless hours going to and from doctors appointments and part of my daily routine now includes taking a variety of different medication that helps me keep going. It’s a hard task for me and I am in good health. For the millions of elderly individuals in our churches today without the luxury of good health I can easily see the struggles of keeping up with the demands of aging.

An Elderly Care Pastor could assist the elderly of their congregation by assisting individuals with transportation needs to and from doctors appointments, ensuring that prescription medications are taken on time and in the correct dosage, and by organizing elderly activities so that these individuals are not left sitting alone at home for days on end. Too many elderly people I meet tell me stories of how they spend most of their last years sitting alone with few, if any, visitors. We, the church, can and must do something to help the elderly. The addition of an Elderly Care Pastor is the first step towards making an immediate impact in the lives of the elderly of our congregations today.

Considering that the church is made up of elderly people more than young people, what is the church going to do in response to the needs of this important segment of its membership? My suggestion here is not the only suggestion worth considering. Please contemplate this issue and see what ideas come to mind that work to provide for the elderly in your local congregations.

To be fair, the church I attend has a Parish Nurse (a term borrowed from Anglicans, I believe) on call who does provide some of the functions Tony mentioned in the 4th and 5th paragraphs. I don’t know if she is paid beyond expenses as salaries aren’t broken down in the annual report and I’ve never bothered to ask.
So what do you think?
How would churches where you live relate to Tony’s perspective here?

Send Tony some link love and check out this article at source.


 

  • Related: Churches like to have young staff and young-looking staff. In many churches worship-leading and teaching pastor positions are given to people under 40. I wrote about this in June 2011, When 40 is Too Old to Serve Your Church.

 

March 27, 2014

So What If I Told You…

So what if I told you that about half of all people employed by Christian organizations and churches in North America are in no way necessary to the completion of that organization’s or church’s ministry?

The statistic is hypothetical, but I’d still like to propose the possibility that the thesis is correct. There is a lot of fat in a lot of organizations. As attendance grows at weekend services, many churches opt to either go into building program or to hire more staff. At parachurch organizations, structures and hierarchies become bureaucratized and complex. People grow accustomed to their weekly paycheck, and long-time employees appreciate the burden-sharing and never question the additional expenditures. Why rock the boat, or admit that the job you do each day isn’t a real job? Too few charities and church denominations ever take the step of hiring people from the business world who know how to make cuts.

So what if I told you that about 90% of the people employed by churches and Christian organizations are completely isolated from any opportunity to do front-line ministry?

Again, a hypothetical stat, but when you average in all the people in various support services, office staff, etc., and the various agencies that come alongside these same missions and camps and churches are included, it shows that the structure really does mean that, like an iceberg only reveals a tenth of its mass, only a very small percentage of workers are exposed to situations requiring a presentation of the gospel or engagement with those outside the flock. 

Years ago, I remember hearing the phrase, ‘Making a living off the gospel.’  It’s sad to think that this probably takes place today to a much higher level; a much greater degree. Organizations ask for help meeting a payroll that probably doesn’t need to be as high as it is, but perhaps fruit-of-the-spirit virtues like kindness prevent the hard-nosed restructuring that might be needed. 

What do you think? Do you know people who have a career with a Christian organization, but maybe don’t exactly have a job? Do you think a person would ever have the conviction to tell their Christian employer that their job is completely unnecessary? Do you know of a church that simply has waaaay too many staff positions?

November 7, 2013

Increasingly, Insurance Companies Call the Shots

Filed under: Church, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:44 am

Sometimes when my wife and I are standing on the hill overlooking the lake at the Christian camp where we met, we’ll remember a particular feature of camp life — a piece of equipment, or a game the kids played — that no longer exists, and I’ll say, “You wouldn’t get an insurance company to approve that today.”

Camp is now a kinder, gentler place; and insurance regulations and restrictions affect everything from the beds in the cabins, to what happens on canoe trips, to the menu, preparation and serving of food in the kitchen. It’s a different world, but most parents and staff understand the necessity of putting safety first and limiting liability claims.

But I haven’t — so far — heard of the insurance company overriding a staff hire, or rejecting the presence of an existing staff member. Frankly, I didn’t know they could take their authority that far.  So the story of Greg Atkinson just seems lamentable.  After serving for three years, he explained it to his church, and posted on his blog:

Greg Atkinson…I regret to say that I will not be able to continue on as your Campus Pastor. I have a mood disorder (which I’ve been very open about and blogged about and posted on Facebook) which is controlled by medicine and allows me to function normally and at a high level. I say this to reinforce what I’ve always said, “God uses weak, messed up people.”

As things would have it, the church’s insurance company just recently found out about my mood disorder and classifies me as a liability. Pastor John and Forest Park were put in a very difficult situation by the insurance company of losing their liability insurance as a church (which would open them up to law suits for all their staff and pastors) or releasing me.

I am stepping down as Campus Pastor so that the church doesn’t lose their liability insurance. As a leader, I learned a long time ago that you make the right call for the many, even if the few don’t like it. In this case, my family and I are the few and the right call is to protect the entire Forest Park Church.

Please know I would have stayed here a decade or longer. I love you…

Dang! That’s just gut-wrenching stuff to read.

Fortunately, Greg is landing on his feet and has a number of projects in the works. I’m glad to hear that, but at the same time, it proves to me that perhaps Greg is not the person the insurance company thinks he is.

There’s something extremely off-putting about all this.  Greg loves his church and its people, and I hope the rules at least allow him to have an occasional ‘guest role’ as long as he and his family live in the area. Some of you might even want to add Greg, his wife, and their three children to your prayer list. I know he’d appreciate it.

Do insurance companies have too much say in this case? Could something like this happen where you live? There are a lot of people walking around who take meds for things like depression. Where would an insurance company draw the line? Is a church job any different than working in the toy or hunting department of a department store, or working at a bank? Aren’t we supposed to be more open to people with mental health disabilities?

I don’t suggest the insurer may have not the right to deeper investigation and perhaps even the right to suggest a staff member poses liability issues for a school, or daycare, or church.

I just don’t like the trajectory this is on.

July 3, 2013

Wednesday Link List

lynx 3Today we kick off a new chapter; the link list moves to its new home at Leadership Journal’s Out of Ur website, a ministry of Christianity Today. I’ve been reading Out of Ur since long before I started blogging, so this is a real honor. Here’s a link direct to today’s Wednesday Link List. Please be sure to click through. (They didn’t take the List Lynx pictured at right however, at least not so far…) Also remember it’s just the Wednesday list that’s moving; we’ll be back here tomorrow with the content you’ve come to loathe love here at Thinking Out Loud!

UPDATE: In November, 2013, we updated the July WLL posts here to restore the links. (The first month never had them at all here in any form.) I might periodically go back and update older ones just so we have a record here of the original sources.

March 20, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Hail Mary dogs

Wednesday List Lynx

Wednesday List Lynx

Insert skillfully written intro here.

Praying Dogs

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