Thinking Out Loud

October 21, 2017

Churches Need Servants Not “Captains”

Is the modern church over-emphasizing leadership skill sets?

by Ruth Wilkinson

Somebody at a church told me something once, by way of a dismissal, that has stuck in my introvert brain. It’s gone round and round like a leaf in an eddy of river water.

The statement was this: “I don’t see you as a captain. At least, not yet.” The idea being that I wasn’t fit to fill a certain role in that church.

In the moment, I was disappointed, but also there was something that objectively bothered me. Hence the swirling.

“Captain?” Captains have unassailable authority. Captains give orders. Captains have the best quarters and eat at the best table. Captains wear the fanciest uniform. Captains earn the most money and have the loudest voice and shout “Ten-hut!” and “Everybody look at me!”

Captains serve on the Starship Enterprise. Not in the Church.

The Church is the body of Christ. His hands and feet and speech in the world.

I am a servant of that body. I, like all of us, have one calling: to honor God with our gifts and skills, and to serve each other.

In my case, that service comprises music – “leading worship” as it has come to be called. It also includes leading worship leaders. Seeing the potential in other singers and musicians to join in, encouraging them to contribute to planning and then to step out on their own.

I’ve had the joy of raising up a team to feed, encourage and speak Christ’s love to people on the margins of society – a group which has gone on to become an established charity still doing good work in our area.

I’ve been paid to teach groups how to work together to plan, prepare and execute a Sunday morning. Finding their own giftings and setting them loose.

I’ve built from scratch a band of worship singers and musicians drawn from 6 different churches who played together for 3 years.

And I’ve been effective. All without shouting a single order.

So, no, thank God, I’m not a captain. I’m a servant. A builder of frames, a drawer of shapes. I’m a finder of treasures and an opener of doors. A creator of opportunities and an encourager.

And no, I guess I’ll never receive the formal affirmation – the blessing – of my fellow believers. My ‘salute’ will always be hugs and moments and memories.

I just hope that we’re not heading to a future where “captains” run the church. I might just demob.

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April 26, 2015

When Church Leadership Hurts and Wounds

It’s now been five years since a Church elder abused my wife.

No, he didn’t physically touch her at all, but through his words, he hurt and wounded her to a degree that she, and our family, have never recovered.

The problem is, I still love that church. There are people there in whose lives I am invested, and they are invested in mine. It’s the church where I served on staff for four years, where our children were dedicated, where my oldest served for three years as a youth ministry volunteer and where my wife herself was baptized.

My wife was trying to regain a volunteer position — leading worship, the thing to which every cell within her is called and gifted to do — that had been removed due to much misunderstanding between herself and a former pastor with whom she is now friends. She was summoned to a midweek meeting with herself, the elder, and one other person and was basically told that she was an outsider. “We don’t have guest worship leaders;” said the one person. “If people see someone up there that they don’t know, it will confuse them;” said the other.

Not much more than a month later, they had a guest worship leader.

And they have been having them ever since.

But wait, “Guest?” She held this position for many years, for a period when I was on staff; a period where I left to do a church plant downtown; and the position leading up to her dismissal. She has more history in that church than the person telling her that with all those years she was nothing more than a ‘visitor.’

However, the point of the meeting wasn’t to simply say, “No;” to her request to be reinstated in the schedule.

The point of the meeting was to wound her, to cause her pain. They didn’t have a reason why she shouldn’t serve, they just didn’t want her. I wonder if the intensity, the fervor, the creativity she brought to the Sundays she provided leadership simply challenged their addiction to mediocrity.

She has never recovered.

She will come with me, about six times a year, and then she leaves and until recently, after the service she would head to the car alone until I’m done socializing with friends. She finds it difficult to sing, and often stands in silence. She’s only recently beginning to speak with people again.

My kids know what happened. They have a harder time visiting — maybe once a year is all — because, even though we’ve tried to move on, for them the events are still frozen in time

And no, this man is not the person in this blog post, though there are some interesting connections.

…So what do you do if you’re summoned to such a meeting? Maybe for you it’s a church discipline situation that you feel is being unjustly applied.

First, record the meeting somehow. There are so many times we wish we had a transcript of everything that was said, because there were so many lies.

Second, have someone in your corner. Ask who is going to be there, and if there’s two of them, make sure there’s two of you.

Third, debrief the meeting with someone immediately after. My wife was too devastated by what happened to tell me everything that night. There were just tears. I am amazed she was able to drive home. Some of it came to light only recently.

Finally, involve the pastor. In this case, the pastor had just arrived, and had taken the approach that, “I’m not going to micromanage individual church departments.” Okay, but the buck has to stop somewhere, right? We should have forced a follow-up meeting that I requested.

…My wife went on to serve in another church, to start an interdenominational worship team, to co-found a local charity and see it through to incorporation, to write more songs and make recordings, to lead worship at retreats, and to be paid as a consultant to teach teens how to give leadership in their local church.

What about forgiveness?

I think that’s fully further down the road. He really hurt her. He had the power to give her back the thing that was unjustly taken away from her, and he chose instead to slam the door shut.

Do I forgive him? I mostly feel sorry for him. This is a man who, when he first arrived on the scene and started doing platform ministry, couldn’t do the “Welcome to our morning service” line unless it was written on a card. He’s come a long way, and he’s trying to be friendly toward me now, but I just think that he’s always been in way over his head.

I also think that he was, in part, told how that fateful meeting was supposed to go, and I think I know by whom he was told.

…We still get people asking us why she doesn’t get back on a worship team. She recently sang there at large fundraising thing they did, and I was secretly hoping that this might create some further opportunity to find her way back, but we have to face the fact that it’s never going to happen.

Which is also hard for me. Remember the part about me being on staff there for four years? I was the Worship and Outreach Director. I led worship, solo, every Sunday for four years. And just once, I’d love to do one more set there sometime with a full band.

But they don’t have “guest” worship leaders.

Except for the Sundays they do.

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