Sunday, December 11, 2011

Church: A New Personality Won't Save You

I spoke to two dear, wise friends about my fears for the church.  I also shared with them my obsession that the church is not in need of the right person in each pastoral role, but rather that the church is in need of a new structure.

I feel strongly that we need to look to centralizing our pastor care, keeping our elders as a system of checks and balances, but leaving management, training, and deployment to those who are trained to do so.

Both friends I spoke to have been in ministry for years.  They like the idea and felt there was something to it.  Both even used the word "gem" which I liked very much (I am a big fan of all things shiny...).  However, after the dust settled, there was a resounding silence because neither thought our churches could or would give up control.  Who after all would be the first guinea pig?

I am praying for our churches.  I am talking to friends about our churches.  The bad news is that we all feel hopeless about this issue.  The good news is that we don't need to.  God cares about this even more.

So I am looking forward to seeing what God will do with this baby...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pastor Disaster: Part 2

The second thought that I am having about pastors is this: because pastors can be fired at whim within the mainstream protestant church gang, the ones that are left are towing the party line.  They preach what their parishioners want to hear and they don't make anyone uncomfortable.  In short they dabble in the truth - and focus only on topics that make congregations feel warm and fuzzy.

The interim pastor at our church - the firmly-avoiding-outreach pastor - that has been left with this quivering mass of guilt and self-righteousness - plays only to the folks who pull the strings in the church. Fired pastor had a plan to open a third church in our geographical area.  Within weeks of his being dumped the newest line-tower got up to promise that none of that was going to happen (phew!).  Instead, the church was going to focus on "listening to God."  I promise you, we have been to a number of churches where the pastor promises that - and it is the death-knell of any meaningful sort of Christian community.

This is quite simply a lie.  No one is listening to God.  Rather, they are playing at being part of a Christian club.  A few die-hards are out there sharing their faith, and the congregation of over 400 cheers at the one annual baptism of the one new Christian.  What no one wants to admit is that this is usually some dear soul who has simply switched churches after a bit of a breaky-poo.  

The fact is when churches get comfortable and start looking inwards and get busy "healing" and ignoring the community outside their doors, churches start suffocating.  That is what happens when pastors have to please to save their paycheck.  

While we were trying to find our mega-church of choice, we stopped by a new church in our area for a Sunday and truthfully, it was a breath of fresh air.  Here's why: the pastor was paid by a central office of the denomination that had done the church plant.  He was not dependent on any of the faithful that sat in the chairs in front of him.  The Sunday that we went he spoke on tithing.  He apologized for the topic.  No one wants the money topic - but he said that he felt fine to talk on it.  After all, he wasn't asking for money for himself.  His pay came from somewhere else.  He just taught that tithing was God's idea.  It was freeing and easy.  That his own pay was not attached to that body of believers allowed him to do his job the way he felt God wanted him to do his job, not the way he felt the chief donor wanted him to.

Centralizing pay, supervision, and education of pastors might be something we need to explore if we are going to get out of the way and let God breath life back into the bones of His churches. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Church Crunch.

You would have to be blind or stupid or both not to notice that the church has taken a serious pounding.  I confess, we go to a mega-church.  It's almost like running for the hills.  I get the feeling most people have chosen the mega-church because there's safety in numbers. 

Bad news.  The mega-church is in the vice too. 

Here's my favorite part about the way the church is going: everyone seems to be turning their guns on everyone else. 

The ones who are getting the worst of it: pastors.  I can't think of anything I would like to do less.

The Catholics and their abuse scandals make me crazy.  Someone is going to have to answer for that, either here on earth or when everything gets shovelled into those golden scales....

Nonetheless, Catholics train and protect their priesthood. There is something important to that.  These people who feel called by God to lead the rest of us sheep put a lot on the line.  It seems to me that in our mainstream Protestant churches, pastors train like crazy - and then they put their future in the hands of a group of men (and sometimes women) who may or may not have any particular theological training, who may or may not bow to group think: people who have other jobs, lives, and pressures.

It's far from a perfect system.

Here's our history.  I went to a Baptist church when I was a little girl when my mom became a Christian.  One of the pastors there in the early years was a great speaker, led traditional altar calls, and encouraged people in their faith.  Soon enough though, there was some grumbling.  Before I knew it, he was shipped off to Northern Alberta somewhere.  No word of a lie.  A big city pastor who was left grovelling for a job in a small, small town.  If you asked anyone why he was sent off - it was something like they had gotten tired of his preaching style.  Really.

Then I went to the United Church of Canada.  There is some centralized organization there it seems to me.  A little more of ministers (that's what they're called in the UC of C) who know each other - of being sent to a church etc,...  With the centralization came some kuh-razy too.  'We don't do this because, we don't do that because,...' It seems there's less swinging for the fences when there is less immediate accountability.

Well, in university I went to a Brethren church.  I was basically a new Christian myself at the time - finally having an adult understanding of this thing called faith.  The Brethren church was coming out of a system of no paid pastors.  A series of elders or adult men in the church would take turns speaking and sharing from well-worn bibles.  However, without the training of modern pastors, a little (a lot) of legalism had ruled the roost and congregations were abandoning that model in favour of a more inviting, intellectually-based model - with one pastor at the helm.

Our pastor (I met and married my husband during that time), had grown up there himself, went to the theological college and agreed to come on as the lead pastor of a growing church.  He was brilliant, spoke Bible truth from his Brethren roots and encouraged us each and every week.

When, after years and years of faithful service, he wondered if God had something fresh in store for the church and himself, he moved to another church.  This time, this dear Godly friend of ours was quickly side-swiped by a board of elders with a history of firing pastors, good pastors, quickly and without remorse.  I'm not sure I hear angels celebrating over that one.

We tinkered with churches when our children were babies, but finally settled on a new one in our new suburban home.  My husband by this time had become jaded and wary of this fire-the-pastor game.  He spent Sunday mornings avoiding church and going for runs.  We were at odds with each other over it.  When I finally pulled out the Bible and began thumping at him about the Sabbath he agreed to come on a more regular basis.

By this time, hubby had been helping out with the youth pastor on Friday nights.  He and one of his best buddies ran the ball hockey that happened in the church gym.  He liked the youth pastor, and liked that the ball hockey brought out kids that weren't Christian.

So, it was a shock to us when one of the first Sunday mornings he agreed to come to the main service with me, the youth pastor stood up to say that the elders had asked him (you really have to believe me when I say this is a real live quote), "to consider his future with the church."  I turned to my hubby who was turning a blistering red shade, and whispered, "Are they firing him?"

Then an elder of the church announced that they were going to pray for him and his wife.  His (I am NOT even slightly kidding) 8 1/2 month pregnant wife was called forward.  She literally sobbed her way to the front of the church with her uncomfortable, beautiful belly.  Her husband had an arm around her shoulders, but he seemed to be hanging on - he was hardly able to comfort her.

It was then that I noticed my husband was up and moving towards the doors.   

We have since moved on to another church.  I know, I know.  Where is our loyalty?  Whatever.  It was a long complicated story - but we made a decision and fled - to the land of the mighty.  We wanted big numbers, great speaking, and somewhere our non-Christian friends would consider going to.  We found it.  The best part: the pastor.  He was an evangelist at heart.  In his great Scottish accent he hit home with the truth of the gospels in a way that we knew our non-Christian friends would enjoy.

We went on a house exchange to Europe this summer (loved it) for five weeks.  I can tell you that more than once we congratulated ourselves on finding a church home that was such a great fit for our family.

You can imagine our surprise when we came home to find out our pastor had been axed while we, and almost everyone but the elders, were away.

Why?  He had poor management team skills.  He more than struggled at leading his team of junior pastors.  Apparently, a number of his staff had left over the years because it was so difficult.  A number of people assured us that really his skills were deserving of firing.  A number of these same people are in full-time ministry themselves.

Which just makes me wonder a bit.  Why on earth wasn't there someone with the nerve to tell him the truth?  "You are an unbelievable teacher and unbelievable at sharing our faith with non-believers;  HOWEVER, we need you to take a course on management skills or read a book on management skills or I am going to teach you a bit about management skills.  Certainly, the church is in a big-money neighbourhood: there has to be someone who could have put their arm around this guy and said, 'let me show you what works.'

The elders admitted that there was no warning.  There was just 'here's why we are firing you.'

To my mind, that is ridiculous

He is basically a wreck right now.  No wants to go anywhere near this guy job-wise.  What an incredible shame.  He's really, really talented.  Now he's at home playing x-box zombie games in his underwear.  Who wins at this? 

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