I don't want things to go back to normal when the COVID-19 crisis passes us. Don't get me wrong, I need a haircut, I'm dying to get back to our regular routine, I've missed our church family, and Louisville is preseason Top 25 in football. There's a lot that we want to see again. And a lot of people we want to see again. But I don't want things back to normal.
Here's why. We've seen sparks of wonder during this crisis, and I fear that normalcy means the end of the wonder.
Stop and think about it. Companies are putting aside profits to take care of their employees. Factories are giving away product for a medical crisis. Opposite sides of the political debate are working on solutions. We're seeing a flourish of creativity in how people are meeting basic needs. The internet has become a happier place with a strong meme game. Our families are spending more time together, we're unplugging from the rat race, and we're recapturing what's most important. In my SBC tribe, we're not talking about CRT-I, we're talking about prayer and Gospel.
Do I want to see shops open and businesses thriving and churches filled again? Absolutely. Goodness yes. That's why I'm willing to endure the agony of distancing for a time. So we can hurry that back.
But as for normal, I'll pass.
I'll pass on a church culture that values preferences over mission. In this crisis, none of us are thrilled with what's happening. But we're pushing through. We're going through with a measure of joy as we videotape services in segments, as we sit in our living rooms and watch, and on the other side of the camera pastors are forcing smiles and eye direction to a camera instead of real faces. But we're on the same mission. We're all on the same page. I don't want to go back to the church culture of complaining over music style or pew color or Bible translation or whatever petty foolishness that doesn't matter we find ourselves arguing over.
I'll pass on lazy pastors and ministry leaders who skate by. Crisis has a way of separating cream from milk. Cream rises to the top. This crisis has pushed ministry leaders and pastors. It's made us uncomfortable. And it's exposed a problem I think far too common in churches: laziness. You can't be lazy and lead people through a crisis. You have to be willing to work hard, grind, and put in time.
I'll pass on joylessness. I was almost brought to tears a couple weeks ago by a Zoom meeting where I watched people join in, enter the "room," and light up when they saw familiar faces. They saw people they hadn't in weeks. And there was raw joy in that. I don't want to go back to normal where our church gatherings feel like funerals and dirges. I want to remember the joy that comes from authentic fellowship. I don't want to go back to the normal of joyless meetings, joyless classes, joyless services, and joyless activities.
I'll pass on fear of change. In this crisis, we've had nothing but change. Even before the CDC's recommendations shuttered the majority of churches nationwide, we were seeing the trajectory change on a 24/48 hour basis. What we knew as "accepted" was subject to changing as the situation evolved. Churches, for good or bad, have long been a bastion of steadfastness, an anchor to change. Seriously, step in some. It's like a time machine, except it's no DeLorean. You'll be taken back to the 1980s, 70s, or earlier. I don't want to go back to normal where change is something to be afraid of, or the answer to innovation is "we've never done it that way before." I want to keep this going, where innovation and ideas are churning out new ways to accomplish an ancient mission. Let's not lose this.
For pastors, much of our time is spent around people. While we have a priority on our preparation, study, and research for our preaching/teaching, we operate mostly around people. Well... that's not so easy anymore. Hospitals are closed to visitors, even family. Nursing homes don't allow you to stop in anymore. Most people don't want home visits. We're not able to have Bible studies or gatherings like we're used to.
So what do we do with our extra time? It's easy to fall in to the trappings of the moment and find yourself surfing the web, scouring Facebook for the latest articles or news, pounding the last of the snack reserves, fighting the crowds to get the last roll of toilet paper, or wasting your time. The alternative is to capitalize on this season and make the most of your time (Ephesians 5:15) for your personal and professional development.
1. Read More - You know that stack of books on your shelf that you stare at and then walk away from? Now is the time to start working through it! My encouragement is to read widely. Don't just read theology. Grab a biography, and interesting non-fiction, look at the NY Times bestseller list, see what's available on Kindle Unlimited. There's no NCAA Tournament, no NBA games, and no MLB. You can only binge watch Tiger King so long guys. And as a personal plug, my book on preaching and my book on pace in ministry are available for free on Kindle right now!
2. Exercise! - True story. You can grab so many web-based workouts and do-it-at-home options without having to use "well, the gym is closed" as an excuse. I know it's been easy to eat all your snack reserves, but take some of the extra time you have to go for a walk, do an online workout, or tackle that DIY project that's sure to get your heart rate, and blood pressure, up.
3. Worship - For so many of us in leadership, worship is something we take for granted. We take it for granted because it's a built in rhythm to our lives, and we take it for granted because when we have the responsibility of leadership we so many times fail to care for our own souls. Again, with the overload of churches broadcasting their services, Bible studies, and the YouTube library, there are no shortages of ways to worship and feed your soul. I've gotten fed digitally by friends and colleagues in ministry who I wouldn't otherwise.
1. Free Classes - It's easy to think of learning as something we did when we were in seminary or Bible college, but this provides us an incredible opportunity to sharpen our skills and grow in our learning. Best of all, many places are already offering these! Southeastern Seminary has a large selection of online classes you can take for free. Other options include Dallas Seminary, Denver Seminary, Gospel Coalition, RTS, and Zondervan.
2. Webinars - There are a number of great webinars that are available to help us grow significantly in our ministry, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Your email box is likely full of them. I'm typing this while I'm listening to one from Church Answers, I've got another in the queue from Barna, and another scheduled for Friday.
3. Network - You know the feeling you've got as a pastor where you don't know what you're supposed to do? Guess what, you're not alone. Before the CDC's recommendations hit hard enough that churches across the country shut down physical operations, I spent time at a pastor's roundtable. None of us could remember the "Global Pandemic" class in seminary, so we were working through some issues together. Grab your phone and call/text some other pastors and ministry leaders. Be an encouragement. Be a prayer partner. Pick their brain of how they're doing ministry now.
This past week has been a whirlwind for all of us. One of the redeeming qualities of a global pandemic is it disrupts our normal routines. For me, it's disrupted the routine of "I don't have time to read that right now." So last week I cranked out four books that had been sitting in the pile to read.
Since I'm a big believer in the idea that "leaders are readers" I want to pass on each of these four books as a commended resource for you. They're helpful. Challenging. Engaging. And I think you'll be blessed by each of them in unique ways.
For me, each of these books was one that I read to enjoy, not to mine for every nugget of content or salient point. I did that for over 12 years of postsecondary education. I like reading and enjoying/appreciating what's written. So these reviews will be more surface or skimmed.
Devoted by Tim Challies is a walk through the lives of some of the most prominent Christian figures in both recent and far off history. But the lens by which their lives are explored is unique in that it looks through their mother's influence. For moms, life can be an unending cycle of laundry and tasks and work and responsibility before putting kids to bed and starting all over the next morning. In the lives of each of these people many would call "heroes" stand (or kneel) women whose impact is being felt across continents and generations. Mom, take heart. God is working in your exhaustion, stress, and worry. And the imprints of Christ you leave on your children will be felt for generations.
Why Should I Trust The Bible by Timothy Jones is an attempt at exploring the case for the Bible through an evidentiary approach. Jones, an accomplished apologist, pastor, professor, writer, and my wife's PhD supervisor, does an incredible job of working through the issues behind the reliability of the Bible and how it is shaped by contemporary debate. What I appreciated most from Jones' work was that he didn't try to skip or end around the difficult passages and parts of the Bible, but recognizes that if we're completely comfortable then we're not reading deep enough. In many ways his faith journey shows up in the book, from a fundamentalist upbringing to an embrace of classic theological liberalism to a return home to historic confessional orthodoxy. That faith hinges on the Resurrection, and is recorded in Scripture, which speaks through the ages to us.
I Am A Leader by Angie Ward is written specifically for women who may sense a call to ministry and want to understand their responsibility in following that call. I expected this to have a much more decidedly egalitarian leaning than it did. One of the things I have always appreciated about Angie is that the gap in our theological conviction has never been an issue for our friendship, joy, community, and our mutual disdain for Duke. She loves Jesus. She loves the church. And she wants nothing more than for Jesus to be glorified in her and her family's life. As a pastor, I appreciated so much of what Angie had to say in this. So many times, at least in my complementarian tribe, we focus on building walls around what women can't do. In doing so, to "stay faithful to the Word," we have created a climate that stifles the areas of ministry, leadership, and responsibility that are found in a flourishing and vital way. So much of what I've read on calling (and even written!) has been centered around the pastoral office and function. But what about those who aren't called to pastoral ministry by qualification or by perception? How can they thrive in leadership in the church? Through influence. Positional leadership ≠ influence. Influence = influence. To the sisters in the room, we need you. We need your influence.
Walking With Giants by Harry Bush is a powerful personal memoir of a missionary couple and the relationships they made along the way. For many of us who are home-side pastors and church leaders, we hold the rope for the real heroes in Christianity: our missionaries. They are the ones who sacrifice the comforts and familiarity of home to chase after God's call among the nations. Not all of them live in a hut (although I think a few times Harry and Barbara would have preferred a hut to their accommodations!) but all of them know they have received a shouting call from God. For those on the field, their heroes are the national believers. And we don't hear much from them, if ever anything. That's what I've told Harry repeatedly since he shared about his dream for this book, that by publishing this he has ensured the names, stories, adventures, and testimonies of these national believers are preserved. I cannot wait to meet these giants, and hear more from them about God's work.
If you've been meeting as a church virtually for the last few weeks, you know the feeling of trying to put together a service and a sermon and record everything without the key dynamic to our personal ministry: people. We do ministry with people, among people, for people, before people. Everything about our lives is centered around people. Even in our study and preparation, it's always in the dynamic of people.
So when we find ourselves preaching with a limited support crew or ourselves with an iPhone, it can be really difficult to push through. After two Sundays preaching virtually, I can say that it is twice as tiring to preach to an empty room than it is a full room. At least in a full room you have synergy, feedback, a few "Amen!" comments. When it's just you, all you've got is the red dot on your camera or whoever is helping you tape. Then what?
Our reality is that for the next several weeks we'll be doing this virtual thing. It's going to be after Easter at least before things return to any sense of normal. Maybe longer. So what can we do to preach with effectiveness in an empty room?
1. Look at the camera. Easy to say, harder to do. But it's part of training our eyes to look at the camera, not at ourselves on the screen. We want to make eye contact, which is natural. So when the eyes are the selfie camera, that's where we go. But it creates disconnect with the camera. If it helps, put a sticker or something above (not on) your camera on the phone or whatever you're using the record as a visual reminder.
3. Engage and smile. Warm expressions on your face go a long way to show you're connecting with your audience on camera. Watch your local news tonight and see what kind of face they have. They're warm. They're engaging. They use their eyes to communicate empathy, concern, listening, and attention. When we're on a stage or a platform, our facial expressions are less important because there's a physical distance from us and the pews or chairs. But on camera, where we're a foot away from the lens, it's a lot harder to hide our facial expressions!
4. Treat it like a broadcast, not a service. I get it. We want to try to keep everything normal so we try to just do what we'd normally do on a Sunday, throw a camera or two in the room, and pretend like everything is usual. But it's not. Churches that typically share their in-person services may have some people who are used to the experience, but the reality for almost all of us is that we're all in the same boat. So everyone knows we're preaching to an empty or sparse room. And our routines and rhythms are so off kilter anyway that we should treat our virtual services as a broadcast first. So we don't look around the room like a normal service, and I'd even argue we should pull out from taping in our main worship areas.
5. Ask around. Find out what other people are doing and pick their brains for their ideas. Since none of us took the elective in seminary of pastoring through a global pandemic, we need to look at each other as helps and resources. Text, call, email, and ask around of your pastor friends to see what they're doing to connect and how they're preaching in an empty room.
6. Keep trying. The important thing, more than anything else, is to keep trying. Whatever you do is better than nothing. And however you do what you're doing is pushing the plow. Keep it up. Don't get discouraged. Don't compare to the megachurch pastor who's used to being on camera or the church with slick production. And don't demean the little church with poor quality who is trying their best to connect with their congregation. We're all on the same team. And we're all in this together.
Trigger Warning - If you like Pepsi you're going to want to check your heart and take a deep breath before continuing.
Full Disclosure - I grew up with a mom who only liked Pepsi, so that was all we had in the house. While I have a sentimental memory of caffeine-free Pepsi cans in the kitchen, I'm all for Coke.
"I'm sorry we have Pepsi"
If you've ever been out to eat and been told that when you were asking for a Coke (or for me a Coke Zero) you immediately know the feeling of disappointment. You looked forward to that refreshing cold carbonated taste of Pemberton's secret recipe, only to find out your only option was the over-sugared and slightly different taste of their top competitor.
But because you're thirsty you shrug and say "That'll be fine." Even though it isn't.
We're in a Pepsi time right now as churches. In suspending our worship gatherings, we're seeking to be wise in how we navigate uncharted waters with an invisible virus that has ground the world to a halt. We've been reduced to taping our worship experience (or for some churches not doing anything) with our only audience to hear our preaching is our AV team or ourselves. We're hosting prayer meetings over Zoom and spending more time on our phones calling and texting people we'd otherwise go visit in their homes or the hospital.
The Zoom meetings are nice, and it's good to still worship with our music and messages broadcast, and phone calls are still helpful, it's just not the same. It's Pepsi. It'll do for now. But what we really want is a Coke.
Pastors, hang in there. Churches, stay together. Believers, continue to engage and minister and serve. We can't see each other in person or be physically gathered together, but we can still take full advantage of the incredible opportunities put before us. Serve. Run errands. Call. Text. Check in. Pray. Write letters. All of these are ways we can still function as the church.
It's Pepsi, but hopefully soon we'll all be able to drink a Coke.
Side note - Pastors, if you're reading this, I want you to be planning for the first Sunday of "normalcy" whenever that happens. That shouldn't just be "business as usual" for you. I've already told our church that first Sunday back we're blowing the roof off the place. We'll be so glad and excited to be back together it'll be incredible. Whatever day that is for us, it'll be our Easter.
I know a lot of pastors who take Monday as their "off day" for the week. I kinda get it. Sunday is exhausting. You spent your day from early til late serving, preaching, teaching, meeting. You're physically and emotionally spent. Not everyone likes taking Monday off though. One of my seminary mentors took his off day later in the week because, in his words, "why should I be miserable on my time?"
Monday for a pastor is a fresh start. I like looking at Monday as the beginning of a new work, which will culminate in our worship gathering on Sunday. So when we're thinking of how we can faithfully pastor on a Monday, let me encourage you on a few aspects.
1. Know Yourself, and Plan Accordingly - Some pastors are natural extroverts, others natural introverts. You have to know how you're wired, and plan your Monday accordingly. If you're an extrovert, don't turn Monday into an administrative day. Be around people. Take a lunch appointment. Schedule meetings for 9am Monday morning. If you're introverted, you may need Monday as a recovery day. You're peopled out. So do the mindless things that require your attention in a week. Write letters. Follow up with emails. Map out your week.
2. Start thinking about Sunday - I know it's crazy to think about, but it won't be long before Sunday shows back up. Inevitably, Sunday comes around every 168 hours. So take some time on Monday and start thinking about Sunday. I wrote all about this in a book FAQ, which you can grab on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. The whole point of the book is to give you practical steps through asking six questions to get ready for each Sunday that comes around. What I do on Monday is send the following Sunday's outline and info for the AVL team for our Sunday presentation and to our assistant for the bulletin and publication.
3. Write thank you notes - Seriously guys, handwritten thank you notes will change so much in your life. I swear by them. I started writing them about a year and some change ago and it has given me such a spirit of gratitude towards the dozens of people every week who make our church thrive. I'll write 2-3 a week and think about who helped make Sunday great. Could be a children's church worker, a greeter who went above and beyond, soloist, or someone who was an encouragement that day. Grab a stack of cards, or make them yourself (easy templates in Word & Pages) and make it a habit.
4. Pray - Was Sunday a dud? Pray. Was Sunday amazing? Pray. Did you feel like your message resonated? Pray. Did you feel like you stumbled through it? Pray. Our response to whatever happened on Sunday, and our foresight into whatever will happen this week needs to be rooted and grounded in prayer. Not just perfunctory prayer, but specific and meaningful prayer. We can't expect a church to thrive if it's not rooted in prayer from its leadership. If we get prayer requests on our contact cards, I'll pray over them on Monday. I'll pray for the guests we had. For the message to bear fruit. For the people I know going through stuff.
5. Relax and Don't Quit - Sometimes I think pastors suffer on Monday because they feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. The good news is that it doesn't. You're not the one responsible for the success or failure of God's work. Your job is to be faithful, work hard, and trust Him. The best news is that God has promised to finish what He started. And that doesn't get derailed just because you forgot to mention the potluck and got cornered about it. Or that you forgot your point in the message. Relax. God has this. And don't quit on Monday. It's going to be ok.
If you want to know how important a player is, you have to look at how the team does without them. Golden State has won 3 of the last 4 NBA championships but they're in the run for a top pick without their Klay and Steph. When LeBron left the Cavs (both times), they went from championship contender to lottery picks. The year without Manning in Indianapolis, they got the top pick.
Pastor, I have some good news for you. You're not Peyton Manning, LeBron James, or Steph Curry. You're you. And God doesn't need you.
I know that sounds kinda harsh, but it's actually freeing. In a performance mindset, we can think of ourselves as indispensable. For the Colts, Warriors, and Cavs, their best players really are that important. But you're not. Because you're not the best player in your church.
The success of your ministry is not dependent on you. It's on God. You are not the potter, He is. You are not the source or power, He is. And you are not the most important person in your church, He is.
Be faithful. Work hard. Give it your all. A healthy ministry has no room for laziness. Lazy pastors are a disgrace to God and to the local church. But you're not under that pressure of performance where everything depends on you. God is the one carrying the weight of your ministry, of your church, and He's going to be the one to see it through.
That sermon you felt hit like a flat tire? God can still use it to transform hearts.
The family who stopped coming because "their needs weren't being met"? God will send who He will.
Offerings don't seem as strong? God will provide for your family and He's the owner of the cattle on 1000 hills.
The key to faithful ministry isn't results, it's Plodding. Day after day. Week after week. And knowing that you're not needed for God to work, but you're part of His work anyway. That should set us free and give us joy. God doesn't need you, but God does delight in you.
"So what do you do for a living?"
"I'm a minister. Youth Pastor. Work mostly with middle and high schoolers."
"Really? No sh--? Get outta here!"
Tony was a retired New Englander with a sharp tongue and some strong opinions about... well, everything. Including his thoughts on the Catholic Church and religion in general. I met him in a park while our youth group was on a mission trip to Boston. He happened to be on his walk while we were helping an after school program and was curious who we were, what we were doing, and most importantly why. He thought it was great that a group of students would give up a week of summer vacation to sleep in a dorm, ride the T, and spend their days serving others.
The part that stands out the most was his off the cuff, genuinely engaged reaction to finding out I was a pastor. That was a moment of awkwardness. Not because he cussed. I went to public school. You really have to try to offend me. I've heard, and been called, much worse. It was because of when he said it. I never thought of my background and experience as Southern, but I gotta be honest, that was a first. Normally when people find out I'm a pastor they either clean up their language or they admit they've got a cousin or grandpa who's a Baptist pastor (apparently everyone in Kentucky is related to a Baptist pastor).
What I appreciated most about Tony was that he didn't put up a pretense or silver lining. He was who he was, and his reaction to my answer was genuine. He didn't have the cultural niceties that western Kentucky had. He didn't know "you're not supposed to cuss in front of the preacher." He was himself, and he taught me a powerful lesson of awkward grace.
Awkward grace is where we find ourselves bumping up against someone who's not from our bubble, and the situation causes us a certain level of awkwardness. Let's be honest, if you're a conservative Christian from Nascar Country USA, chances are you've not had a lot of exposure or time around the LGBT community, minorities, economically disadvantaged, or people who cuss like it's an art form. As the regional and geographic distinctions continue to dissolve, and as culture moves past its relatively theistic worldview and moral structure, we're going to bump up against people whose lives are very different from our own.
In those moments of awkward (and don't pretend you don't feel a little awkward), we have two choices:
1) Attack the awkward
2) Embrace the awkward
Attacking awkward is where we push back on the uncomfortable and launch against it. My concern is that this is how many Christians want to engage the uncomfortable. We want to attack it. We want to push the awkward away and marginalize it so that what's left is most comfortable and most similar to ourselves. Certainly there's a place for the policy and sociological emphasis on morality and an ethical obligation to seek good, but in many ways Christians have lost their place as the cultural and social majority. Certainly that comes with its challenges, but nowhere in the New Testament were Christians ever promised positions of power that come with their faith. Nor were they ever commanded to "reclaim" or "take back" something that was never really there to start with.
Embracing the awkward is where we step into a situation that's not our normal, and we recognize what's going on and appreciate it. One time our church was given booth space at a community event, and our spot was right next to the University secularism/atheist society. While sharing hot chocolate, we embraced the awkward with them that someone, somewhere, had a pretty good sense of humor. When we embrace the awkward, we're putting down the sword. We're putting away our natural response to shield our eyes or run or chastise someone for a lifestyle or belief that we find incompatible.
Jesus' words in Matthew 22 about the Greatest Commandment show us that it matters how we treat our neighbor. Loving our neighbor doesn't mean endorsing, condoning, or supporting something we might be objected to or find outside of God's design. It does mean that we love our neighbor. Even when it's awkward. We love our neighbor because they're made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), they're someone for whom Christ died (Romans 5:8), and in order that we can serve and seek their good (Jeremiah 29:7).
Pastors, embrace awkward grace. Our churches cannot be places like Mark Twain described, where good people go be around other good people to hear about how they're good people. Awkward grace means that we position ourselves as open to our community, open to the hurting, open to the downcast, open to the ones not like us, and open to the incredible grace of God that transformed us. Point people to Jesus. Trust the Spirit to work on their hearts. Pray that God would make all of us who call on His name more into the image and reflection of Christ.
Grace is awkward. So embrace it, enjoy it, and have a laugh with a guy on a park bench who thinks "it's <bleeping> cool that your life is different." Those moments are gifts of God for us to create margins for grace, for God to work in people's lives.
Last week Chuck Lawless from SEBTS ran an article about church members who drive pastors crazy. If you've been in ministry more than a month, chances are you've met a few of those. They can weigh you down, not that a shepherd doesn't need to carry burdens (he does), but the weight comes from either the pettiness or the emotional toll on a shepherd. It's an inescapable reality of ministry that there was always be a few who drive you nuts. As my father in law has said, if one moves away two more take their place.
But rather than focus on the negative aspects of pastoral ministry, I want to pause and think about the 12 types (I'm a glass half empty guy, so of course it's one less) of church members who can make a pastor's day. One of the best parts of this is I can put names to each of these. So to you who I'm writing about, thank you.
1. The Prayer - This is the member who, when they say they'll pray for you, means it. You keep wondering if they have some kind of red phone to Heaven because of how strong their prayers are for you, for the church, and whatever else you throw at them. They can be counted on when you need someone to hold you (or whatever you're asking of them) up.
2. The Consistent Volunteer - It's not the person who does everything that's here, this is the person who, when it's their turn to serve, is there. They don't try to get out of it or list reasons they can't. They step up, smile, show up, do their part, and you can count on them.
3. The "Whatever It Takes" Person - Few things ever in a church fit a "job description." This is the person who's willing to do whatever is needed to accomplish God's plans. When it gets hard, they get creative. When a ministry need comes up, they help try to find a solution. Blessed with the heart of a true servant, nothing is below them or beyond their time.
4. The One Who Introduces You to Guests Every Week - Whether it's a friend, a neighbor, or some random person they met that week (or that morning!), this person is constantly introducing you to people they've brought to worship with them. They know that a personal invite still matters, and that they can make an impact on people they love by introducing them to Jesus and to our church.
5. The Quietly Faithful - The one who attends as often as they can, who serves when they're able, who plugs in and does what's needed, and never seeks attention for it. They're content to serve, be faithful, and never seek the recognition or attention that comes with it. Most people have no idea what they do, but God does, and that's what matters most.
6. The Encourager - This isn't a Yes Man, but someone who is a genuine encourager. These people are blessed with the ability to build up. They know the words to say, or not to say, and they have a way of sharing with you to make your day. The Encourager is someone who can read people and are magnetized to the ones who feel weak that day.
7. The Dreamer - Dreamers don't nitpick and look for ways to criticize. They're willing to look around at what is happening and start to see more than what's visible. Instead of seeing an empty field, they see a potential place for building expansion. Instead of a depressing room, they see an opportunity for transforming space.
8. The Brake Tapper - Brake Tappers are just as important as Dreamers. The Brake Tapper isn't a critic or a wet sock, they're realistic. They can help see not only what the Dreamer does but the steps needed to get there. They tap the brakes, not stop the car, to help slow down to a reasonable speed. Building project getting everyone excited? Brake tappers will help come up with a plan to pay for it.
9. The Back Haver - One of my pastoral mentors often said during Strategic Leadership Team meetings that he was "looking for some other people to go on the branch with him and the chainsaw." He never liked doing things alone. And he was so grateful to have people on the branch with him. Back Havers are the people who will run interference, quench a fire, confront a bully, or make the parliamentary motion that keeps a stagnant meeting running.
10. The Regular Giver - This isn't the person who writes one big check, but the person who week after week is faithful and generous. They know what it means to be a "hilarious giver" and they are willing to make their finances, as well as their time and life, part of their worship. Most of our giving units are small givers who regularly sacrifice and give what they can. And those, whether they're social security income or someone struggling to find ways to be generous while balancing the demands of life, are such a blessing.
11. The Driver - The Driver is the one who takes an idea and puts it into motion. It's really easy to talk about where we want to go, and we can have endless meetings about vision and what things could look like. The Driver is the one who says "Get in the truck, let's go!" Drivers are the champions for a ministry and are willing to do what's needed to make it work. They own it, they put their time and energy into it, and they make it happen.
12. The Learner - The Learner is the one who embracers their (and your) inner nerd. They like to learn and share what they've learned. They glean from your teaching and love growing in what they know about God. Learners don't necessarily give you random end-times charts, but are sharing with you, and you with them, what God has been teaching you. You're like the sharpening stone in a forge. You both make each other sharper from sharing with each other.
Earlier this week the focus of Christian Twitter's outrage shifted away from Beth Moore (at least for a few days) to a small church outside the Twin Cities. The St. Paul Pioneer Press ran an article with the headline "Cottage Grove church to usher out gray-haired members in effort to attract more young parishioners." In case you missed all the hoopla, in essence a declining church announced it would shut down and re-launch with an emphasis on new music and a younger pastor. Many who were at the meeting when it was announced felt it was an attempt to push out the older members, and they pointed to a memo as part of the relaunch plan. Sarah Bailey with the Washington Post offers some additional help in seeing the intent of both the main campus and the regional conference to try to establish a vibrant and thriving church in the area.
Whatever is going on in Cottage Grove, there are two realities that we have to acknowledge:
1. Failing to change is a path to death for any church
2. Every church has a life cycle, and none are guaranteed forever
The situation at Cottage Grove is one not unfamiliar to many churches around the country, regardless of denomination. It's easy to pick on the UMC as a test case of the decline of mainline denominations, but even in our very conservative SBC tribe, churches are facing the same issues Cottage Grove is. The finances are a wreck, attendance is dwindling, and they sit in a facility they can no longer use, afford to maintain, or downsize.
One of the things the article exposed in the big picture is the perception that churches practice, directly or indirectly, an exclusion of older members in the name of change. The stereotype is that older attenders are in the way of change, and rather than work with them the answer is to work around them. Can I say there's a theological term for that? Idiotic.
It's idiotic because the church is a Body. Paul's language of the church in 1 Corinthians is that it's a Body with many parts. Not everyone is an eye, nor is everyone a foot. Implied in that is that we aren't all alike in the church. We're made of a wonderful cross-section or tapestry of the community around us. Normally our communities aren't monolithic. They're made of old and young, middle class and struggling, white and minority, blue collar and professional. In some cases and in some communities, the makeup of the church will be more homogenous, but it ought not be exclusively homogenous. Churches on a college campus will likely be mostly 20 somethings, but that church also needs gray hair. Churches in retirement areas will likely be mostly over 70, but that church needs young families as well.
It's idiotic because the church is a Family. Our family gatherings are the bringing together of 3-4 generations. Our parents can still remember separate water fountains, the moon landing, and the fascination with the microwave. Their parents can remember ration stamps and the Depression. Our kids have never known a time without Netflix. And then there's us Xennials who grew up with payphones and now have everything about our lives in our pocket. Families are like that. Families are spread out. And they come together under one common thing, the table. The church does the same, but the table is the Lord's Supper. When we take the Lord's Supper we're participating in a family gathering, where everyone comes together. It's a beautiful picture.
It's idiotic because the church is an Outpost. We're citizens of another Kingdom, strangers and aliens in this one. It's not our home, we're residents of this world but our passports are from heaven. So the church is the outpost, or embassy, of our home Kingdom. When we exclude or push away people who don't "fit" what we're aiming for, we're telling them they're not welcome on their home soil. None of us would want to be turned away at the US Embassy if we were visiting another country. It's the same with the church. We are the outpost of safe refuge, where we can gather with one another for encouragement, fellowship, fuel, and to be sent back out on mission.
At times we are wise and effective to target specific points of outreach or programmatic ministry. I love that churches have senior adult ministries and ways to reach out to those who are in that group. I love churches with student ministries to reach into communities and places that senior adults can't be (Ms. Ethel can't be in your algebra class). I even love churches that have a special night dedicated to engage college students and young adults. But those aren't in place of the gathered church in worship. Our aim as pastors must be to lead our churches forward, together.
How have you seen your church move forward together?
*Hat tip to 9Marks and Jonathan Leeman's book Church Membership for the Body, Family, Embassy imagery
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.