Yep. You read that title right. I want to make the argument that pastors should not read theology books. In fact, all of us in ministry would do well to put them down. I guess now that I've got your attention, I should clarify that I mean we shouldn't read theology works exclusively. I believe pastors should read broadly, and that includes reading things that aren't published by Crossway or B&H. We need to pick up fiction, biography, current events, culture, literature, and novels. Our default is to read theology. I get that, totally. Many of us in ministry spent years getting degrees in theology or theological fields, we love the richness that comes from their pages, and we spent a lot of money on them!
But we can't just read theology if we're going to be well rounded readers and leaders. We need to broaden what we're reading. Dare I say, our ability to pastor well depends on a broad reading.
1. Reading broadly expands our imagination - I'm not using imagination like Mr. Rogers' neighborhood of make believe. I'm using imagination in the sense of our mental constructs. Our imagination is the categories we think in. And when we read broadly, we are able to think across multiple categories and fields. We can think about how God has wired us to appreciate the beauty of story, the movement of history, the fascination with biography, and the lasting impact great books and literature have.
2. Reading broadly helps us be cultural exegetes - This isn't new. Spurgeon said that every day a pastor should read his Bible and newspaper. When we read broadly, especially current events or cultural issues, we're able to understand more where people are coming from, especially those outside our bubble. Guess what pastor, that means you'll have to read things you don't agree with. And you don't read them to rip apart the stuff you don't like. You read to understand, so that you can make an informed and biblical perspective. I've got two on deck that have been popular and controversial. Will I agree with it all? Of course not.
3. Reading broadly is exciting - I'm in the middle of a book about a KGB agent who secretly worked for MI6 during the Cold War. It is riveting. I'll probably finish it this afternoon. Before that I read the autobiography of a black cop who was a card-carrying KKK member, and another about life in Appalachia and how generational dysfunction has shaped an entire region. Going through the bestseller list or book recommendations online is a great way to find new things to read, or dusting off that library card once local restrictions are lifted.
4. Reading broadly keeps us out of our echo chamber - It's really easy to surround ourselves with people who agree with us, think like us, behave like us, and reaffirm us. That's what Twitter is. It's an echo chamber. And I think what many pastors do is unintentionally build themselves into a reading echo chamber where they only read that which is safe, clean, has passed a rigorous doctrinal test, and wouldn't dare ruffle us. That's unhealthy. We need to read things we disagree with, not so we can nitpick and find faults, but so we can be sharpened and prodded. A lot of this is built off #2, where we have to move out of our friendly confines. It doesn't mean we buy into everything we read, but we at the least can have an informed response.
5. Reading broadly sparks illustrations - When you're reading from a variety of books, you're basically diving into Scrooge McDuck's money vault of illustrations. They're everywhere. That's the beauty of words. Words convey images (that's why the book > movie) which allow us to make connections. Some people can retain huge chunks of what they've read and catalog it for later, but for those who can't, just write down things that spark from what you're reading. You never know when it might come in handy during a teaching/preaching moment.
6. Reading broadly forms an orbit - Think about our solar system. What's at the center? The sun. For pastors, the center of our reading solar system is always Scripture. That should be what grounds, informs, shapes, and forms our reality. We should read good books, but always come back full circle to the Bible. It's the greatest book. And just like the gravity from the sun keeps the planets in orbit and in their place, so does the Bible keep what we read in its place and in proper alignment.
What are you reading now that isn't theology, and how has it shaped and helped you as a pastor?
Since 2011, MLB fans have had a reason to celebrate on July 1. For those of you familiar with today's festivities, happy Bobby Bonilla Day! In the long history of terrible pro sports contracts, this one has to stand above the fray. Not just for its awful financial conditions, but that it is often attached to the Bernie Madoff scandal and the Mets' ownership being embroiled in a Ponzi scheme.
If you're not familiar, Bobby Bonilla was a baseball All-Star in the 90s, winning a ring with the Marlins in 1997 (yes, the Marlins have as many World Series championships as the Indians, Royals, Mets, Twins, Phillies, and Blue Jays). In 1999, following a disastrous season that ended with Bonilla playing cards during the NLCS, he was released. Because baseball contracts are fully guaranteed, the Mets were on the hook for the last year of his salary ($5.9 million). Instead of a one-time payment, Bonilla's salary was deferred until 2011 with 25 annual payments of $1.19 million every July 1 until 2035, a total of $29.8 million for a $5.9 million season where he never played a game for the Mets. Seriously, his agent deserves a medal. This is unreal.
At the time though, the Mets thought this was a great deal. The ownership had discovered the goose that laid golden eggs in the financial management and investments of Bernie Madoff. The returns from their (major) investments with Madoff were, in their opinion, more than enough to cover the Bonilla agreement. For the Mets, they were going to get so rich off their secret weapon that they couldn't imagine being the laughing stock of MLB and a cautionary tale of making stupid financial decisions. Needless to say, we all know what ended up happening with Madoff.
There are so many lessons to take from this saga. It's a textbook of the consequences of poor decision making, a case study of the impact of fraud, and a "can you imagine if this happened with Twitter today?"
For ministry leaders, we can learn four lessons on the 10th annual Bobby Bonilla Day:
1) Good and Wise Stewardship is a non-negotiable: Jesus addressed the importance of wisdom and stewardship in Luke 14 with the parable of building a tower. His admonition to "count the cost" can be applied to any number of things we deal with in ministry. A building project completely financed can cripple a church's ability to do ministry for a decade. Launching initiatives and starting new ministries without asking hard questions jumbles and crowds out priority. In leadership, we have been entrusted with resources not our own that we will be held to account. We cannot be stupid with God's resources: God's money, God's people, God's time, God's buildings, God's work.
2) Don't Sacrifice Long Gains for Short Wins: The Bonilla deal sounded great in the same way that credit cards do, buy now pay later. Except it always costs more in the long run than it could have in the short term. The Mets will, by 2035, find themselves paying $24 million more than they should have for a player they didn't want. Pastors sacrifice long gains for short wins when we try to be people pleasers, we fail to audit ministries for effectiveness, or when we patch over major issues with band aids.
3) Moving Too Slowly Costs More than Moving Too Quickly: A lot of times we move too slowly in the church because we're afraid of ruffling feathers or causing too much stir or that it's going to hurt to make a decision that isn't going to be popular. I don't believe these are, most of the time, motivated by fear. I believe we genuinely want to do the right thing, and want to err on the side of grace, and want to be better than what we think someone "deserves." But every time we kick the can, the accrued costs add up. The puppet ministry that does nothing? Every time you delay in moving on, it's going to be worse when you do it. The incompetent staff member you make excuses for? Eventually it's going to be a bigger headache than you could imagine. The rotting trailer or church van that you keep thinking you'll use, it's going to one day cost more to fix than it could ever be worth when your insurance company gets a call. Make the hard call. Pull the band aid.
4) Don't Hide From Your Mistakes: To the Mets' credit, they've honored the terms of the deal and have faithfully sent the check every year. They've not tried to get out of it. They've got the same ownership group and they've not hidden from their mistake. Sometimes guys, we're going to do make the wrong decision. Nowhere in Scripture are we promised to be free from mistakes. We're going to make them. But we can't hide from them. Own up to them. Take the lumps. I'm sure Fred Wilpon every June 30th goes to bed getting himself ready for the jokes the next morning. But that's the price of leadership.
So Happy Bobby Bonilla Day everyone!
There's a great article from Chuck Lawless that dropped today about what he's learned about Church Membership Classes. If you've never thought about incorporating those into your church's assimilation strategy, I'd encourage you to read the article and give it some consideration!
One of my favorite pictures of the church is that of a family, and families live in a home. When we see new faces come into the church, they become part of the family. Since they're part of the family, they have a place in the home. Sadly, as many come in our front door, anecdotal evidence suggests that just as many (if not more) are going out the back door.
Why? I'd argue it's because for many of us as pastors, we don't place a high enough priority on what it means to be a church member.
Think about your house for a bit, and imagine that new people are going to be coming into the house. And not just into the house, but part of the family.
Where do they put their stuff? New people moving into your house need a place to put their luggage, hang their clothes, and sleep at night. When people want to join our churches, we can't just say "Glad you're here!" and leave them to figure out where they go. Every time we do a new member meeting, we encourage them to find a group to plug into. Our new members need a group. They need a place to put their stuff and belong. Whether it's a Sunday school class or a Bible study or a small group, groups matter.
What are their chores? Every family has a way of dividing up the household responsibilities. Some of it is dependent on the age of the kids, or the ability of those living in the house. But as we tell our kids, part of being in the family is helping out with chores (meaning you don't get ice cream or money for unloading the dishwasher). Membership in the family of God means finding a way to serve. Membership is active. And every new member brings with them a SHAPE (Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience) that is a way of leveraging their lives for the Gospel and the good of God's people.
What are their expectations? Every family has expectations of those who are part of the family. It might be a curfew for teenagers, or pitching in on family bills (which explains why Danny Tanner kept his house full). When we see people join our churches, part of that involves expectations. Those aren't one sided. When someone joins our church, we as church leadership and pastors have an expectation and responsibility to shepherd, care, love, and spiritually nourish & guide them. Likewise, the expectations we have for church members are prayer, financial support, serving, and loving.
Church membership classes are a great resource. If your church can do them, you should. Not every church can realistically pull them off. But they can do something. One way to do that is to take the concept of a membership class and scale it to coffee. Our church has an intentional plan of myself and/or other pastoral leadership meeting with prospective members. We do all the things that you would expect in a new member class. We talk about the church's history, vision, direction, and doctrine. We get to know each other. We hear each other's salvation stories. We answer any questions (most of ours are about the differences between us and other denominations). We follow up and ask for a response as God leads. The only difference is we do that on a smaller scale with coffee or lunch involved.
Here's the biggest takeaway, especially for us as pastors. There's not a magic bullet for coming up with the perfect membership assimilation process. The key is to do something. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. And if your something is intentional, reflective, and seems to be working to assimilate people into your church, awesome. Praise God.
So in the comments, what does your church do to help people who are moving into your house?
Several years ago I had the fortune and blessing to have my first book be published by a small book publisher. It was an idea I'd kicked around for quite some time as I went through doctoral studies in pastoral leadership about the importance of a team-based approach to ministry. I loved interacting with ministry leaders and authors who helped me understand how much healthier and better a church staff could be.
With a trusty cliche from high school of "There's no I in TEAM" I put together a paradigm of understanding team-based ministry through four aspects: Calling, Character, Competency, and Chemistry. As a good Baptist, they had to alliterate! Each of those is valuable on its own, but together they build a team approach to ministry.
As with any first version, you always find things to improve upon. For me it was through a conversation with a ministry colleague who liked the principles but felt it was written too much for non-typical churches. And he was right. I'd written it with people in my place in mind, those serving in a full time multi-staff church context. But that's not the "typical" church. Also I'd written Dream Teams as a second chair leader, and moving into a lead pastor role caused me to see things differently.
So when the publisher offered to return the copyright for Dream Teams, I took it as a chance to make the improvements I'd wanted for a while. And that's where we are now, with the remix dropping. Instead of Dream Teams, it's being released under the banner of 4C. The Cs are the emphasis, and I wanted that put on display from the beginning with the title and cover.
Grab a copy on Amazon. Like, comment, share, and leave a review if you found it helpful at all.
At first glance this book looks like it's written for the person in a worship service who sings, encourages others to participate, and can play the rhythm on guitar (or piano or without instruments). If you know me at all, you know there is nothing in that list I can do. And that's the problem that Boswell and the contributors are addressing. At the core of this compilation of pastoral essays on worship is a fundamental belief that the way a church worships is inseparable from its theological foundation and conviction. It's why I believe that the pastoral leadership of the church should be invested and involved in the planning and execution of corporate worship. It's not a separation where the music guys handle this part and the preaching guys handle that part.
That's why I, as a lead pastor, was so grateful for this work. It shows that our fundamental understanding of worship leadership is more than being able to regurgitate CCM Top 40 stuff or that you can dink out a few hymns on a keyboard. It's a responsibility that involves the faith formation of the local church, and pragmatically shows when we realize that in many of our churches our worship leadership is more visible than the preaching leadership. So when we as lead pastors work with the worship leadership in our churches, we have to see ourselves as both partners and complements to one another.
Worship leaders, I would commend this book to all of you. Beyond the practicality of gathering for worship and working through a service and its importance, this has a lot to say about your heart, your own personal devotion, your family, and your relationship with your lead pastor. Anytime I see staff/team dynamics pop up in a book, I'm hooked. I believe that chemistry and team dynamics are a missing ingredient in far too many of our churches, which is why Boswell's work and others are so crucial for us to read and consider because they show that team-based ministry is both fruitful and healthy (and biblical).
If I were to draw out five practical takeaways from this, and share them with worship leaders, here's what they'd be:
1. Reevaluate your responsibility in light of the Gospel calling on your life - Don't see yourself as a performer or a "lead worshipper," see yourself as a pastor shepherding God's people towards the Throne. Off stage, that also means seeing that God has called you to a local church as a pastor/shepherd, not a hired hand. Embrace pastoral care, nursing home visits, administration, and serving across the board.
2. Develop a relationship with your pastor - The person you'll work closest with is the lead/senior pastor in your church. Cultivate a relationship with him, work on a friendship, get to know him, go out for lunch, accompany him on visits to the hospital, and regularly pray with/for him. Because the two of you are the most visible people in a worship service, friction is going to be obvious.
3. Build worship services around Revelation and Response - Revelation is where God speaks to us through His Word, and Response is where we, in light of that, respond to what He has done. That can be praise, adoration, confession, repentance, lament, commitment, and trust. We do a disservice to both the witness of Scripture and the reality of human experience when everything about our worship service is designed to produce shiny happy people (thank you REM) who just walk around saying "Saved glad and happy!" all the time.
4. Raise up others - Developing others in ministry is more than getting people to fill spots, but intentionally investing in them for future deployment. That means we don't just pick people who can play the right instruments on the right notes, but we identify people who have potential for leadership on their own. Think about it in your own life along those lines. At some point you were brought along to grow as a leader. Who is in your ministry now who you could elevate and disciple?
5. Pursue humility - Humility is hard for all of us. No one is exempt from the trapping and allure of notoriety. As awesome as a platform and Twitter followers might be, nothing can surpass "Well done good and faithful servant." Humility is the guard against us falling too much in love with ourselves. Ground yourself daily in the Word. Develop accountability. Invite people into your life. Be gracious with correction and constructive feedback.
Our music/kids minister had to, for a class I'm teaching, write a letter to his younger self about ministry lessons he'd learned. I thought I'd give it a whirl too. So this is going to 19 year old Scottie somewhere around 2002.
Wassup! (Don't worry, in the future you'll only use that to reminisce about the past)
Hello 2002 Scottie! This is you from 2020. I know you're going through some stuff now. But what's happened will be part of how God is going to use you and shape you into who He wants you to be. I hoped this letter got to you while you're opening up those commentaries that Davis gave to you. You're wondering what's going on and why you've been asked to lead a few weeks of a small group study. Trust me, you're in for a ride. This is what God's going to use to call you into ministry.
I'll start with the personal stuff. Hang tight til 2006, you're gonna meet someone special. We've got two awesome kids and we're about to hit 12 years married. Oh, and I'm writing this with a little sunburn from being at the beach this week. You're going to end up living in Florida. It's pretty awesome. You'll also be in school way longer than you ever imagined, but you'll have a Seinfeld episode for a dissertation and you'll have alphabet soup after your name. Your church is going to be a blessing to you and your family. Here's something else crazy you won't believe: Louisville is going to have a Heisman winner. And you might want to start saving up for the 2013 Final Four. Trust me. It'll be worth it. Just don't watch the Duke game in the Elite 8. Oh, and while I'm at it, on your next shift at Starbucks, sign up for all the stock options you've got available. Trust me on that one.
You're sitting there wondering what's going on inside your heart and why you're feeling a pull towards some form of ministry. Spurgeon called it "an all consuming desire for the work." You'll get there. It'll take a couple years and some refining but it'll be a really neat a-ha! moment. So if I can pass on something to 19 year old me who might not be humble enough to listen...
First, be no one's but Christ's - Don't fall into trappings of tribes or camps. Your allegiance, your identity, your purpose, your everything, is wrapped up in Jesus. You are His. Do not compromise this. You'll run into some instances down the road where your desire to be liked and taken seriously (I know it's there) will put you in some places to compromise. Don't. Trust me. It's not worth it. Not everything is a hill worth dying on, but some things are. When you do speak up on those things, don't expect to be cheered. Some will appreciate it, others won't.
Second, buckle up - It sounds exciting now, but ministry isn't for the weak or for the timid. You'll lose track of the number of times your heart will break, how many times you'll be misquoted, how mean people in the church can be, the ugly way you'll be treated by people who you'd been close to, and how nasty spiritual warfare can be. That book you've put off reading on spiritual disciplines... you might want to dig into it. It'll be all that keeps you from going crazy, and from wanting to walk away from ministry in 2015 (Sorry man, that season is going to be bad. Wish I could change it, but you'll be sold out by someone you looked to as a mentor).
Third, find joy - I know the second one is hard. But this is a lesson I've learned in 10+ years of ministry. If you don't find joy in what God is doing around you, you'll become bitter and resentful. You might not see it now, but there will be times where your soul will be so full you'll feel it. Look for those little things in everything you do. Find the sparks of where God is working. They'll be there. You'll get emails and text messages (true story, you'll use your phone more for that than calling) from students in your youth ministry sharing the impact you had.
Fourth, be gracious - I know it's coming. You're going to hit your cage-stage Calvinism soon. Your humility hasn't caught up to your opportunity, and quite frankly it won't until you're about 30. Wish there was better news but you're slow to learn. Seriously though, don't be a jerk. Be gracious. It's not going to be worth losing friendships because you want to be right. I've watched that, not just in our life, but in others, who wanted to be right so much they were willing to bomb bridges, not just burn them. Don't be that guy.
Fifth, be an eager learner - It'll be 15 years before you're a lead pastor. You'll be spending time in what you'll learn are called "second chair" roles, and some third and fourth chairs! Wherever you are, be an eager learner. God will place people in your life who will be excellent teachers. Look to them. Learn from them. A few will teach you things not to do, and that'll pay off more than you can know. You'll be frustrated sometimes because those you're learning from won't move or do like you think they should. Be humble enough to be patient. Take notes. Learn and retain everything you can.
Sixth, love the Word - There won't be a book you read (or write for that matter - yes, you'll publish books! Don't get too excited, the sales are lousy) that will be as important as the Bible. Make it a commitment now to read it, study it, and store it away. Your "success" as a pastor isn't going to come by being smart or by being creative, it will come by being faithful to the calling. Next time you're on campus to visit with Davis, ask him to show you the front of Norton Hall. That'll stick with you.
There's so many more I wish I had time to write. Unfortunately the best lessons in ministry are the ones you have to learn the hard way. God is good though. And He is faithful. And He'll finish what He's starting in you now.
From the future!
I know a lot of us are processing the news from the last few days. This is my best attempt at responding pastorally to what we've seen dominate our screens. I'll be sharing this with our church later this morning from my heart.
Like many of you, I found myself fixed on the news the last several days. It was surreal to see the images and video from across the country. For me I was an observer until the protests and demonstrations happened in Louisville. I watched streets I’ve walked on many times, places Carrie and the boys and I have been, and places dear to my heart ripped apart. I watched as a reporter for the news station my grandfather worked at for 50 years was shot with pepper pellets in the safe zone. I watched as friends, especially minority friends, shared their pain on social media.
Others of you saw similar scenes in places you love: Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Tampa, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington DC, and as of this morning more than 30 cities nationwide.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, nor do we have the time to discuss the issues pervasive in all of these incidents. The stories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Travis Miller (OKC delivery driver), Christian Cooper (NYC dog leash), and thousands more that are lost in the news cycle should cause us to do one thing: weep.
As Christians, we are people of the book. The Bible gives us so much to say about what’s going on in the news.
It’s with that last one I want to offer both a pastoral lament and a pastoral prayer. The pastoral lament is that we are grieved that we have not listened better to our African-American, Latino, and other POC neighbors. We have not listened to their pain, their struggle, and their stories of inequality. We have sugar-coated it by saying that we’re color-blind or that there is “one race” or at worst to blame them for their problems. It is a lament that in 2020 we are still dealing with the reality of a racially divided America. We see armed white men storm state capitol buildings because they can’t get haircuts get a pass and an endorsement from the Oval Office; but when black people protest the unjust killing of another, they’re viewed as dangerous thugs. It’s a lament that we can quote Dr. King and his dream for America, but we still clutch our wallets when approached by black men. It’s a lament that we defend the unborn, but we call those same people “leeches on the system.” It’s a lament that we say “all lives matter” but find reasons why they don’t. It’s a lament that we preach a Gospel of peace, but we turn a blind eye to those in bondage.
Church, we must be better. We cannot fix everything. We cannot fix the macro. But we can address the micro. Before we begin the message, can I encourage you to 3 things:
Father, we come before you aching over the stories and images that have consumed our TVs and screens for these last several days. We ache for the families of victims, we ache for the communities affected, we ache for the businesses and homes destroyed by violence. We ache for those entrusted with our safety who are caught in the middle of this. We plead with you Jesus, as the Prince of Peace, to be with our hurting nation and our hurting communities. We ask that your people, your Church, would respond in truth, in grace, in love, and in mercy. We pray we would be Your hands, and Your feet. Holy Spirit, we know that only You have the power to change hearts. We plead with you to bring light to darkness, bring repentance to coldness, and bring hope from despair. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
It's always fun to start on a book and realize a few pages in that you're not the target audience. Like watching Star Wars and not knowing where Captain Kirk is. When I picked up the book Pastors Are People Too I hoped it would be a helpful read. What I took from it was less how it applied to me, and more about how helpful it would be for others to read.
Dodd & Magnuson wrote this from the perspective of pastors to non-pastors to share with them the struggles and realities of what pastors experience. It's not a complaint or an airing of grievances. Far from it. I have major issues with pastors who gripe and complain about their job or their life. Ministry is hard. It's not for wimps. That's why I was glad, as a pastor, to read what Dodd & Magnuson said.
The target for this book is for church peeps. It helps them pull back the curtain and get an honest assessment of what it's like to be on the other side of a pulpit. It gives a perspective many in the pews and chairs may not see because, well... that's just reality. The typical church peep isn't in the loop on the counseling, preparation, administrative, and personal side of ministry. They're not aware of the spiritual battles happening within and outside of a pastor's heart and family. For most, the only exposure they get to a pastor is Sunday morning.
Dodd and Magnuson cover a number of important topics for church peeps to know about: expectations (how many do you have? multiply that by your worship attendance), capacity, friendship, compensation, conflict, spouse, and family/kids. Like the subtitle says, it's all the things your pastor wants to say but we all know he can't. I found myself resonating with so many of these, feeling aches in the soul but knowing these were heavy things I'm only able to share with a very small group of people.
If you're reading this and you're a pastor, hang in there. You need a champion. Not someone who'll fight your battles for you, but someone who will hold you up like Aaron and Hur held Moses so God could fight for them. Give a copy of this to someone in your church who could be your champion. You are a fool if you try to be a shepherd alone. And you're a fool if you never ask for help, for prayer, for support, or for encouragement. One of the greatest and richest blessings in my life is that I have a running text thread with a Deacon who is nothing short of a Godsend.
If you're not a pastor and you're reading this review, please be your pastor's champion. Your pastor doesn't need a cheer squad. Your pastor needs a champion. Cheer squads say rah-rah, champions spend time in prayer. Champions hold up their exhausted pastor. Champions help dissolve conflict. Champions ask how you are doing, not what's next on the calendar. Champions genuinely desire to be a pastor's friend, not so they can get access or leverage. Church peeps, your pastor needs you to be a champion. He might be hanging on by a thread, his marriage could be in crisis, he could be overwhelmed by the spoken and unspoken expectations.
Here's five things you can do to be your pastor's champion today:
1. Ask how you can pray for him, not for church stuff, but for him and the family
2. If their family has children, help them find childcare/babysitting
3. Commit to squash gossip and disunity
4. Love him genuinely as a friend and brother in Christ
5. Bring others in as champions
For the last few days there's been an interesting infograph being shared online that gives a snapshot of some research done by the folks at Barna. It's eye opening. While we've been under the COVID restrictions, most churches have worked hard to preserve some sense of normalcy with digital services and Bible studies. A lot of those churches, without notice or preparation, have made the most of this crisis by creatively engaging their congregation and community through video-based services.
But when it started, I don't think any of us had any idea how long it would last. I know for us we spent time talking about this on a week-to-week basis. We had no idea it would be 84 days between in-person gatherings, or that for Easter we'd be staring at stage lights pre-recording a service instead of shouting "Jesus is alive!" in person. Once we got past the initial learning curve of shifting from a service mindset to a broadcast mindset, we grinded our way through week after week, hour after hour of editing and uploading.
Until we all got fatigued about it. At the core, that's the heart of the Barna snapshot. We've all hit digital fatigue. Even for us as pastors and leaders, I think I can speak for all of us where I say "I'm tired of this." It's exhausting. It's even harder to preach in an empty room than a crowded arena. And as we've observed from our YouTube channel, the views each week have been on a decline since Easter.
Why? We're over it.
Barna's work has shown that for many Christians, there's a fatigue to watching services online. And for good reason. We weren't meant or made to worship and engage apart from one another. We were made for fellowship, for corporate worship, for taking the Lord's Supper together, and we are missing something when we don't have that.
Whether your church has already resumed in-person, is planning to soon, or isn't sure when that will happen, you'll still have people who aren't able to attend those services and will need to continue to fight through the digital fatigue. However you respond, make sure you pastorally help those on the other side of a screen engage so they can fight through the digital fatigue.
1) Take time to acknowledge, speak to, and recognize the digital audience. Whether it's in the announcements or during the message, look at the camera and talk directly to that person on the other side of the screen. Engage them. Love them. Tell them they're missed.
2) Encourage in-service engagement through comments and discussion. All our streaming capabilities have the ability to post, reply to, and engage with comments. So put those out. Share polls. Ask people to give specific feedback. Let them do more than passively watch. Help them actively engage.
3) Mix up the format of your service. We like to say we're not liturgical in the low-church movement, but good luck getting the offering moved out of its normal place! Changing up your worship service format and order is a good thing to do regularly. Don't just plug and play the same thing every week in your digital services.
4) Stay positive. It can be really easy to be sour during this season. But as leaders, we have to be lead optimists. We have to stay positive, communicate hope, and push back against the sadness that so many are experiencing. It's not denying those hard times, it's overshadowing their tears with the risen Christ and the hope we have in Him.
5) Make it count in-person. Don't just resume in-person gatherings and pretend nothing happened. Make it count. Celebrate. Sing. Clap. Share testimonies. Tell stories of how God worked. Preach the Gospel powerfully. Even if your auditorium is a third full, blow the roof off the place.
If you're tired of hearing "unprecedented times," "out of an abundance of caution," "new normal" or any of the other buzz phrases thrown out during COVID-19, join the club. We're all ready to reenter what we can as soon as we can. Pastors, you feel this a lot. You want to be back in church. Your church wants to be back together. Your email or text messages might be filling up with suggestions, ideas, or pressures. Compound that with the reality that the playbook for the reentry is being written as we're reentering, and it's a really hard time to be making decisions that affect dozens, if not hundreds, of people.
Sound like your Monday too?
Leading pastorally through a global pandemic is something that absolutely none of us were prepared for. Unfortunately, leading out of a global pandemic is something none of us are prepared for. We're used to people disagreeing with us or offering criticism, that's part of the territory. But when it's in the middle of something we've never experienced, it can feel like an added weight or a heavier burden to have people impatient about returning to regular scheduling.
Since we're learning this on the fly, here's what I've learned in the last couple months:
1. Don't make decisions in a vacuum - Making decisions like this shouldn't rest entirely on your shoulders. Bring in stakeholders, lay leaders, staff, and if you have one a leadership team into the decision making process. They will bring a different perspective than you have, and if it's a volunteer team they don't have the vocational pressure you do.
2. Make sure we is heard instead of me - Along with the first point, this is huge in helping explain to people the decisions made and the process taken. We is plural. We isn't a vacuum. We is a group. We are stakeholders. Me is you alone. Leadership in the church as a pastor happens only when our trust reserves are built up. By making sure we is what people are hearing you're leaning on the trust reserves of others instead of your own.
3. Be prayerfully patient - There's something in the tyranny of the urgent that causes us to react. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. The badgering person gets placated so they leave you alone. The impatient people give us a fire under our seat. But if we're going to work through this, we must be prayerfully patient as we seek out the best for our congregations. We cannot embark on this without significant prayer as we look for wisdom to move. My friend Sam Rainer has a great post on pastoral prayer during this season.
4. Stay positive - It's been a hard season. Some churches have suffered financially. Some pastors have been affected deeply by the crisis. Churches have had to endure grief and hardship without the reassurance of fellowship. But negativity in how we communicate and how we approach the reentry will only serve to spark the toxicity and impatience. Stay positive. Things will get better. We have a sure hope, not a wish, that Jesus will finish what He started.
5. Be kind - Kindness never ages. And for most people, their impatience isn't because they want to be a pain, they just want to have some normalcy in their lives. We can't blow that genuine desire off as troublemaking or divisive. Be kind. People are hurting. Kindness helps them, and us, see that we can still find measures of joy even when things are upside down. In our kindness, and even through our annoyance, affirm the desire of the impatient that they desire to be back with church family.
6. Stay the course flexibly - It's hard when we don't know what the next week, much less the next day, holds as we look to reenter normalcy. That's why it's crucial when you're making the decisions with key leaders that you commit to stay the course, as much as you can. We've adopted the words used by Florida's governor: safe and smart. Those are the two words we're keeping in mind as we make decisions. Another church in our area is using "do the next right thing" to make their decisions. However you do it, stay the course. But be flexible enough that you can adapt to the latest news and guidance from the government and CDC.
How are you doing with your church's reentry plans pastor? How can I pray for you?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.