Archive for the ‘ranting’ Category

I’m sick of it!

And if you’re a pastor/preacher/minister, you’re likely sick of it too. You’ve seen all the tweets and articles in magazines that act as if the pastor is a singular human in their organization, capable of creating and sustaining wonderful health and growth all by his or her own lonesome.

Here are some of the doozies I’ve heard lately:

  • As the pastor, you should be the happiest person in your church.
  • Pastor, what’s your staff culture? Remember, you set the culture for your staff.
  • If you don’t have 5 evangelistic relationships going on, how can you expect your congregants to have any?

On and on the lists go. It all adds up to this: As the leader of your organization you’re expected to have a great family, exercise daily, be studied in theology, history, culture, music, Bible and the local and national news. You’re also solely responsible for the culture and spiritual growth of your staff and congregation, as well as their intellectual and emotional health and growth. By the way, how up-to-speed are you on fund-raising and systems thinking and implementation? What about addiction, co-dependency, visitation, guest-services, and community activities. Oh, before I forget, don’t you have a sermon to preach this weekend?

The problem with these little maxims is that they are partly true. As a pastor and leader, you do carry some level of responsibility for all these things. Yet there are so many things to be responsible for that no human can do them all well. I don’t mean to be snippy toward our mega-church leaders who hand down their tools of the trade. Rather, I would like them to consider some real-world limitations that many leaders have to deal with and sometimes can’t be overcome. While these considerations run the risk of being labeled excuses, for many people they are the water they swim in. They are real. In nearly 20 years of working near, around and in churches, I know these considerations to be depressingly true.

  1. Many pastors have no say over their staff. Who they are? How well trained? How committed? They can neither reduce salary for underperformance or increase it for a job well done. They do not hire and fire, and can’t even make recommendations to do so. What’s more, for many people, the staff is inherited. Thus, the staff culture is inherited. While a good leader can change the culture, it takes time. Sometimes a long time.
  2. Some church systems are anti-leadership.  The pastor is NOT the leader and no one wants them to be. Decisions are largely made by committee. Believe it or not, some folks think that’s the Biblical way to do it, even if it’s not efficient. Plus, it’s not as easy as you think for people who’ve gone through the process of education and the processes of becoming ordained, just to pick-up and leave their church or denomination. This becomes more difficult when children and family are involved.Many were reared in these churches, went to camp in these denominations and are deeply rooted relationally. To leave isn’t merely a job change, it’s a life change!
  3. Many pastors are flying solo. While some have no say over their staff others have no staff at all, save volunteers. Surprising as it may sound to you, sermon preparation takes just as long in a 20-member church as it does a 200-, 2,000-, or 20,000-member one. And the clergy-person in the 20-member church has to oversee building concerns, adult ed, children’s ed, the youth group, processes for spiritual formation, pastoral care and nearly everything else. While some jobs in the church do scale with the size of the organization, some do not, and when you’re doing it all by yourself, you’re doing it all by yourself.
  4. Most ministers aren’t starting from scratch. I’m a big-believer in church-planting, but that’s not what most clergy are doing. Most are working within existing cultures and systems. If you asked them, they could name 50 things they’d change tomorrow if they could. Why don’t they? They have chosen being pastoral over being a CEO-type leader. Pastoring means walking with people, guiding them along — often at a slow pace. I’m struck with a little referred to story of Jacob meeting Esau. As they leave for Sukkoth, Jacob – who was traveling with his wives and children – ask Esau to go ahead of him so that he can care for his children and flock. Jacob tells his brother he needs to slow his pace to the speed of the children. This, my friends, is ministry too — slowing down for the ones who cannot move more quickly. Some ministers choose to do so in order that we all arrive to worship God together.

These are just the beginnings of ministry in the real world. Again, I’m not saying that much of the counsel offered by church leadership gurus isn’t valid. It’s shaped who I am and how I lead. I am saying that I’ve not always been in the kind of context I am now, and I remember what it was like to work within other kinds of systems.

So, I  question whether much of what is flippantly stated in church-leadership conversations is realistic. More so, I question if it’s dismissive of the context the majority of ministers work in. If so, our gurus are speaking to a very small audience. It doesn’t mean that these men and women won’t show up at your conferences and buy your books, it just means that the beautiful meal you’re serving is going uneaten.

Perhaps it may be time for many of us to recalibrate our leadership message from, “what works for me” to “what can work for you.” Maybe we need an orientation that sees ministry in live-action and on-the-ground, rather than from the preaching Pentagon.

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Jackson MemorialFor some reason, I feel compelled to write a few words about celebrity and humanity with Michael Jackson’s memorial hanging as the backdrop. It should be said at the outset that I have always been a Michael Jackson fan, though a conflicted one.

If MJ were still alive and had a CD coming out next week, would I buy it? Yes.

If MJ asked if my kids could spend the night at Neverland Ranch? No!

I believe people are innocent until proven guilty, but I also trust the old adage; Where there’s smoke there’s fire! Multiple accusations, an “adult alarm” outside the bedroom, it’s all a little odd. Nevertheless, a family has lost a brother, parents lost their son, and, worst, three children are without a father. And that, almost any way you slice it, is a tragedy.

What struck me as most odd about the Michael Jackson Memorial was the obvious lack of authenticity. Not that the people who participated did not care about Jackson or his death, but rather that the majority of them are routinely compelled to protect their public persona and during this “performance” were, at best, concerned with maintaining that persona. Moments of the memorial seemed, not so much as stagecraft, as it did an opportunity for the advancement of some participant’s personal brand. Today celebrities were asked to do what they are never asked to do, never rewarded for, and what might possibly be the farthest thing from their minds – put someone else first!

The rhetorical low-point had to be Usher. The sunglass donning singer proclaimed, “Michael meant a lot to all of us, especially me.” Did you hear that? “Especially” him! Usher, in one sentence, demonstrates why so many people felt that network and cable news coverage of Jackson’s death was untoward. Most folks feel that celebrity is the ultimate landing ground for self-centered, shallow, silicone living. Celebrities are disconnected from reality and obsessed with all the wrong things. And truthfully, there are enough Paris Hiltons and Perez Hiltons to prove the case. So when Usher, for whatever reasons, placed his grief over and above that of Jacksons’ parents, siblings and children, everything we suspect about celebrity is proved to be true. Also, Mariah Carey was clothed barely a step up from her normal state of undress, and Berry Gordy’s 2-minute ad for Motown Records didn’t help either. Throughout so much of the memorial, I felt that I was witness to the Grammys or some other such production. Celebs wearing sunglasses in the darkened Staples Centre, Corey Feldman dressed as the King of Pop; at times I thought I was watching Live Aid or a VH1 Special.

Thankfully, Brook Shields and Paris Jackson broke through the pretention and made

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Michael Jackson what he always wanted to be; one of us. Brooke Shields spoke admirably and ably about her and Michael’s shared grief of lost innocence. She talked about his humor and playfulness. When Brooke spoke, Michael was human and he was her friend. Her tears were not of the Made-For-TV variety. She sidestepped Al Sharpton’s tirade against the media – as if something he said could’ve changed anything. And made the opportunist, Sheila Jackson Lee, look foolish, grandstanding with a House Resolution on her hip. And Brooke did it all by expressing what so few people could seem to conjure up today: Humanity! What Sharpton tried to do by shouting and Lee attempted with laws, Brooke Shields did by simply being a friend who cared. In that moment, it wasn’t about celebrity – hers or his – but it was about a friendship and relationship of caring. Don’t believe anyone cares about you, if they can’t tell a story about being with you that demonstrates that care.

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

And of course, there was sweet Paris Jackson simply saying she had the “best daddy in the world.” If your heart didn’t break when you heard this little girl, then you simply don’t have one. This girl, of whom the media has openly and harshly questioned whether or not her dad is her dad, ended the discussion. If you, like me, have little girls, you found that tears easily stream when you hear a little girl missing her daddy. Right there, among all the crudeness, crassness, silliness and shallowness of the celebrity culture, a little girl reminded us that music didn’t lose its greatest performer, the world didn’t lose a generous humanitarian, and concert promoters didn’t lose a meal ticket – three little children lost their daddy.

And they never cared how many CD’s or tickets he sold!

I so wish that some of the people who stood behind microphones today would have set their celebrity and/or political personas aside, been human, and let these kids say goodbye to their daddy. There are three more orphans in the world and not any of them needs someone to moonwalk.

Regardless of what you think of Michael Jackson, I suspect you’ll agree with me on one thing: We don’t need any more celebrities, but could use an injection of true humanity.

The true tragedy of Michael Jackson isn’t his truncated childhood, the unproven allegations, the abuse he took at the hands of his father, but that Jackson spent his life groping, blinded by the spotlight, for a genuine human experience, yet even in his death, so many of his “friends” couldn’t give it to him.

I want to join the ranks of the unchurched!

A lot has been written and said about unchurched people over the last 10-15 years, but there may be something significant to being “unchurched.” The technical definition of “unchurched” is someone who has not participated in a worship service in 6 months or more. I’ve never spent 6 days away from a church, and it’s been both a blessing and a curse — mostly blessing. However, there are simply some things about the way I was churched that I would like to undo. In these ways, I’d like to be unchurched. So here’s my new definition of what it means to be unchurched.

Unchurched – a person who has not allowed someone else’s airtight, locked-down, unquestionable convictions regarding age old and often irrelevant conclusions about systematic theology to drain their zeal to seek and search for an unsytemitizable God and explore the mystery of faith.

Unchurched – a person who chooses to live the radical reconciliation and love of Jesus, and does not allow that pursuit to be lessoned by the fact that more people in the church care more about domination than reconciliation.

Unchurched – a person who knows that true worship is serving the widow, orphan and stranger, not singing songs you like, while hanging out with people you like and listening to the preacher you like.

Unchurched – a person who knows that Bible studies are about humbly searching for God, not lying about your Bible reading and prayer life to impress other people who are also lying about Bible reading and prayer.

Unchurched – a person who leads spiritually by the Spirit of God not the latest budget report or head count.

Unchurched – a person who realizes that the people are more important than the church because the church IS the people, and how we treat one person reflects how we will treat all persons. 

Unchurched – a person who honors ALL people, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or anything else, because all people are made in the image of God–even Muslims.

Unchurched – a person who knows that the point of church is not to get more people in the church building, but to get more of the people in the church building OUT of the church building and into the community.

Unchurched – a person who walks, talks, votes and seeks justice and life for all people, in all forms, at all times, even when it means personal sacrifice.

Unchurched – a person who will not baptize any decision made by their community, state, or nation that does not align with  Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God just because the decision was made by their community, state, or nation.

Unchurched – a person who realizes that Jesus did not come to earth and die on a cross so that everything would be “family-friendly.”

These are a few of the ways I want to become unchurched. A better way to say it may be de-churched. Please join me in the ranks of the unchurched.

Bored Emerging

Posted: September 24, 2008 in blogs, change, emerging church, grace, missional, ranting

Warning: This is not the post I intended for today. I’ve been working on a series of posts that will come perhaps later this week, but I needed to get something off my chest first.

I am now officially BORED of the “What is Emergent/ing?” conversation. I have, and likely will, participate in the conversation. What I like about emergent/ing is the open, honest conversations about what is happening in the culture and the church. I have learned a great deal from it. And quite frankly, the people I have encountered have been some of the best folks I’ve ever met — gracious, generous, confrontational, confessional. No one every said emergent/ing was the answer to all problems or infallible or that it was fully matured or the world’s last best hope. It has always been people asking and searching. That’s all really.

Yet time and again, I stumble across articles, blogs, books, etc…arguing about emergent/ing. I’m tired, okay. What it is is people trying to figure out how to do church in the face of a changing cultural landscape sharing questions and learnings together. Just today, one of my favorite bloggers, Scot McKnight, has posted about a new group he is partnering with. For a while, Scot has been involved with Emergent Village, and is a friend to many others involved in it. Of course, those critical of EV, will herald this as part of the death of all things emergent, and it might be, but I have to ask about all the fervor. Why are we so concerned with names and the minutia of every single person’s and group’s theology? Theology is clearly important, but we are naive if we think the folks on the same pew with us on Sunday morning are always in the same neighborhood with us concerning theology.

The reason I know this? I see how people behave.

We have tricked ourselves into thinking that someone’s doctrinal positions are in line with what they say their doctrinal positions are, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our theology is evidenced in what we DO and PRACTICE! Something about human nature makes it easy to crucify the gracious among us if they disagree with our theory of the atonement. Does that make any sense at all? Is that logical or Christ-like?

I guess I just don’t understand all the hype about names, terms, groups, organizations and the who’s in, who’s out, who’s right, who’s wrong, culture of American Christianity — the “they’re not this enough” and “they’re not that enough” debates some Christians have. It is no wonder so many people in emerging generations toss aside the church and every fundamentalist, emergent, missional, main-line, emerging, restorationist, Calivinist, evangelical, and whatever else that comes with it.

The world is in trouble! Big, big, big, freakin’ huge trouble! The reason? No one takes ca$h!

In my seemingly endless curiosity and lust for the iPhone 3G, I stopped by my local Apple store today to check out the machine first hand. First, I was shocked that nearly a month after its introduction, there was still a sizable line to purchase the device. Second, going with my gut, I asked a Mac Specialist if someone had to purchase the iPhone with a credit card (for some reason, this is how the iPhone rolls). The answer was yes. You cannot buy an iPhone with cash or a check, only a credit card. Then the aforementioned Mac Specialist told me that you could purchase an Apple gift card with cash and then buy an iPhone with the gift card.

What?

You can buy the card  with cash but not the phone that you bought the card to buy.

What’s more, last week — while in Mississippi for my grandmother’s funeral — my mom went to the bank to buy a money order. At the window she was instructed that she could not purchase a money order with cash. Instead they asked her to deposit the money, they would then write her a counter check, and she could purchase the money order with the counter check.

Are you hearing this people?

They no longer take ca$h at the bank!

THE BANK!

My friend, Jesse Ward, had a simple statement as his “status” on Facebook a while back and I think it’s worth repeating.  It said, “Jesse Ward thinks society is losing control of itself.” Well, Jesse, I agree!

Meet My Needs!

Posted: May 21, 2007 in church, ministry, ranting

Truth be told, the church has never met my needs. That’s odd to me since I’ve been in it my entire life and now serve her full-time. What’s odd to me is that people in church keep telling me that we need to do things to “meet people’s needs.”

Really?

I mean, I suppose the church has met my deeper needs in some ways that I cannot articulate, but the meeting of needs I most frequently hear about have to do with externals: services that last no longer than an hour, 15 minutes sermon about kids and families, events that are fun and high-energy, leadership that doesn’t challenge, etc….

I hardly ever hear anyone say, “I think our church should help me get over my selfishness and greed” or “I wish our church would teach me how to be humble person in a competitive workplace.” No one ever says, “Goodness, I wish this church had a word to say about the fact that water is thicker than blood and that life is about baptized brothers and sisters in Christ and what they do together in the world, more than about my immediate family.” Where are the voices saying, “This church could really be something if we learned to live peace-filled lives and love folks like Osama bin Laden and that crazy guy over in Iran.”?

Here’s my question: In the church’s frenzy to “meet needs” by having active kids and youth ministries, clever preaching, entertaining worship complete with the style of music we like, the lack of prophetic voices, and all at a cut-rate prices, are churches failing to met anyone’s true and deepest needs? It seems to me, that many of us in the church are lying to people. We imply that we can meet their needs, yet offer them something that satisfies their wants, but never get close to their needs.

What do you think?

My wife, Rochelle and I have been talking and thinking a lot about missional living and radical giving. The world is such that there are people in need no matter where you look and everywhere you turn, which means there are myriad ways to offer gifts to those in need.

Truthfully, I have always struggled with giving. Part of the reason for this has to do growing up poor and feeling as if you didn’t keep as much as you could, then you would run out. Increasingly though, I’m learning that that kind of scarcity thinking is antithetical to the gospel of Christ.

I’m not the only one, though. Many of us have trouble giving, don’t we?

Two weeks ago Rochelle was leading a Bible study from the book of James. The apostle James has a lot to say about taking care of the poor, orphans and the widows, showing favoritism, and pure religion. One of the women in class, who is very generous and very wealthy made a few defensive comments about the rich and giving. But, what Rochelle wanted to say was “Wait, don’t get offended because you’re rich. You’re one of the good ones, you’re one of the few people who are working to get this right.”

And, in my experience with the wealthy folks at my church, that has been largely true. It’s never the wealthy or the poor who have difficulty giving, and even giving to the point of sacrifice. It’s most frequently those of us on the cusp of riches that are most resistant. It’s those of us who aspire to more cash and comfort that always want to be stingy, who want to know where every dollar we give to someone or some organization is going, it’s those of us whose chief sin is lacking trust in God to be faithful and to care for us that secretly hate to give and consider giving a kind of divine stick-up.

Many folks, I’m finding, resent giving. I can tell because they add all sorts of qualifiers to their giving. I’ve seen families in need have to undergo a full-on financial anal probe to get 200 bucks from the church, and I’ve seen people have to account for where every dollar given them by the church . Now, in our highly competitive, capitalists-driven America, we call these questions and qualifiers “accountability.” But is it really?

Jesus says this curious thing in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” He adds no qualifiers. He never says that we need to know where the gift goes or if the person is “worthy” or “needy” enough to receive it. I think the Lord is saying, “Your job is to give. Don’t worry about what happens next.”

Interestingly, the next topic Jesus tackles is loving our enemies. Perhaps the two are connected. Perhaps we sense that those who ask of us are somehow our enemy, as if they are taking something from us that we don’t want to give away. Perhaps as we learn to give, we are also expanding our capacities for love–to the point of loving those who are stridently opposed to us.

How might this re-thinking of giving reignite the churches’ vision and mission in the world? How might a church bent on giving without expectation or question help us reflect the Kingdom of God?