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Posts Tagged ‘church leaders’

Foot-washingIn the church blogosphere, church leaders–specifically elders in Churches of Christ–are the target for much criticism.  Yesterday, I happened to be a neutral observer in a elders/members confrontation that will encourage you.

Apparently the worship wars that most big city congregations faced a decade or two ago had just become real at this good-sized church in a small town.  Some of their young people–but not exclusively young people–had been clapping and raising their hands during worship.  The ultimate offense, however, was some “stomping.”  I wasn’t there, so I can’t describe these actions.

Some of the brethren just left for other congregations in the county, but a few didn’t want to give up their pew without a fight so they threatened the elders with their ultimate weapons–withholding their contribution and/or divorce.

You have these options in many counties because there are so many congregations for so few people! I was recently in a Main Street congregation where the preacher told me there were 26 churches in a county with around 30,000 people. Many of the congregations were started in horse-and-buggy days when people didn’t want to be too far away from their cows and chickens–which to me explains adequately why they all started, but not why they still exist today!  My experiences suggest that they continue to exist because of tradition, turf, dynasties, clans, and sectarian feuding.

What this multiplicity of congregations has led to, however, is a consumer mentality among Christians. If I don’t like the price of milk at this store, I just go down the street to their competition. If this church doesn’t give me what I want, do what I want, worship like I want, I just go down the road to one that will.

Our actions suggest that God made a big mistake by describing the church as a family or a body. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be if our bodies were built so that if our toes didn’t like where the foot was going, they could just leave!  And we know all too well how destructive abandoning one’s family is!

God hates divorce! But we seem to have created a congregational marketplace which encourages it!

Back to our story:  the elders of this congregation studied and prayed about these worship questions. Their conclusions were not to create laws and limitation where the Bible did not.  They delivered their prayerful decision to the church in a gentle and loving way, which is what brought out the threats of divorce!

So, last Sunday, this general “family meeting” as they described it, was not about worship, rather it was about what it means to be a family!

The elders did so many things right!  The first was to have the open meeting during the Sunday school hour so the maximum number of church members could attend. It says that they really wanted to talk to the family rather than exercising their perogative to “rule” from their board room!

Each of the elders spoke briefly–showing their unity of Spirit and their united commitment to the family.  No doubt they had not all been on the same page when they started praying and studying together, but they were by the end of the process. Majority rule has no place in church leadership.

The first elder who spoke was probably the least eloquent, but he set the tone for the meeting by admitting to how nervous he was. He quoted someone who said that nervousness is the price of being a racehorse instead of a cow!  The laughter–the humility– was good for the family!

Several of the elders spoke of their longevity in that congregation–through thick and thin, a cliche that was worn out by the end of the meeting.  One elder described the tapestry of experiences that he himself was, mentioning first the people in his life and then the congregations where he had attended.  He was just saying that we all bring a lot of different experiences with us when we become part of a congregation.  He went on to talk about how he had been shocked in 1991 when this congregation had men serve communion without a coat and tie on!

All of the elders spoke of their love for the family, their constant prayers for the members of the body, and their willingness to listen honestly to every concern.

And here is where they really acted as shepherds of the flock, over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). The elders described their prayerful search for a biblical answer to this worship question–and then told the church what they believed God wanted this body to do!  These men lovingly led the church–prayerfully and humbly, not from seats of power–toward unity and freedom.

Unity and freedom–words conjoined over and over again in the statements from each of the elders, instructing the congregation to seek these same values as individual members of the body. Their “oversight” meant seeing what was good for the whole Family, the whole Body, and their word from God was not to bind on anyone what God had not bound, but also to call the members of the family to faithfulness, not divorce.

I understand why churches are moving away from the term elders; most have moved to the synonym shepherd. I don’t think that resonates much with most of us who have never had anything to do with sheep. I’d prefer for elders to be called pastors if we need to use a more modern term.  Theirs is more the pastoral role. But their title is not nearly as important as their hearts.

Thank you, God, for prayerful, humble, and courageous church leaders who live out the unity of the Spirit and the freedom in Christ and who lead their congregations by speaking the truth in love.

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umpiresDid you hear that Major League Baseball has approved a broad expansion of instant replay reviews beginning with the 2014 season.  I think that is a great idea—so good, in fact, that I’m thinking about suggesting instant replay for churches!  Here is what it would look like . . . oops, that won’t work. There are no umpires at church!

One could, of course, argue that God is the Big Umpire in the Sky, and that He doesn’t need instant reply because He always makes the right call.

One could argue that it is hard to have rules for and expectations of churches because there is no enforcement mechanism—at least not since Ananias and Sapphira!

But let’s set aside for the moment Judgment Day questions that God will ask and focus on daily decisions that most likely fall into the category of opinion, not into the category of deadly sins.  Let’s look at decisions like whether to have Bible classes for children, how long the worship and praise service should be, whether to spend 8 million dollars on a new building, which preacher to hire, or whether to discipline adulterous church members or not.

Besides these opinion questions,  church leaders are called upon to decide doctrinal questions as well,  like whether this church will be Calvinistic or pre-millennial, or whether to baptize with the Spirit or with water—or both. They almost always decide who can be a member of this church and who can’t.

With no “umpires” who holds your church leaders accountable for their decisions?  Who decides if they are wise, if they are prudent, if they are good shepherds, or if they are incompetent or unwise or cowardly?  Who determines what is foul or fair when a church leader is at bat?

It’s not as if churches make no attempt at holding leaders accountable:

  • Some churches use a democratic vote. The vocal majority leads and the loyal opposition attempts to hold them accountable.  Sounds good to Americans, but it is not really biblical.
  • Some churches use a representative vote.  Members vote church leaders in or out, according to whether they have represented your viewpoint successfully in church meetings. Again, more a pragmatic solution than a biblical one.
  • Some churches choose to allow an oligarchy.  These are the churches who either allow a small group of life-time appointed leaders to have absolute rule, or it could be a small group of senior staff with so much seniority that they are like banks which are too big to fail.  The common thread is no accountability.
  • Many newer churches and some very old ones are centered around single persons as the Hegemon. Dictator or tyrant is too strong and negative. Monarch suggests divine right—and some make this claim—but it is still not my favorite term. The underlying problem is the very fact of a single leader with absolute power and no accountability, and this danger is a fact even if the church acquiesces to a benevolent, but absolute leader.
  • Some churches—usually smaller ones–believe they exist without leaders. In my opinion, those don’t really exist because the more likely truth is that the church has leaders, but they are simply not designated leaders, rather leaders by default.

I think we can all agree that regardless of how your church is organized that it is accountable to God as are all the leaders as well as all the members. But how do we have an accountable leadership on earth in time and space when God does not seem to strike people dead for lying or open the earth to swallow his people for rebellion.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Recognize that leadership in the Body of Christ is a gift of God (Romans 12:8). Those who have the gift are the true leaders, whether designated or not, and those without the gift of leadership may be doing leadership tasks, but are not the true leaders of your church.  A healthy church identifies those with the gift of leadership and uses them to lead.
  • While you may not believe that Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus are a divine checklist for church pastors/bishops/elders/deacons/leaders/servants, they are certainly inspired instructional information and should not be ignored or lightly amended.  If every church leader were of the caliber required by Paul, fewer replays would be needed.
  • Implement what we at Let’s Start Talking call 1A Leadership, that is “One Another” leadership.  Here are the instructions for this leadership model. You will find them very simple:

Be devoted to one another in love.

Honor one another above yourselves.

Live in harmony with one another.

Stop passing judgment on one another.

Accept one another.

Instruct one another.

Encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.

Serve one another.

Submit to one another

Bear with each other and forgive one another.

Teach and admonish one another.

Love one another.

So everyone is an umpire?  Somehow the baseball metaphor begins to break down because umpires are determiners and enforcers. What churches should have are encouragers, instructors, servants, admonishers, and lovers.

If churches were led by these kinds of leaders, our Sundays would be filled with replays—not to determine who is safe and who is out—no, rather to celebrate over and over again the exemplary displays of Christ-likeness.

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babe ruthBases loaded! One run down! Bottom of the ninth! Two outs! And you, the team captain come up to bat! Best player!  Most dependable! Cheerleader for the whole team!

And you strike out on three pitches!

I’ve read that one of the most difficult things for great baseball players to accept as they move from being a high school or college superstar to playing professionally is the inevitable and frequent disappointments—even failure—that is part of the game.

Hall of Fame players only get hits 30% of the time!  That means 7 out of 10 times that they bat, they make an out!

The big sluggers, the home-run kings, strike out more than anyone else, and only hit a home run about 1 out of 15 times at bat.

What do you do as a church/ministry leader when you “strike out?”  What do you do when you make a bad financial decision, the wrong hire, a damaging strategic decision?  What do you do when you and everyone in the whole stadium know that you just struck out on three pitches?

  • Some players blame the umpire, the fans, their wife, the team spirit—everybody but themselves.
  • Some players just throw the bat and slam their helmet down in rage. That helps everybody on the team feel better!
  • Some players give up on themselves; they quit.
  • Some players play cavalier—just pretend like it didn’t make any difference!

If these are not productive ways to respond when you strike out, what might we do:

  • Admit that you struck out!  Don’t try to pretend that you didn’t.
  • Don’t blame other people! Even if the pitcher is GREAT, he’s not striking everyone out, so somebody is hitting him!  The umpire is not calling everyone out on strikes.
  • Seek to understand the reason you struck out. Did you guess incorrectly? Were you too aggressive, too impatient, too unfocused? Did you irritate the umpire?
  • When you think you might know why, you might think about whether this is an area that you can improve upon with training, with practice, with coaching, with self-control—and then do what you need to do!
  • If you can’t figure out what you did wrong, then ask other people to tell you—and listen to them.
  • Get back up to bat as soon as you can.  Fear of failure is really bad! Once that gets into your head and takes over, it is increasingly difficult to succeed again.

In church leadership and ministry, even the best leaders are going to make dramatic errors. I’m not talking about moral choices or integrity issues, I’m just talking about bad decisions.  These decisions affect people’s jobs, people’s lives, and sometimes even people’s faith because so much of what people believe is wrapped up in the leaders they follow.

That is why it is so painful, just gut-wrenching when you make big, wrong decisions.

The Bible is full of great men who made terrible decisions:

  • Abram passes Sara off as his sister to Pharaoh
  • Jacob steals the birthright from Esau
  • Joseph can’t keep his dreams to himself
  • Moses kills the Egyptian in rage. Later he gets so frustrated with his people that he overstates his own role in satisfying their needs and offends God.
  • Samson, Jephthah, Eli—the judges God chose made big mistakes.
  • King Saul, even David, and especially Solomon

Haven’t you wondered as I have about the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, that is, how some of them made the list?  All of these were leaders—but all of them only got hits 3 out of 10 at-bats!!

After that list of great heroes in Hebrews 11, the writer says thatout of weakness [they]were made strong “ (v.34).

You will strike out!  Maybe a lot!  But if you can acknowledge your weakness and respond to it in a godly way, He can still make you a Hall of Fame player!

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PowerCorrupts-300x207We were in the Pergamon Museum in East Berlin, just a few months after the fall of the wall.  The young woman with us was walking around, enjoying the artifacts, but bottle-feeding her baby at the same time.

Bolting from the corner of the largely empty room, a small but sturdy East German security lady hurried across the room to inform our friend that under no circumstances could she walk around the museum and feed her baby at the same time!  When we asked politely what the problem was, she just simply repeated a little firmer and louder that it was verboten!

(more…)

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Recently a distraught member of a small mission church wrote me, asking for advice as to ways for saving their ever-diminishing church. Their attendance and involvement has declined over the last 6-7 years to the point where they are wondering if they should continue as a church together.strain

I wrote to the church with this reply. Perhaps it will help you or a church you know in similar circumstances–because there are many!

To the church in ___________________:

Grace and peace from one who loves you and who has worked beside you.

I know you are struggling with challenges that seem insurmountable to you. You see yourselves as weak in number, with diminished opportunities, and some perhaps even consider themselves weak in faith.

Here’s what I would ask you to remember as you are praying for direction from God.

Though congregations live and die as do individual Christians, the Church will prevail and will come to the Wedding as a beautiful Bride.  

 

Ask yourselves these questions and pray for wisdom and discernment of what are the true answers:

1)    What strengths, what gifts are among you?  What gifts has God blessed this remnant with that should be used faithfully?  What does each person contribute to the proper functioning of the body?

2)    What sin is there in the church?  Of what do you need to repent?  And how will you do that?  When will you confess this and ask for forgiveness?

3)    What opportunities has God put before you?  What call?  What burdens?  Look at your gifts and ask how God intended for them to be used, then look around for places to use them as God intended.

4)    What is threatening you?  Be specific.  There are places in the world where 10 Christians together would be a huge, strong church—a bright light in a dark world, so there is no number that means you are a failed church.  Are the threats against you spiritual threats?  Do they come from Satan?  If so, is your response to flee? To fight? To ask for protection from the Guardian of your souls?

I believe that if you prayerfully ask these questions of God and each other, asking God at the same time for wisdom and discernment, that He will make His will known to you.

I have just three pieces of personal advice for you:

  • Your building is a tremendous blessing, but do not let it or its value be the determining factor in your basic decision about the church’s value. Since the church is the people, your decisions about church should be based on the people, not the building.
  • Do not make final decisions until you feel certain that this is what God wants you to do.  Best would be that the whole body agrees. A body is not a democracy that moves best by majority rule; a body is healthiest that is in complete harmony.
  • And when your decision as a body is made and all feel like God has spoken clearly, then proceed with all your might in confidence and trust!

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you!

Mark

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rocking chairIf your church is putting the Boomers out to pasture, you are making a big mistake!

Yes, I am one of the oldest Boomers, and I’d like at least to speak out for almost forty million Boomers born in the first half of the Boomer years (1946-1955), and what I say is probably true for the other 40 million born in the last half of the Boomer cycle (1956-1964).  Almost eighty million Boomers!

Here’s how you will know if your church is putting Boomers out to pasture:

  • You move your preaching minister out at age 59 for someone younger to attract a younger demographic.
  • You decide to disregard the preferred worship styles of everyone over 50.
  • No one over 50 teaches anyone younger than 50 in your educational program.
  • Your “senior” ministry is mostly eating and social activities, carrying for the sick and home-bound, and singing “foot-stomping” gospel songs.

 One out of every four persons in the United States is a Boomer!  And the percentage in your church is probably much higher because the Boomers, though some wandered off momentarily during the 60s,  returned to their churches shortly thereafter and have been faithful, though less traditional than their parents ever since.  Can you really afford to dismiss one out four people in the general population?

Another reason not to dismiss the Boomers is because they aren’t going to quit working! Sixty-seven percent say they are either delaying retirement or will never retire!  Every church longs for more involvement and investment of time by its members. Who has more time?  The younger dads and moms with three kids under 12, trying to grow their career and their family?  The parents of teenagers, trying to both work while running between school activities and ball games?  Or the empty-nester Boomers?

Here’s another reason not to ignore your Boomers:  “The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday” (Pew Research Center 2011).   Another source cited, “Baby boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than half of all consumer spending.”

So let’s talk about who gives!  And let’s talk about who will continue to give over the next 10-20 years!  According to the Convio study (2010), the average Boomer contributes $901 per year, whereas a Gen Xer gives $796, and a Gen Yer  $341 per year.  Even though the individual difference between the Boomer and GenXer is not amazingly large, when you multiply that difference by the difference in group numbers, it makes a big difference! The annual total for Boomers is 47.1 billion compared to $28.68 billion for GenXers.

What I’m saying is that if you are already dismissing the Boomers, putting them out to pasture, then you are ignoring or retiring the most numerous and the most charitable people in your church, and those who have the most disposable time!

These are likely people who invented the word anti-establishment but who are probably still loyal to their tribe!  Also, while being very sympathetic and eager to support the social justice causes about which their children care so deeply, the Boomers are still evangelistic and understand the need to carry the Gospel in word as well as deed.

Every generation has to pass the torch of leadership.  Boomers will continue to be available for service, for leadership, and for active, meaningful participation in their church for twenty more years—and that’s a good thing!

Younger church leaders would do well to capitalize on this demographic in their churches, not caricature it!   

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maggie-smith-downtown-abbey-tIf you are not a Downton Abbey viewer, then you have some explaining to do! Sherrylee and I just finished Season 3, but now, days later, I find myself still thinking about some of the drama—sure, some of the melodrama also—and I do miss the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lady Violet Crawley, played amazingly by the great Maggie Smith.

Downton Abbey has been broadcast in 200 countries worldwide and has had at least 120 million viewers!  I’ve been asking myself this morning what is it about this very British, very Edwardian period piece, that speaks to the whole world?

One of the ways to analyze narrative, whether TV, film, or literature, is to find the points of dramatic conflict or tension.  For instance, in Downton Abbey, the following points of tension are fairly obvious:

  • Tradition versus Change  –  The house and estate themselves represent ancient values and the fact that they are hardly financially viable—one of the main tensions running through the series—is because the world outside is changing in previously unimaginable ways.  WWI is (and was) the dramatic end of the old era—but not everyone at Downton knows that!
  • Upstairs versus Downstairs – The downstairs world of those in service, though intricately connected to the upstairs world of the lords and ladies, operates its own systems and personalities in both dramatic contrast but also a surprising degree of similarity to their superiors.
  • Dominance of men versus equality of women – The very first dramatic moment of the series occurs when the Crawley family with only daughters cannot continue at Downton because of a tragedy unless one of the daughters marries the heir-apparent, since only men can inherit titles.
  • Privileged social class versus democratic middle-class values – The new male heir-apparent to Downton is a distant relative who has grown up middle class. As another example in later episodes, the Crawley’s youngest daughter marries the chauffeur, creating still further class tensions in the family.
  • Inherited wealth versus mercantile values – The idea of the estate turning a profit is beneath the Earl of Grantham, but not the heir-apparent who later becomes co-owner of the estate.

I do not intend to allegorize Downton Abbey, but I can’t help but observe some obvious similarities to our yet-to-be serialized melodrama in churches today!

I wonder if a series called Old Campbell Street Church would go as viral as Downton Abbey?   Do you think we could develop the theme of Tradition vs. Change? What about the role of men and women?  And I have a pretty good idea we could do inherited values vs. current values!

The first episode might be something like this:  The Campbell family has been the wealthiest, most influential family in the Old Campbell Street Church for seven generations. The oldest male Campbell has always presided over the eldership, but the current Campbell family only has daughters, so the question of continuity of power is acute!

To make matters worse, the oldest and prettiest daughter has fallen in love with the youth minister, a talented but uncredentialed young man who did not even attend one of the big Christian universities!  The fear in the Campbell family is that if these two were to marry, the Campbell daughter would be doomed to a life of youth rallies and summer camps and that her husband, in an abuse of his family connection with them, might try to introduce new songs into the traditional worship.

The tensions increase further when the youngest Campbell daughter runs off with a Young Democrat!  Will she ever be allowed to return to the Old Campbell Street Church after having shamed the family?  And how will their children be raised?

Ridiculous, isn’t it!

Let’s just pray that God never has to watch this channel!

 

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