Lessons from the bench

For the last two years I’ve been riding the pine at church. This time has taught me a lot about what it means to be in church leadership.

From age 16 until 31 I had always aspired to be an up front leader at church. I like being visible. I love speaking, teaching, and preaching. I truly enjoy the grind of regularly doing those things as my vocation.

Over the past two years I’ve gone from being the person everyone on our church campus knew to being a relative nobody. In athletic terms, I went from being a starter to being a player who sits the bench.

And just like in athletics, when you put a starter on the bench, the Coach always does it so the starter can learn.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned from riding the bench at church:

  1. Every attendee gets something different out of a Sunday morning, you can’t control the takeaway or topic one bit. I can’t believe I ever thought I could control that.
  2. The more a church offers the less people are involved in their community. Growing a church by doing less doesn’t make logical sense, but its 100% true.
  3. Never assume people know what a term is or who an author/speaker is that you reference. People in church leadership live in a different world, with different heroes, than the rest of the congregation.
  4. Visibly valuing people is really important. This manifests itself in a lot of different ways. But it demonstrates the church leaderships character in what they put up front.
  5. People in the pews care way more about the staff and their families than I ever imagined. It’s not creepy, it’s not some American idol worship, it’s actually quite sweet.

If you’ve gone from church staff to church attendee, what are some things you’ve learned through that process that could help people in church leadership?





8 responses to “Lessons from the bench”

  1. Chris Avatar

    This is a great topic. I’m glad you wrote about it, and I’d love to hear more. I’m a “professional church employee,” (have been for 10 years) and I often find myself questioning how much of an impact I can have on the Kingdom in this role. My perception is that lots of people in the church feel like they’re good to go and participate in worship gatherings more for maintenance than for actual growth. I wonder if we church workers would have more impact on the world if we all took up “secular” vocations, living as salt and light in those circles, and served the Church on a volunteer basis.

    What drove you to leave professional church work, and what light could you shed on those issues?

  2. adam mclane Avatar

    Chris- I’m not suggesting that people working vocationally at churches are somehow bad or should quit. Though… I’ve got a dream of a staffless church. http://adammclane.com/2010/03/09/the-goal-of-the-staffless-church/

    I really think that church staffs have to seriously consider… “are we enabling people to serve the community or are we enabling them to not use their spiritual gifts.”

    My contention is that in a lot of places we make church too hard in order to justify staff.

    What lead me out of church work? Gosh, a number of things! The simplest answer is that I was offered a dream job at Youth Specialties. Now that we’ve stepped away, I can look back and recognize that this transition saved my sanity, saved my family, and leaves room for both myself, my wife, and our children to develop a faith of their own.

  3. Dewaine Cooper Avatar

    Dude, it seems that a lot of what you’re blogging is what I’m learning. Take #2 for instance. I like it. I find that God works in the opposite of common sense.

    My team and I are attempting to do #2 in our youth ministry. We’re expected to do a lot of programs, but we’re doing almost nothing save a weekly class. The rest is meeting the youth in their world instead of expected them to come to ours.

  4. Chris Avatar

    @Adam I’m also definitely not of the camp that church staff or organized church is wrong. Incidentally, I read Pagan Christianity by George Barna, not realizing that the agenda of that book is to convince us that organized church and church staff IS wrong. There are good points in the book, but they don’t all hold water. Anyway, I do feel that lots of churches are staff heavy, and so they spend more money on staffing than on other things which could perhaps have a greater impact – and I wonder if my job (worship director) really needs to be a paid staff position.

    But again, I’d love to hear more about how your job change saved your sanity and family. Perhaps in a future blog post?

  5. adam mclane Avatar

    @chris- I’d never want to put down my former employer. The church was filled with loving people and they are still up to some great things.

    I’ll just put it like this. I chose to work more than was healthy. I chose to put the needs of the church above my family. Without saying yes to this time on the bench I don’t know how it would have ended.

    I used to say, all the time, “There is so much going on, I think I’m losing my mind.” I’d come home and sometimes I’d literally just talk nonsensically to Kristen. There was so much on my mind and I didn’t know how to organize it! One sentence would be about a situation with my boss, another would be an update on a youth group kid, the next would be my vision for the community, than something about remembering to change the oil in the van. I really felt like the stress of it all was getting to me. I didn’t recognize its full impact on myself and my family until I’d stepped away.

    Likewise, in stepping away I have continually gotten glimpses of how much damage being on staff had done to my kids. My kids hated church. Sure, they played along. But even at 4 & 6 it was clear to me that my kids resented that I spent more time with my church family than my own kids. It’s damage that we’re still working through.

    This wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. I don’t blame the church I worked at. But I do think that what I experienced is unfortunately fairly common among lots of church staff. We work too much, we take on too much responsibility, and we preach that our kids are important while practically the church is our family.

    Sorry for the long, confessional, comment reply!

  6. Chris Avatar

    Wow – thank you for the long reply!

    I agree with you: I’m not into church bashing either. It’s the Bride of Christ, and when we see the flaws (and they are there), our calling is to seek Christ’s healing. I also agree that for whatever reason, the atmosphere of many churches encourages people to work more than they should, volunteers and staff alike. It was in the church that I first heard the saying “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”

    I have to fight this at my church as well, and it’s difficult because we all believe that the work we’re doing is Good (capital “G”) work, so we’d better get as much done as we can. Dr. Richard Swenson points out in “Margins” that Jesus regularly got away to pray and focus, and during those times, there were people getting sick and dying that He could have been healing, but He knew that His human side needed rest.

    Again, thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. Henry Cesena Avatar

    What you plant, watether and shine light on will turn up as fruit somewhere. The major problem may be that “The Church” may believe that “God’s Work” may only be the work of “The Staff”. But if everyone is expected to “Do Something” than they become the “staff” of the church. First, Is the church that you work at, and or attend, one that expects everyone to use their gifts and talents for God? Or are you working at a chuch that expects you to “Do Everything”? ……Here is the mission and vision statement that may be a church that would work better for you.

    Vision and Mission Statement
    The vision of the Rock Church is to be a powerful evangelistic force that engages every segment of society as a motivated army of believers in Jesus Christ. We are wholeheartedly committed to using our gifts anywhere at any time to share the gospel while influencing and transforming our culture. This force will evangelize San Diego and empower other churches to use this ministry model around the world.

    The mission of the Rock Church is to save, equip, and send out soul-winners for Jesus Christ.

    I hope this is of some help. I’ll be praying for you.


  8. adam mclane Avatar

    @henry- I’m sure Rock is a lovely place. I am plugged into a very healthy church and am completely enjoying my life on the bench.

Leave a Reply