Church Leadership

Telling the truth versus something less

6555465757_f98e370880_bWhile I totally miss being on staff at a local church– there’s one thing I don’t miss at all.

I don’t have to filter my interactions with students through the grid of “what I’m supposed to say because I work at this church.

3 Easy Examples

  • End times – I don’t care about end times predictions, never understood this evangelical fascination. While I get the first century propensity to look forward to Jesus return because their lives really stunk under Roman oppression, I think some modern-day readers and churches use looking-forward as a way to ignore what’s right in front of us. Studying the end times isn’t as important as living for Jesus today. (This one ebbs and flows, not that popular right now.) But I worked for churches who cared a lot about this, so I taught it and emphasized it when encouraged to. 
  • Baptism – Baptism is important. But it’s not something you should feel pressured into just because we have a baptism service coming up. Get baptized when you’re ready to identify yourself with Christ and this group of people. Yes, the sooner the better. But Jesus is patient. But I regularly was told to find people who would get baptized, not because they were lead to, but because we had a baptism service coming up. And yes, there were lists.
  • Church attendance – Also important. But I don’t think Jesus thinks less of you if you skip church when you go on vacation or occasionally just decide you don’t want to go. Actually, many people would live a more vibrant Christian life if they were involved at church about 50% less. There’s a fine line between being a shepherd who cares and a guy who is helping get the numbers up.

Every profession comes with professional filters. (Proper use of these filters are one of the marks of being called a professional. It’s also part of being a grown up.)

I don’t think I ever felt like I needed to lie to people. And I don’t lose sleep feeling guilty– I cross the line and lie to people. But, sometimes I was guilty of telling people “something less” than what I truly felt was the whole truth. And I hate that. It was professionally filtered truth. A truth on behalf of the organization. All I’m saying is that I don’t miss that part of working at a church because every time I did it, it felt like I lost a bit of my soul.

[sidenote]This is actually one thing I really like about the church we go to. While I’m sure the staff is somewhat under pressure to make things work, they’re not pushy by design… It’s core to who the church is to challenge people without manipulating them.[/sidenote]

Strategic Advantage of Volunteers

I share this not as a criticism of life working in church. As I already mentioned, this is one thing you have to do as a professional in any field. (Represent the organization vs. your individual thoughts.)

I share this because, as a volunteer working with students, it is a strategic advantage.

I don’t have to put that particular filter on, at all. And the students I interact with know it.

Whether a student can articulate it or not they understand that the person who works for the church has a vested interest in their ministry going well. Just like they know that if their soccer team wins it’s good for them AND their soccer coach. That vested interest is a strategic disadvantage for the paid person working in student ministry.

But the strategic advantage that volunteers have is that we’re not tied to those filters, we can earn a different level of credibility with students. And when we “buy in” it plusses the student ministry all the more.

The Credibility Burn

For the paid person this is a double-edged sword. It can really help you or it can really hurt you. You might have volunteers who are supportive to your face but undermining your credibility… and you’ve got to sniff that out before you get bounced! I’ve talked to a ton of people who lost their ministry jobs and they really had no idea as to why. They didn’t sniff it out in time. 

Photo credit: opensourceway via Flickr (Creative Commons)

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

6 replies on “Telling the truth versus something less”

Adam, good post and I think I know where you are coming from on this. My only slight disagreement (if you want to call it that) is that as a paid Youth Staffer, I don’t feel at a “strategic disadvantage” at all. The students I invest in know perfectly well my stances on issues…sometimes they aren’t exactly lined up with the church but for the most part they are. In the same way, every volunteer should be lined up strategically with the beliefs of the church they are serving in. If not, they should go find one that they line up better at. I would hate to have a volunteer who speaks “truth” into the lives of students that are against one of the core values of our church. I hope I make sense. Again, good topic to discuss…thanks!

Hi Tom Pounder, hope you don’t mind me pushing back a bit on your pushback.

1. I would have said exactly as you did until I stopped being the paid guy and became the unpaid guy. I never saw it while on staff and no one would dare say it to me… until I wasn’t on staff anymore. Everyone in your ministry, even those in the general public, will talk to you differently because you are on staff at a church. Even in silly ways, like people won’t cuss as much around you if they know you’re a pastor. It’s not a bad thing… it’s just a strategic disadvantage you have to account for. The exact same strategic disadvantage is true for parents of teenagers as their kids know their parents say things “because you’re my mom.” That is one of the powers that makes our role as youth leaders so vital, we’re often times validating mom/dad’s words.

2.The second part of your statement needs to be corrected. (And if you think about it, you’ll probably see what I mean.) One difference between the church and a cult of Christianity is autonomy of the individual. Telling people they have to be on board with your vision “or else” is not how you gain credibility. Instead, my encouragement would be that a church can go to an entire different level of “Gospel-ness” when they take the posture that everyone in the church can be different, respect that, and ask those people to ride with the church despite their differences of opinion. I hear this line of reasoning a lot in conservative evangelical leadership circles… but it’s just not how the book of Acts plays out. The council in Jerusalem specifically addressed that idea (Acts 11 or there abouts) and they dismissed it. We’re all called to follow Jesus… but a core Pauline principle is that we’re each different members of the body with different roles/strengths/weaknesses/vantage points within the body.

I’m all for push back…that’s what makes discussion good and productive. 🙂

I see what you meant now after your 1. response…that makes better sense to me and I can agree.

I do hear what you mean about 2. as well and I agree that differences are good. I don’t think you need to be on board with everything “or else” but I do think if you are a volunteer and want to serve in a church, it’s best to be lined up as best possible with that church. If you don’t line up with that “majors” then I do think you should find a church you best line up with. For instance, if you believe in same sex marriage but the church you attend doesn’t, it probably won’t serve either the church or you if you attend there…find one that you line up more with on the “majors”…I have “minor” differences with my church, but I line up (and my youth leaders do to) on the “majors”.

Again, I hope this makes sense…thanks for the push back.

Great post adam. I appreciate your honesty. I am thankful I don’t work at a church that is about getting people to do more things. I think that a lot of youth pastors are telling the lies because they are afraid of being fired. Lets be honest, what is the worst that could happen? You get fired for the kingdom.

Yes and yes to the credibility burn.

One other related point to the credibility burn is the reality that some youth workers may lead under a direct report who strongly fails to represent them to the leadership of the church. There are direct reports who capitulate to the leadership’s concerns and play both sides in order to stay safe in the eyes of their leaders.

The youth worker and their direct report may be pushing through a challenge together while the youth leader is unaware that it’s not enough or too late. Rather than face confrontation a youth worker’s direct report may mislead the youth worker into thinking things are going just fine while all the while an exit strategy is being invisibly written for them.

Once you’ve reached this point their is no turning back because the direct report is not going to lose face. It’s the meeting after the meeting that gets you.

When you start to use code words for controversial pastors you secretly read books from, hide your Twilight and Harry Potter books, and never admit your true political affiliations for fear of losing said ministry job, you begin to wish you were a volunteer. Or you switch churches so you can bust out the Nooma videos and play a Coldplay song. Revolution instigated my friend. Now give me that Panda t-shirt from Marko! Good words Adam. You are in a very life-giving situation for healthy youth ministry w/o selling your soul for a paycheck.

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