Most Americans became aware of the Billy Graham Rule in 2017 when they learned that Vice President Mike Pence refuses to meet with women one-on-one. For the record, I defended Mr. Pence’s right to take this position as it’s his own deeply held religious belief in the same way I’d defend any other religious person’s right to alter their work responsibilities to accommodate a deeply held religious belief. Of course, defending his right to the practice doesn’t mean I personally support the practice, which I don’t.. I just supported his legal right to the practice.
Is your church a safe place for anyone in the community to come?
I know that’s a loaded question… “Adam, safe for whom?” In this case, I mean is your church a safe place to come regardless of immigration status? As a San Diego resident living in Mid-City you might imagine this is highly relevant as we live in a community of documented and undocumented immigrants and refugees.
Admittedly, I sit in a weird seat.
I’m former church staff so I totally get the realities of what it’s like to lead a congregation. But my vantage point is now from the pews, volunteering where I can and cheerleading the best I can. All-too-often I can see things that I wish people working for churches could see and understand. But, as one megachurch pastor puts it, “Sometimes you’re so busy working in the church you can’t work on the church.”
So here’s a little something I’ve been noticing lately that I think really hurts churches strategically: Term confusion.
Here’s two examples.
From the outside looking in, ministry life is often romanticized. “It must be so cool to spend your days advancing the Gospel.” And yes, there are plenty of moments when you feel that.
But there’s a not-so-hidden dark side to ministry life that act as pitfalls, snares, and traps… these are things that don’t seem like a big deal early on in ministry, but over time they build up and eventually take you out.
Here’s three to highlight my point:
Christians are ruthless about plagiarism. Had my IP ripped off from college until today like its a birthright to steal or something.
— Adam McLane (@mclanea) September 13, 2016
Plagiarism is a sin that creeps in out of convenience. You start off by missing a citation or manipulating the facts to include yourself in a good story that you heard. But, over time, since literally no one is fact checking you or asking where you get your content… you move deeper into it.
See, when you are young and brand new, you really can get away with this. You buy resources sometimes (which definitely isn’t plagiarism!) but other times you lift ideas from stuff you see. You build a series here and there ripping off an idea you saw at a conference or on TV. But before long, you stop buying resources and just start riffing off of podcasts you hear or your favorite preacher’s sermons you grab from their website.
“That’s not wrong, is it? I mean I make it my own…” Actually, it’s a lack of integrity. You are taking someone else’s work, not giving them credit, presenting it as your own, then getting paid. So you’re making money off of someone else’s work without permission, license, or payment?
And, over time, it’ll catch up to you. Let’s say you preach a sermon in “big church” and someone notices that a story you shared was on a podcast they listen to… but you didn’t give that podcast credit? They might not say anything to you but you’ve lost credibility with that person.
They know your sin.
And so do you.
All I’m saying is have integrity. Give credit where it’s due. If you need a resource, buy it. There’s never shame in being honest about where you get your stuff from. Doing so builds credibility instead of bleeding it away.
Burning Out from Going Hard
Like a lot of people in ministry I took notice of Pete Wilson’s recent announcement that he’s stepping away from ministry. Not too long Perry Noble did the same. You could probably label much of what happened with Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll as the same. People who go hard for a long period of time eventually burn out.
And never forget that for every big name lead pastor who drops out because of burn out there are 100 non-famous, regular church staff folks who do the same.
When you see these announcements you hear people say things like, “Pray for pastors. Their life is so hard.” And, of course, people should pray for their pastors because their life is really hard whether you are pastoring in ultra-wealthy Seattle or a very poor city in Haiti like Hinch.
But the thing about burn out? It’s 100% preventable. In every profession you can expect to go through season every once in a while where you go hard. But I think sometimes on ministry staffs “going hard” becomes the mantra.
We make the mistake of thinking we can do a lot to attract people. But don’t forget, eventually those people you are attracting with all that activity are going to look at YOU and ask themselves, “Is this what following Jesus looks like? I don’t want that.” In a post-Christian world how you live is more important than what you believe. If how you’re living isn’t good news to someone they probably won’t listen to the Good News of Jesus.
My thought? Yes, of course pray for pastors. But we need to also expect less from them, too. Ultimately, burn out is about integrity. Do you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially? It shocks me how many of my friends in church ministry have no friends outside of their church life, no hobbies, no life. If that’s you… you’re on Burn Out Boulevard. Make a hard turn at the next intersection or you’re next.
Don’t impress me with your ability to go hard. Impress me with your ability to go long-term by taking care of yourself.
I’ve written about this before. While the local church should be the best place to work in town it’s often the place using it’s tax status to violate an abundance of employment laws that a non-church workplace couldn’t get away with. EOE violations, [Only interviewing men for non-exempt positions… SHAME!] age discrimination, racial discrimination, misclassification of employment status, violating overtime rules… these are all the norm, obvious violations of normal workplace standards. Then there are organizations that foster workplace environments that are full of hostility, nepotism, and intimidation that are ripe for lawsuits.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from church staff that they hate their boss, their job, their church, etc. Yeah… that ain’t good.
Again, these are questions of integrity. If the only thing that matters is growing a big church than why bother with creating an endearing place to work? But when you look at the fallout, thousands of church workers who leave the ministry each year, you need to ask yourself: At what cost?
Like the rest– this is entirely preventable. But these things creep in under the umbrella of “everyone is just doing the best they can.”
So Why Bring These Things Up?
Listen, none of this is news. So why bother talking about it?
Because we need to shine light on the dark places of ministry. We need to work hard on creating space for church workers to take care of themselves, be awesome family members, be active in their community, and be amazing employers. We must give space for this to happen. And, in a lot of ways, we can do this when we lower our expectations to something more realistic.
As I read and reflect on the four Gospels sometimes it just pops off the page to me that their lives weren’t as packed in as ours are. We see being busy as being successful. But is that the measurement we really want for our lives in ministry? I’ll take being faithful over being successful all day, every day. (If I had to chose one or the other! They aren’t mutually exclusive obviously.)
What I see as Jesus interacted with his disciples is that they often times did a lot of ministry… really packed it in… then spent days getting to the next place. Walking for 2-3 days isn’t all that productive, is it? There weren’t strategy meetings or stuff like that… they walked. It was probably pretty quiet sometimes. It was probably sometimes uneventful and introspective. And they took Sabbath really seriously. Maybe even too seriously?
But man, the pendulum has really swung.
Busy is not the answer people are looking for in Jesus.
Again, that’s ultimately about integrity. These are insider things that only people on the inside will ever really know about.
Our Greatest Invention
Like millions of people I am in awe of the Sierras. Each summer, our family vacations in Yosemite National Park. And each summer I seem to have a moment where the mountains sing a Sirens tune.
- July 2015, wading through an Eastern Sierra creek in search of golden trout. One hand on my fly rod and the other used to stabilize myself scrambling over slippery rocks. In the middle of the creek, out of breath, I sat down and heard nature’s song. Miles from no where and completely alone yet overcome with a profound sense of connection.
- A couple summers ago I was swimming with my kids in the middle of the Yosemite Valley when for some reason we all stopped. We held still, staring at the sheer face of El Capitan, barely noticing as a family of ducks swim by.
- This summer I woke up early thinking I’d fish the creek by our campground. Heading down a path that disappeared into deer trails, scrambling across offshoots, over loose granite, I was so overcome with discovering beauty around the next bend that I never cast a single line.
This is why so many call our national parks our greatest invention. Countless miles of wilderness, owned by everyone for everyone to enjoy.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece recently highlighting both the wisdom of our forefathers to set aside this land and the potential Congress has to widow our greatest invention to state control:
In an age of enormous inequality, these public lands are arguably our most democratic space. Wealth may buy political influence such that to speak of “one person one vote” seems naïve and incomplete. So the most democratic place in America is perhaps not the voting booth but rather our shared wilderness, as long as we sustain it.
Here, you find yourself in places where everything moves around and yet you’re overcome by the stillness. In an age of 24/7/365 connectedness there’s something profound in being disconnected from technology and intertwined in wilderness.
The Rare Gem of an Open Mind
Like millions of families school is starting for the McLane kids. Paul started 8th grade last week. Megan (tenth) and Jackson (kindergarten) will start next Monday. As Summer fades from our present reality to our memories new realities are setting in… back-to-school shopping and homework replace spontaneous trips to the beach or lazy walks to Yogurtland.
New-ness for school also means the return of people into our lives who want to get to know us better or, far worse, already think they know us based on how we look or how we dress or where we live.
I like the insulation Summer provides our family. Kids invite people into their lives who know them. They don’t have to bother with people who don’t know them or don’t like them. There’s no drama.
But school forces us back into a different, more democratic, reality.
We ask our kids to start the school year off with an open mind. You might get assigned to a class or a teacher you don’t like. Or you might have to sit next to someone or play on the playground with someone who doesn’t like you. Approach those moments with the same open mind we approach our visits to Yosemite. You never know what you might discover around the next bend? It might be that what you don’t already know is better than what you’ve already experienced.
That’s all fine and dandy until reality sets in. As much as I’d like to think our family celebrates open-mindedness, we probably don’t do it very well. Certainly, each day we experience people who are closed-minded.
Truly, an open mind is a rare gem. Like a diamond or emerald, it’s something you have to protect because everyone is out to use it for their own purpose.
Ascending Mount Assumption
Like millions of people I struggle with the assumptions people make about me. (and my family) You can sometimes see the calculations flashing before their eyes. “An overweight white guy, goes to church, drives a minivan, has kids. He must….”
“Don’t assume anything. When you do that it’ll make an ass out of you and me.” I remember my 7th grade English teacher saying that as the class erupted in giggles. She was teaching us to spell the word correctly. But that phrase is also full of truth.
One of the great challenges we all face is our own assumptions.
Like navigating an Alpine meadow trail to the next set of mountains we each ascend Mount Assumption every time we try something new or meet someone new. We assume things that must be true of them because of what they look like, what language they speak, where they went to school, how they dress, the color of their skin, their gender, on and on and on. Likewise, they also assume things about us.
The challenge we all face is ascending the mountain of your own assumptions to get to the heart of the matter. Not all people are ___. Not everything thinks ____. To get there we have to open our minds to new realities.
To find common ground we must both ascend Mount Assumption, on our own paths and at our own pace, to meet at the summit. At the summit, now clear of the hard work of our ascent of Mount Assumption, we truly see one another. Together we forget about the process and enjoy a shared experience.
But this is hard work. It’s a test of character. And failure is an option.
But, just like in hiking, once we’ve gotten to the top the first time it’s easier the second because you know what to expect!
And, I believe, it’s the people who will embrace this hard work– Ascending Mount Assumption– who will truly help us regain a society of shared trust. See, just like our shared ownership of the National Parks binds us together the continual hard work of ascending Mount Assumption to embrace the Sirens tune of a share experience becomes our own Greatest Invention.