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Church Leadership family

Two wins from yesterday

I don’t get to celebrate wins every day. So when wins happen I want to make sure I take time to acknowledge those victories.

Big rock life goal for Kristen and Adam: Lift up women in leadership.

So, two wins yesterday to celebrate towards that goal.

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Church Leadership

Youth Ministry Short-Term Missions Cognition

Outside of facilities and staffing, youth ministry short-missions is likely the largest financial investment in young people the local church makes.

But do we think about it as much as we do facilities and staffing? I sense we don’t.

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Church Leadership

Put an End to the Billy Graham Rule

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. 

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Church Leadership

Is your church a safe place?

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.

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Church Leadership

Untangling Terms to Understand Growing Your Church

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.

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Church Leadership

The Dark Side of Ministry Life

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:

Plagiarism

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?

That’s plagiarism.

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.

HR Violations

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.

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Church Leadership

Mount Assumption

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.

Source

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.

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Church Leadership

Emma Dryer is Smiling

About 3 years ago I wrote a blog post that was widely read entitled, “Moody, You Are Worth the Fight.” In this post I addressed Moody’s demarkation from their historic posture on women in ministry. While the school bears the name of 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody, the Institute was the brain child of a woman named Emma Dryer. Moody Bible Institute was among the first colleges in Illinois to admit women, it’s mission was to create a place for laypeople to get trained to serve the local church and mission field.

In it’s day this was progressive. Very few bible colleges or seminaries admitted women at that time. And while throughout Moody’s history it’s been known as a conservative place, practically speaking it’s also been a place that fostered great amounts of theological diversity among it’s student body. In my time, I shared the classroom with many classmates from evangelical and non-evangelical backgrounds who both thrived there. (And we all struggled through the rules.)

But this changed abruptly more than 100 years after Moody’s founding. For reasons unknown to me, MBI formally adopted a view on women in ministry that excluded them from preparation for pastoral ministry. This went as far as reshaping degree programs specifically to limit women’s participation. For example, in 1995 the youth ministry program was moved from the Pastoral Ministries department to the Christian Education department. Why? So they could continue to prepare women to serve in youth ministry while restricting women from being in classes with Pastoral Ministries majors.

Here was the crux of my complaint in that 2013 blog post:

So I am continually, out of love and respect, asking Moody to change its policy. I’m asking that they allow women to fully participate in every undergraduate and graduate program. I’m asking that women be allowed as fully registered participants at their annual Pastor’s Conference. I’m asking that they invite women pastors to speak and train both men & women at the conference.

And yes, I’m asking Moody to re-embrace their leadership position on the role of women in the church which proudly supported thousands of opportunities for women to serve the church to their fullest giftedness from the late 19th century until the end of the 20th century.

Until that time, this proud alumni respectfully stands in protest.

[No need to read between the lines about what that means… I’ve withheld my support for MBI as well as financial support]

Good News from LaSalle Boulevard

After I wrote my original post I had several pleasant exchanges with some higher-ups at Moody. I felt like they heard me. But ultimately the conversation died off, they stopped responding to me, and I moved on.

As promised, I respectfully stood in protest. I have deep love and respect for Moody but I felt like they were wrong.

Change #1 – Women are now admitted to all majors

Then yesterday, a fellow alumni and long-time friend posted a screenshot on my Facebook wall, asking if I’d seen it. It was a letter from Larry Davidhizer, a VP at Moody and man I casually knew at our church in Oak Park, letting students know that there had been some changes to the Pastoral Ministries major, clarifying that women were now invited into the Pastoral Ministries major, which is being combined into the Pastoral Studies major. The letter even includes an apology to current and former female students over the lack of clarity.

Here’s the letter:

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When I read that I was completely shocked. I didn’t think this would happen. Ever. I even doubted the truth in the letter posted, so I sent some emails and posted it on Twitter. And, to my surprise, they confirmed it as true.

Translation for non-MBI folks… that’s Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, their campus in Spokane, Moody Theological Seminary Chicago & Michigan campuses, and Distance Learning. Basically, that applies to all majors at the undergraduate and graduate level. Women are in! Title IX compliant and everything.

Change #2 – Women are now invited to fully register and attend the annual Pastor’s Conference

This might seem like a minor thing but I think it’s big. For whatever reason Moody’s annual Pastor’s Conference— which I’d snuck into a couple of times as an undergrad and found very encouraging- didn’t allow women to register. Spouses were invited to come to main sessions, as guests, during the main sessions. But women were prevented from registering independently or attending the breakout sessions and seminars.

That’s no longer the case. Women are now invited.

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What Hasn’t Changed?

To be honest, it’s not clear to me if Moody has walked back from their official complementation position or if they’ve merely gone back to their historical non-position position on women in ministry. To me, as an egalitarian it’s almost makes no difference. Ultimately, students will make their own choices and these changes create space for those differences to co-exist.

The victory, in my opinion, is leaving those choices more on the movement of the Holy Spirit than as an institutional decision. A place like Moody does best, in my opinion, when it sees itself as preparing graduates to serve the local churches, ministries, and missions and worse when it tries to hold the line of a specific position within the broader evangelical spectrum.

Not Taking Credit, But Saying Thanks

I have no idea if what I wrote 3 years ago made any difference. I know that there are lots of people who made similar complaints as I did. So I’m not making any claim (or blame!) to these changes. Certainly, besides a few pleasant conversations– mostly by email– I’ve had very little contact with Moody about this.

But I do want to say thank you to whomever pushed to make these changes. I feel like they are reflective and honoring to the founding of the Institute and likewise reflect current realities for the ministries Moody claims to be preparing graduates to serve at.

Bit-by-bit, the Institute is addressing my concerns and regaining my support.

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Church Leadership

Church: Is it for everyone?

Is church for everyone?

This is a complex question with a complex answer.

And in a Post-Christian world it’s an offensive question because it cuts to something many consider distasteful  about Christianity: Exclusivity. Ultimately, most Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven and therefore by process of elimination, Christianity is “right” while all the rest of the world’s religions are “wrong.”

You may have noticed that I used “church” and “Jesus” synonymously. I already said that the question of church is a complex one. Yes, you can be a Christ follower without church. But most people correlate church as being for people who love Jesus and Jesus followers as being the type of people who go to church.

So is it for everyone?

At our church we use aspirational language to say “yes” to that question. Language like, “We’re a come as you are church. Part of our DNA is that we want this place to be for everyone.

Now, we’re a good-sized church. But we aren’t really for everyone. We’d like to think we are for everyone but “everyone” is a pretty big target. In truth, we’re a church for a certain segment of the population attracted to that posture that we’re open to everyone while we hold open handedly the reality that we don’t know what “everyone” would actually mean.

I don’t want to get caught up in the idea of “everyone” from a church vantage point. It’s complicated, it contemplative, and ultimately there’s an easy answer for books that says, “Yes, absolutely” and a more difficult one for every day which says, “Well, not really.

The church question is interesting but not my point at all.

What does “everyone” mean? “Does it mean me?”

I’m not talking about church from the vantage point of church leadership. I’m talking about church from the vantage point of attending.

Is it for you?

Is it for me?

Is it for my friends?

Is it for my kids?

What do we mean when we say “church is for everyone“?

Christians believe that a life with Jesus is better than a life without him. That’s more than about an ultimate, heavenly destination. It’s that we believe that being engaged in the local church is good, it’s a sign of spiritual health and obedience to God. The Bible makes it clear that good stuff happens when we gather together.

But here’s the thing, a lesson I’m reminded of all the time as a dad: “My job as a parent is both RIGHT NOW and IN THE FUTURE.” I can look at my child and say, “You’re going to church. It’s for everyone, you’re part of an everyone, this is what we do as a family.

But that’s like using a credit card to pay for a vacation, right? It’s short-term awesome. Maybe I can push my kid to go to church and pretend to love it because that’s what’s expected in the context of being a part of a church.

But, welcome to complexity, you might be “solving” a problem by forcing your kid to go to church while creating a bigger problem down the road when they have a choice.

Does “everyone” mean “everyone right now”?

For me, this is where I’ve been on this question of “everyone” most of my ministry– even in the face of pressure by leadership because it means rejecting some implications of the aspirational ideology that we can reach “everyone“.

It’s complex.

We say Jesus for everyone but that doesn’t have to be determined at 14 years old.

  • Internally, we know that plenty of on-fire teenagers never become on-fire adults.
  • Plenty of people who completely skip church until their 20s or 30s radically convert later.
  • Plenty of adults don’t go to church today because their parents didn’t love them enough to recognize that they weren’t ready as kids and teenagers.
  • We know that any one church isn’t really for everyone.
  • We have a theological belief that Jesus is for everyone, that Jesus died for all that believe in him, we aspire to reach as many as possible… But we also know that God’s time is not our time.

“I must bring them also.”

When I desire to control my kids or teenagers in the youth group I need to take a step back and remember that my role as a dad or pastor is lower case. I might be shepherding this child or teenager. But my role in that isn’t capitalized… I am not the Dad and I am not the Shepherd.

Jesus ultimately decides who “everyone” is. Consider John 10:7-16 (emphasis mine)

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

If this is true than I don’t have the right to force. I can’t possibly know who “everyone” is. Sheep don’t count sheep! And while I can be cooperative with Jesus in His work– I’d be curious to read some commentaries on who people think is the “hired hand”, He has ultimate authority on this question.

I’ve read this passage innumerable times and missed the text I put in bold. There is the “pen” I hang out in but Jesus has other pens. And whose responsible for those pens? Not me. Jesus.

Church: Is it for everyone? Yes.

Church: Is it for everyone? Really?

I told you it was complicated.

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Church Leadership

Should churches have open meetings?

Long-time youth worker Titus Benson has gotten himself entangled in a mess. There were sexual misconduct allegations in the congregation, the church leaders allegedly tried to deal with it privately, and from what I can tell… the more Titus tried to step in and help the more trouble he found himself in.

This post isn’t about that particular incident. But it is about the larger questions the church is facing.

Yesterday, Titus wrote a post about how a lack of transparency can often lead to church-based misconduct from going public. He wrote:

One thing bothers me almost as much as the abuse itself. The whole dramatic undoing of most of these faith leaders I’ve cited could’ve been avoided with greater transparency on the church’s part. Don’t misunderstand me — there would still be criminals and victims and a life of recovery for those who are harmed. But fewer victims would exist and more healing could happen if churches handled things with more Gospel-centered honesty and less deceitful self-protection.

A Problem of Polity

In my opinion, the lack of transparency starts with how churches govern themselves.

Let me unpack that statement a bit… 

A lot of the larger non-denominational churches have ties to “Baptist-y” backgrounds. That might not be Southern Baptist necessarily. But if you start tracing back the history of where the founders got their education or grew up, you’ll likely see a rather Baptist lineage.

Now, the traditional Baptist polity (how the church is governed) is “Pastor lead, Congregational rule.” So the pastor operates under the authority of the congregations vote, but on most day-to-day matters the pastor is trusted to lead. There might be a number of committees that provide oversight and recommend direction or budget to specific areas of the ministry, but ultimately the churches members vote to decide at quarterly or annual meetings.

In healthy contexts this works out pretty well. Congregational rule served “baptist-y” looking churches just fine for generations. This system provides many checks and balances and gets A LOT of people involved in leadership roles. So if so form of misconduct were occurring “the whole church would be in an uproar.

It’s unhealthy contexts that warranted the form of government so popular today.

In smaller congregations, especially in rural areas, the pastor wields the ultimate political trump card– If he’s unhappy he can leave.

If the pastor doesn’t get what he wants he can merely threaten to leave and that’d get him what he wants.

As a result these unhealthy congregations fostered a lot of wanna-be Napoleon rulers. I remember interviewing at a few of these types of churches… Pastor had his fingers in every decision… everything seemed to be vetted through a filter of “Is this what Pastor would want?” From the songs sung in worship to the color on the walls of the nursery, the operative word for these organizations was “control.” You second guessed Pastor? You got fired. You asked a question in a deacon meeting that seemed inappropriate? Gone.

Checks and balances are replaced by threats and manipulation.

Mix in the fact that the Pastor is generally the one slicing and dicing Scripture and this mix of religious leader and political leader– for some congregations– is toxic.

I believe this is the birth place of some of the problems Titus writes about.

Why? 

Because a lot of founders of the church plants that became larger non-denominational churches [which are then idolized and lifted up as examples by today’s church planters] were born from associate staff working in a church job where they had no power, organizationally. [Cough, many of them got fired.]

They looked at the pastor-lead, congregational rule system as broken and unhealthy. And so they fostered a new polity: Staff lead, elder rule. 

Basically, how this form of government works is that the pastoral staff (or leadership team) have all of the power for day-to-day activities with general oversight by a ruling elder board. (They are the experts, even if they lack a credential to be an expert.) The congregation has absolutely no effectual power, short of leaving the church or cessation of giving. A lot of these organizations have no voting membership. They don’t vote or approve anything, there aren’t many committees or places where people have a voice, the congregation is often consulted about things… but that’s it.

The intent is to remove power from the congregation and it does just that.

In healthy contexts, the staff-lead model works great. Congregants don’t really need power as the self-governing staff serves the church well. When these congregations run into a problem they are quick to seek outside help, they are transparent about what’s going on, etc.

But in unhealthy contexts, this form of government is really no different than the Pastor-lead model in a small, rural context… the pastor wields unlimited control by controlling who sits on the elder board, who is hired, etc. (I’m using male language here because, let’s face it, most of the players are indeed men.)

What’s important to point out is that this staff-lead form of government is– without a doubt– viewed as the “only” way to lead a larger church. All other forms of government are devalued (to put it politely) and the mantra among “church growth experts” is that you cannot grow a church unless you are staff-lead. Staff are experts, congregants are sheep, end of story.

When you cut through the Biblical language applied to these forms of government, really it comes down to this: Who is ultimately in charge of the church? The staff or the congregation?

Lack of Transparency

Back to the abuse. Whether it’s sexual misconduct or misappropriating funds or unlawfully firing staff… a lot of problems come out of forms of governance within these organizations which offer no transparency.

  • A staff person is accused of sexual misconduct… what was done about it? In most cases the congregation will never know because it was never informed, the police were not called, there are no written notes/recordings of meetings, etc. Even if you do get information it will not be raw, it’ll be vetted or “cleaned up so you can understand.” As we’ve learned from current scandals the church is much more likely to call a lawyer than they are to inform the congregation.
  • Church funds are misappropriated… what was done about it? When this happens, and it happens more often than anyone would care to admit, how is it handled? If money is stolen is it reported to police? Was anyone held responsible? Did anyone even notice? Similarly— That work that was done on the church… what was the bidding process like? Was it fair? Did we get a good price? Is there a warranty on the work? Did the church get proper inspections and permits? Was the work approved by the correct government agency?
  • A staff person is terminated… was it handled properly? Was there sufficient cause? Was the person properly compensated? Was the person properly classified to begin with? What training was offered? Has the supervisor been re-trained? Is the supervisor an adequate supervisor of staff? Are employees evaluated? What are their goals?

In a staff-lead congregation you’ll probably never know the answers to any of these types of questions because they are mostly treated as private matters for the staff to deal with.

But here comes the rebuttal…

Titus writes, ““It is not advantageous for churches to have conflict in the public eye,” church leaders sometimes argue. We hurt the Kingdom when we argue about church stuff on Facebook, for instance. That’s just not the place for that kind of expression, some insist.” (source)

That cuts to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it? Protect the good name of the church at all cost… even if that cost is a person’s life or livelihood.

When something goes wrong, horribly wrong, the congregation might never be properly informed. Instead, the church staff is left to tell a story about what happened without anyone getting access to what actually happened.

My problem with “staff lead” forms of government is two-fold.

  1. As a congregant it’s like going out to eat, being handed the bill, but you can’t see the details of what’s on the bill. You wouldn’t pick up that tab at Chili’s but you’re giving to the local church is treated like that.
  2. As a staff member, you’re left without due process.

Embrace Open Meeting Rules

Here’s the thought that Titus’ post elicited, that lead to this post in the first place:

What if all 501 3c entities, churches & non-profits alike, had to abide by the same open meeting laws that public entities did?

Though it’d never pass, I wonder if we changed the laws– Want to keep your tax status? Abide by open meeting laws.

Don’t want that tax status? Find another business entity for your organization. (Sole prop, LLC, Corporation, etc.)

See, here’s the kicker that I think 99% of church leaders are in denial of– Your largest donor is likely the government.

  • Why don’t you pay property tax? Because you are seen as benefitting the public. Just like the city doesn’t tax it’s own parks, they don’t tax you. Even though your church uses the same roads and public utilities, etc… the rest of the community pays the bill on that, they are financing your church. 
  • Why don’t you pay the same employment tax other organizations your size do? Because the government subsidizes it by making other business owners pay fractionally more… the rest of the community bears that because you’re seen as good for everyone.

Whether you admit it or not every church is partially funded by your local, state, and federal government.

So why not make it so that every one of your meetings as open to the public as theirs are? Why not make your 501 3c records available to FOIA requests? (Just like other publicly funded entities.) Why not post meeting notes?

You can have closed sessions about personnel or legal matters– just like government entities— but the local church needs greater record keeping and transparency to restore lost trust.

I will say this until the cows come home… the local church should be the best employer in town, it should be the safest place in town, and it should be the one place where every person, from any walk of life, regardless of personal history… should find life.

You will not get their hiding behind closed doors. You will get there when you embrace the transparency our untrusting culture demands.

In a post-Christian world people have to experience good news from you before they will experience the Good News of Jesus in their lives. 

Photo credit: School Board Meeting is Packed by Light Brigading via Flickr (Creative Commons)