We are in the midst of the weirdest and most leaderless season of public life in modern U.S. history. And I’m left wondering: “Where are our leaders?”
Pastors often confuse leadership with discipleship. Our infatuation with leaders has stunted the development of disciples in our churches.
Rinse. Repeat. Discuss.
- Don’t shop on Thanksgiving! – This year, in a sign of pure greed, many retailers will open up their stores for pre-Black Friday sales. Target stores nationwide will open at 9:00 PM on Thanksgiving, basically destroying the holiday for their employees. Their employees started a petition to keep Black Friday on Friday. Last week I got several emails inviting me to “secret sales” where I could get Black Friday deals right now. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Making low-level employees work on a holiday so you can make extra money is wrong.
- We all pay taxes! It is true that lots and lots of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes directly. But I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with people saying that most people don’t pay taxes. We all pay taxes, lots and lots of them. And while most of the readers of this blog won’t write a check for federal income taxes we pay taxes in lots of seen and unseen places that our more affluent neighbors don’t. We all pay sales tax, property tax, payroll tax, state income tax, tariffs we don’t see, taxes added into the goods we buy like gasoline. Then there are the taxes we pay not in money, but in situations beyond our control. Can someone in the working poor pay to send their kids to an elite school? Nope… so that’s a tax on them. Can the working poor afford the best access to healthcare? Nope… so that’s a tax on them. What about the best nutrition? Or social access to powerful people. On and on and on. My point is simply that we all pay taxes!
- There’s more to church leadership than preaching! No, really. The more I get to know folks in a lot of contexts the more I realize that what you do off the platform is what makes you a leader in the church. And if you look away from the org chart and walk around seeing who is actually leading, almost all leadership (People leading others where they wouldn’t go by themselves) is happening outside of the preaching person and outside of the paid staff. I’m not talking about redefining what leadership is in the church… I’m talking about recognizing who are the leaders in your church. How can you go to a church, see all that goes on, and say… “Oh, this is ____’s church.” Gimme a break.
OK, I got those off my chest. Time for a second cup of coffee.
Next week, I have the opportunity to speak at the Boost Conference. Boost is the premier conference for out-of-school time professionals and administrators. While not exactly youth ministry like we define it in our tribe, these are adults who are very similar to our tribe. They live, breathe, and love children and teenagers. In some circles they even refer to themselves as youth workers! (Yes, this tribe has TONS of Christians. I can’t wait.)
Here’s a description of my talk:
Engaging with the Faith-Based Community
Current trends in the faith-based subculture have faith-based organizations, including churches, looking for opportunities to serve the needs of the community. in this seminar, we will examine this trend, fill in some gaps of misinformation, address a shared past of difficulties, look at some current examples, and explore ground rules for positive engagement. When it comes to the children of our communities, we have a lot in common, including many shared values. let’s bridge some gaps and create a new story together.
I need your help
This seminar will be a lot better if I have some recent data and input from people currently involved vocationally in churches. I can speak to this topic in generalities and can point to data points from other research, but I’d love to have fresh data specifically for this talk.
I’d love it if 150 – 200 people currently employed by a church / parachurch would share their insights into this important topic.
Would you please take 15 minutes to complete this survey?
Please help me reach my goal by sharing with other staff people you know.
And yes, I’ll be sure to share what I learn both from this survey and my time at Boost, right here on my blog.
Editorial note: This is part 2 of a guest post from a local San Diego friend. (Part 1) I don’t normally offer guest posts, but this point-of-view is important. Church and youth leaders need to hear from men in their congregations like him. While this post is anonymous, I invite you to dialog with him through me.
I grew up reading comic books; it was an escape from the horrible living environment I was stuck in. I had a brother, 9 years older than me, who made me his punching bag; an ex-alcoholic father who switched his addiction to rage, and my mom who had to take a lot of abuse from my dad.
I was attracted to comic books because it clearly spelled out who was good and evil; the good guys won most of the time and what I liked at the end of the day was that they could conceal their identity. Superman became Clark Kent. Batman deftly changed into the billionaire, Bruce Wayne. Green Lantern willed himself back to being Hal Jordan. And poor Spiderman usually stumbled back into his apartment, collapsing onto the bed as Peter Parker.
Their secret identity brought them peace; they protected their loved ones by having it. They managed two distinct and separate lives. It’s something that sounded so great.
But when you have a secret identity, it is more painful than a bruise on your chest or cigarette burn on your arm.
When I was about 14 I realized something; I was attracted to the guys in my high school, not the girls. The realization is a lot to take in, especially around the time that AIDS had surfaced; people were scared; protests were hitting the streets. The words “faggot” and “homo” were en vogue.
I knew I was in trouble.
I managed to keep in secret until about 18 when I told my high school counselor. He sympathized and explain that there were other people out there like me. Once I got to college, my life would change.
It did. My first week at college I became a Christian.
And I was still gay.
In the college Christian group I was a part of, there were great people, but a large majority of them used the words homo, queer, and faggot. I was in some deep trouble.
I had to hide the fact that I was gay. I mean, who could I tell? And the pressure to date was nearly insurmountable.
I managed coming out to some friends, but the loneliness, the isolation was great. No one got it.
That was about 20 years ago.
Since then I’ve tried counseling for 7 years; it was helpful to unpack a lot of the abuse I took, but I still wasn’t attracted to women.
I had a girlfriend in seminary for a year and a half. I thought I could change and make it work.
I didn’t. I broke her heart.
I have mastered the ability to blend in with straight people; they rarely suspect I’m gay. In the Christian world, being gay is right up there with child molester.
You have to understand; I have had friends I’ve never been able to tell. They make the occasional gay joke or if they see two men who are clearly together, they have some kind of snide remark. And I’m sitting across from them.
Now, just so we’re clear: I’m celibate. I’m not planning on having a relationship. You might be thinking, “Oh, good. You’re one of us.” Afraid not. And so we don’t get into a political quagmire that this blog isn’t designed to function for, I won’t get into the reasons why.
The purpose of me spilling this story, the most painful one I have, is to say this.
We sit amongst you.
We are people struggling with being gay, afraid of what their closest family and friends would say. We laugh at your homo jokes and then we go in the bathroom and look in the mirror and hate what we see. We take a deep breath and we go back inside.
We tolerate churches designed around married couples, married conferences, and marriage sermons.
Most of use can’t come out. We risk losing the friendships we have so we’d rather dine on surface relationships, instead of having none.
We long for someone to understand, to get it. And one reason I don’t play the lottery (besides Dave Ramsey’s advice) is that I’ve already won it. I have friends that I’d take a bullet for, who know my true story and love me. It’s not that they don’t love me regardless because I’m not doing anything. I’m not at gay bars or trolling the internet looking for someone. I’m not sinning in my sexual behavior.
I came out to a friend of mine and he looked down at the table, sullen and said, “Everything must be really difficult for you.” We sat there in silence for awhile and I thought, he gets it.
The church will hug the man that just cheated his wife for a year and shun the struggling gay guy who hasn’t had sex in 10 years. Guaranteed. Easy money.
And I’d burn every earthly possession I have, empty my bank accounts, quit my job, and terminate every relationship I have for a pill to change over—in a heartbeat—I’d walk away from that pyre buck-naked, unemployed, broke, but straight.
But unlike my heroes of my youth, my secret identity clings to me and I am forced to hide from what is called to be most loving, compassionate place on the planet—the church.
So here’s what I ask: be kind to us. We are looking for friends that listen and have compassion on us. We are not looking for you to understand us completely, we just want to go through our day not feeling like monsters. We run the risk of losing the people we value by coming out, but we must weigh that against being fake and pretending we are straight.
I also ask that we cut out the gay-bashing talk; I get that it’s funny with your friends and it cuts to the quick, but I guarantee you’ve said it in front of us and we twist inside and mourn inside.
Be kind to us; we are broken and we need no more reminders.
The last few years has seen the popularization of something I refer to as the Pastor Man Up Movement. (PMUP)
You hear things said, like “Pastor, if anyone is going to lead your church, it has to be you.” Or, “No one else in the church is called to lead more than you.” Or, “It’s time the pastors of the church took control from the committees.” It’s an interesting phenomenon. And it’s promoting a lot of abuse of power. Pastors read a blog or hear a PMUP message and run to the next meeting all full of testosterone instead of grace.
It’s dangerous to take the power that a pastor is given and then encourage that person to exert his will on a congregation.
It’s like storing a keg of black powder in a cigar bar. Eventually there will be an explosion.
In a healthy context there’s nothing wrong with this movement. It’s good for pastors and church staff to be leaders and to be reminded of their calling. That’s why we pay them. (Let’s not lose site of that fact. I know many people have been abused by the church, but there really are healthy churches out there.) When we hire pastors at our churches we should empower them to lead. I currently attend a church where the church staff are good leaders. They seek wise counsel, they are temperate, they consider the needs of the whole congregation in making decisions, they work hard to battle “what people want” vs “what the Bible is asking us to do.” I’ve never sensed that they are afraid to lead.
The problem is that it’s also become popular to hire staff members with little or no formal training. It’s not unusual for me to hear of people joining a church staff with not only no formal training at the undergraduate/graduate level– they’ve not even been an intern or been taught how to lead a church in an informal setting. They have zero training to enter the ministry. Literally, one week they are selling cars (or whatever) and the next week they have the title of pastor. Few other professions do this the way churches do. You wouldn’t hire a teacher to be a lawyer. Nor would you hire a vet to be a physician or a CPA to be a plumber. But in the church? It’s become en vogue to hire non-professionals.
[My suspicion is that those people who leave a profession to enter the ministry probably weren’t that good at their profession in the first place. But it’s quite an ego boost to go from being a CPA to an executive pastor! It’s not like a mediocre CPA was going to make partner.]
PMUP + Untrained staff = Explosion waiting to happen
A couple of thoughts about this combination:
- When a senior pastor surrounds himself with untrained associates this should tell you something about the leader of the senior.
- There’s nothing wrong with being a strong leader. But if no one is following you of their own free will… you aren’t leading. You are a dictator. (Remember how things end for most dictators)
- When a church calls an untrained person to be their pastor, this should tell you something about the congregation.
- It makes me giggle when a bunch of dudes decide that they need to man-up. I grew up thinking that a real man took care of the people around him, not used his weight to get his way.
- Where in the Bible were deacons/overseers/elders told they should man up?
- When did the will of a congregation/voting become a bad thing?
- Sometimes it seems as though people are selling themselves and their vision instead of God’s vision. As a churchgoer, all I know if I’m stuck with the bill.
- If someone has to throw around their weight to make things happen, does that make them a leader worth following?
- The unspoken message every person knows in a church is that if the pastor can’t exert his will, the congregation runs the risk of the person quitting. (This isn’t “manning up.” It’s “taking my ball and going home.”)
- When did formal eduction/training as an entry point to ministry become a bad thing? And if churches are going to hire untrained staff, why don’t they budget for properly training them?
Note: This post is a note written to myself. If you want to write yourself in on it, that’s cool. But this post is for me more than it is you.
Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Joshua 24:14
And he said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.‘ Job 28:28
The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Psalm 25:14
For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13
I’ve had enough of the fear talk.
If I listen to one more youth worker talk about feeling lead to do something but he isn’t sure the parents will go for it… I’ll scream.
Let me get this story correct.
Called by God to lead these kids, stirred by the Holy Spirit to go do something, and what stops you is fear of parents? A board? Dudes in suits? Getting fired? Sure seems like you have some horrible, crappy, weak theology.
I can imagine Abraham having this argument with God. “Oh, you want me to leave everything and move my family… cool. Let me check with my wife first before I commit. And then I’ll need a realtor. And lemme check with my insurance guy to make sure it’s safe. Do I have to take my kids? If so, wow I don’t know. Are there good schools over there?”
Know what God would have done? He would have found someone else. And Abraham wouldn’t have been the father of a great nation.
Reckless vs. Fearless
I actually think a lot of people confuse these terms. They are not synonyms. You can lead a ministry and a life that is fearless without being reckless. That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get in trouble… in fact, I can guarantee you that a fearless life will be dangerous. But being fearless doesn’t make you reckless. One lifestyle takes risks for the sake of taking risks while the other takes risks because they are convinced it is the right thing to do.
SPOILER ALERT: Reading the New Testament all of the characters die in the end. OK, so there are two who aren’t really dead by the end of Revelation. Jesus gets killed (for you) and then comes to life again and is seen by a bunch of people before ascending into heaven. And John, who writes Revelation, isn’t quite dead yet when he writes the letter documenting the end of the world. But most people think he died in exile because he pissed off the Emperor of Rome.
So, if I have this right, [yup , checked my sources one more time] if you live a life like Jesus did or his disciples did… there’s a pretty good chance you should be on a trajectory where someone wants to take you out. And you probably won’t be very popular with the religious establishment. And that retirement party? Yeah, don’t plan that.
Where are all the men in the church?
I sit in church wondering the same thing.
Maybe they know deep down inside that they don’t want to hang out with a bunch of wimps? Maybe, JUST MAYBE, more men are looking at the God of the Bible and comparing it to the faith of the churches leaders and thinking: Nope. Not the right guys.
A few years ago I was talking to a senior pastor about youth ministry. In a moment of honesty he said something like this.
“I don’t get it. Tell me why you want to work with high school students your whole life. You’re qualified to be a senior pastor. You have all the qualities people look for in a senior pastor. And your teaching style moves high school students to a type of faith that most churches would love. Plus, you could be the boss and you’d make a lot more money. What don’t I see?”
The truth was that it took me by surprise because I’d never been asked that question. I’ve only been asked it’s annoying cousin, “When are you going to be a “real” pastor?”
Here’s a summary of what I told him:
- I love the process. In the 5-6 years that you have a student in your ministry you see them go from squirrelly middle schooler to mostly grown up.
- I love that adolescents are moldable. The reason you can teach them radical truths and they will respond is pretty amazing. You just don’t see many adults looking for truth to move them.
- I love the fun factor. When was the last time you’ve preached to adults and illustrated something by covering a kid in shaving cream or dunking for oreos in chocolate syrup. Like never. There’s a middle schooler in me that is highly amused by this kinesthetic goofy learning stuff. Adults just don’t go for it.
- I love that it doesn’t end unless you want it to. Seriously, this is a beautiful time of year. I love the longitudinal factor of youth ministry. And I love the fact that you can chose to continue investing in some students while having a perfectly good excuse to move them out of your life. You can’t do that as a senior pastor, can you?
How would you have answered this question?
I want to encourage you to do a little civil disobedience within your church congregation.
Start bringing and leaving a canned food item to your church every time you go. Have every person in your family do it, too. Don’t make a spectacle of it. Just leave your cans in the foyer on the floor or on the counter in the bathroom. Sunday morning worship? Leave a can. Mom goes back later for a meeting? Leave a can. Your son goes for youth group? Leave a can.
Don’t ask permission. Just do it. The Bible tells you it is OK.
Eventually, someone on the church staff is going to say… “What’s up with all of these cans? And what do we do with them?”
I’ll tell you what they will do. Someone will put the cans in a box. And it’ll just sit there.
Imagine if 20% of your congregation got in the habit of doing this? Instant food pantry. It’s not a program. It’s dealing with a problem. Who keeps leaving all of these cans here!
See, I think you’ll join me in the understanding that a house of God should also be a place of refuge for the hungry. As we linger in this recession I can guarantee you there are hungry among every single congregation.
And my experience in working in churches for nearly a decade– every single one of them had random people who drop by every single day looking for food or money. And in nearly 10 years I can think of only a couple of times we had food on hand to give them.
Almost every time people come to the church looking for help and are turned away. This isn’t exactly Good News in the neighborhood, is it?
I believe God has hard-wired us in the knowledge that if we need help or need a place to run to, the church is there.
Sadly most congregations in America have gotten lazy. They think an annual clothing drive or food donation to a local pantry is the right answer.
“Ding-dong.” Every day the bell rings at the church. People come to them who are hungry. Don’t you want your church to be a place that gives them food? Wouldn’t you want your music pastor to overhear the secretary start to explain to someone that the church doesn’t keep food at the church but makes an annual donation to the food pantry in town… and says, “Wait a minute. The janitor found these cans. You can have them.”
Bam! Instant food program. The church didn’t spend a dollar. They didn’t have a meeting to discuss it. They didn’t hire a staff member to start it. It’s just a box (or closet) full of cans people mysteriously left at church.
Bring a can to church. Every time. Every person.