Church Leadership

Incarnational living and the busy family

Photo by fhwrdh via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Here’s the deal: I don’t have nearly as much time, resources, or energy as I wish I did.

And I certainly don’t have as much time, resources, or energy as my church expects me to have.

Will you come to a meeting? Will you join a committee? Will you come to a picnic? Will you come to clean the neighborhood? Will you join a Bible study? Will you go on a mission trip? Will you help on Sunday mornings?

The list never ends.

I’m just happy to make it to church on Sunday. Literally, that’s about all I can muster most weeks.

But in the churches eyes? You hear the groaning from the staff, “We can’t get anyone to do anything…” “People don’t support us like they should.” “We could do so much more if people just pitched in.” “80% of the work gets done by 20% of the people.

This exposes a deep disconnect between those in leadership and those who are a part of the congregation.

There’s an assumption from church staff that I have lots of free time that I will give if only they can pitch it to me in a way that will motivate me. And I have an assumption that my church staff just look at me as a body who should be serving more. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Not the church– the neighborhood

It’s so easy for me to confuse what incarnational living is all about.

At its root, that’s just a fancy word for “living like Jesus.” Jesus, 100% God, chose to become 100% human. (Phillipians 2:6-8) As John 1:14 says, “He made his dwelling among us.” And while he was on earth he chose to invest in things of the community instead of merely hanging at the Temple.

If we are to follow Jesus’ example of how to live… we need to spend way more time with the people of our neighborhood than we do with churchy people.

That’s where the frustration lies for me. The invitation/temptation is constantly to get involved with the things of my church. All I have to do is say yes! Yet in reality, living incarnationally is an invitation to bypass most church involvement for the sake of living like Jesus in my neighborhood.

A realistic pace

Here’s my week:

  • Monday – Friday: Get the kids to school, go to work, come home, spend time with the kids, do some chores, spend at least 15 minutes alone with Kristen. Go to bed. Monday night we have community group, [taking time off from that with baby] Tuesday I help with youth group, Wednesday the kids go to Awana. That leaves Thursday and Friday night “open” each week.
  • Saturday: Get stuff done around the house. Mow the lawn, weed the garden, etc. We try to do something with the kids like go to a movie or play mini golf.
  • Sunday: This is our day of rest. We lounge around a bit in the morning before church. We go to church from 10:30 – 12:30. When it’s warm, we go to the beach.

That leaves very little extra time for other things. And there are a whole lot of voices telling me how to best utilize that time. (More time with my kids, shuttling my kids to sports, I should be working out, take a seminary class, volunteer at the school, volunteer at church. This list never ends.)

We have an infant in our house. Want to know how I want to utilize that extra time? Sleep!

Sure, I could squeeze a couple more activities into that weekly line-up if I wanted to. But I’ve also learned that if I jam too much in there, there’s no joy there. It’s just not a realistic pace for this stage of life. I prefer to leave Livin’ la Vida Loco to Ricky Martin.

Ultimately, squeezing the life out of a busy schedule for the sake of one more thing at church is not incarnationally living, is it?

If I’m really honest… loving my neighbors is really all I can swing.

The question is simple: Is that enough?

What do you think? How should we teach people to balance involvement at church with involvement in the neighborhood? If the net result of ministering to people with full lives is less programs, how could the church impact more people with less programs? What would the roll of church staff be?

Church Leadership Social Action

No more country clubs

Photo by Elliot Brown via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Quick facts

Cumulatively, the American church is likely the largest private land owner in the country. Most zip codes contain at least one house of worship. In my zip code alone there are more than 30. In many communities around our nation the church occupies some of the prettiest property in town. It’s square footage competes with all other public buildings in girth and consumption of natural resources.

Cumulatively, the American church is likely one of the largest private employers in the country. Each of those congregations in my zip code employ at least one individual. But when you include secretaries, janitors, and associates, the number goes up. Nationwide hundreds of thousands of people are employed by churches.

And yet…

  • Churches pay no property taxes
  • Most church staff do not pay full payroll taxes.

Think about the fiscal crisis your state is going through… not taxing churches and their staff comes at a pretty high cost, right?

Why is that so?

Have you ever thought about it? Why don’t churches pay property taxes? And why are clergy taxed differently than other types of employees?

The best I can tell there are two main reasons for this:

  1. In the last 70 years, there has been an increasing desire to keep church and state separate. The Supreme Court has, again and again, affirmed a desire to not sniff around in the churches business too much. Collecting property and payroll taxes would probably require audits which the federal government wants no part of.
  2. Historically, there was an understanding that the local church was the primary provider of social programs. It didn’t make sense to tax the entity taking care of the sick, feeding the poor, and often providing meeting space for the community.

(More on this from the L.A. Times)

Closed to non-members

If I were to walk to the front door of most churches in our country today and pull the handle of the door I’d find it locked. (And not because it’s a holiday, it’s locked nearly every day. Even if unlocked I don’t have access to use the space.) I’ll quickly be told it is private property.

The simple truth is that the church is one of the largest private land owners and largest private employers, but it is generally closed to the public. The possibility of its existence is financed by 100% of the community whereas the benefits of the property, staff, and resources, are functionally only available to the 5% or so who attend.

For years I’ve heard the local church referred to as a country club and scoffed. But largely, it is true.

The public is not welcome.

My dream for the church

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I will watch the speeches. (And make my kids watch them, too.) I will remember the effects of his ministry. And I will be inspired by the quotes on Twitter.

More importantly, I am empowered by Dr. King’s message to keep dreaming.

When I close my eyes these are the things I dream about:

Photo by Brian Hawkins via Flickr (Creative Commons)

One day, the churches facilities will embrace the implications of its tax status. It will be a place truly separate from the world because it serves the world. So separate that people coming into her doors will wonder if they are in an alternate reality. I dream of a church who flings it’s doors open to the public Monday – Saturday from 6:00 AM until 10:00 PM. It’s a place the poor are served. A place the sick go for healing prayers. A place the elderly use as a resource. A place high school volleyball teams practice. A place kids go for tutoring. A place of civic debate. A place the arts are celebrated. A place local business people use for meetings. And a place where people go to find out how they can serve their fellow neighbors.

One day, the churches staff will see themselves as employees of the community. The skills Paul talks about in Titus 1 & 1 Timothy 3 will be used not just to run programs attended by the faithful but cast upon the community for the common good of all people. Sure, there will be sacramental duties performed by the staff. But they will be kept in focus by the needs of the community. The pastor will see himself as not just the pastor of the people who come on Sunday morning, but as the pastor of the community he’s been called to serve. (Using “he” in an inclusive mode, my egalitarian friends.)

The church will no longer be dictated by fears of lawsuits. They will rise above the desire to protect its assets in realization that the assets came from and belong to the community in the first place. The church will no longer be stricken by a separation of church and state because it is too busy embracing the needs of the state’s citizens. You want to sue us? Then sue us because we have made our property open to all. You want to close our doors? Then you are closing the doors on the place of refuge for refugees and the place of stability for those lacking the stability of a family. Let our good works be our best defense.

The church will be a physical manifestation of the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit. The church will be a continuation of the ministry of Jesus. It will be a place every person can both be served and serve in the fullness of their spiritual gifts.

What will we see than? We will see Jesus at work. We will see the irresistible draw of our Savior on the hearts of the community. The church will cease being a place for the 5%-10% on the fringes and regain its place as the centerpiece of our communities. We will see that the church will be the waypoint when giving directions to people around town. We will see that the community will look at offering tax breaks to churches and clergy will be a bargain and a burden its people happily bear for the greater good of the community.

This won’t wallow in a social gospel. Instead it will embrace that the Gospel is social. It’ll be the embrace that the Gospel isn’t just about renewing of our hearts but also a renewing of our community.

Let the religious among us be skeptics of what can happen when we embrace our role in society. In the meantime, when we step into these things, we will see today’s skeptics give their hearts to Jesus when they finally see the Gospel alive with their very own eyes.

Church Leadership Good News

10 Ways Your Church Can Be Good News to Public Schools

I have a fervent belief that if we want to reach a post-Christian society, we have to be Good News before someone will listen to Good News.

I asked some teachers, “How could a local church be Good News to your public school?” Here are 10 of their ideas.

  1. Create a team that participates at every school board meeting. Your presence at meetings, without bringing forward issues, will communicate to the decision makers that your church cares.
  2. Sponsor a community-wide clean-up day during the Fall and Spring semester. If you lead the charge, other churches and community organizations will join forces.
  3. Ask teachers to post individual classroom needs on Donors Choose, and then ask church members to help fund things that will go directly to the classroom.
  4. Set-up a tutoring program that meets in your building after school. (Example) You don’t have to be a certified teacher to help kids with math, science, and reading homework.
  5. Ask your congregation to strategically send their children to public schools. Resist the temptation to home school or send children to a private school. Instead, ask the congregation to invest that time and money into their children’s individual classrooms.
  6. Schools are often lacking volunteers for events. Meet with the principal early in the Fall and find out which events need help.
  7. Have the church cover any expenses for background checks or medical tests related to volunteering in schools. Sometimes the smallest obstacle becomes the biggest excuse!
  8. Once a month, provide treats to the school staff. Every school has a teachers lounge and every employee of the school will appreciate if you provide a bagels or a healthy lunch snack. (Don’t just bless the teachers, bring enough for everyone!) Trust me, this will make even the most hardcore staff smile.
  9. Many districts have cut spending on arts and music. Have your worship leader work with local administrators to set-up workshops, after school, or any opportunity for children to get exposure to art and music.
  10. Find out what projects are important at a school and help provide the supplies. If they have a garden, make sure they have tools. If they are allowing children to paint murals, make sure they have the paint they want.

Want to get started? Pick one and let me know how it goes!

These are my ideas. What are yours?

Many of these ideas came from classroom teachers. Special thanks to Erin, Annie, and Paul for speaking into this post.