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?

Christian Living

Public Ministry Prerequisites

A friend recently expressed a frustration that anyone who works in a church feels all the time. He said, “We just get the leftovers of people’s time, energy, and heart.”

He said it in a negative way. I affirmed him in a positive way. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

I get the same dirty look every time I say that.

Here is what most believers in your church really want to know— but you won’t give them a straight answer.

In your opinion, what does an “all-in” lifestyle look like?

When am I doing enough for the Kingdom so that I have the right & responsibility to say no?

This is the elephant in the room in every church. This is what people in the pews long to know. They all want to hear a simple answer to that simple question.

They need a checkbox and you give them an essay. They ask for a cheeseburger and you bring them a Power Bar. And you wonder why they just tip instead of tithe? That disappointed look as people meander out of your sanctuary Sunday mornings? Yup, that’s it. They don’t know if they are doing enough. And you won’t tell them.

Why? Because, as church leaders, we don’t like the answer.

Mark 12:28-34 deals with this exact question. See what happens when a religious leader asks Jesus, “What am I supposed to be doing with my day-to-day life?

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

I love that last line– ZING!

You didn’t see religious leaders lining up to ask the Messiah another question, did you? Nope. They didn’t like Jesus’ answer back then and church leaders don’t like it today.

You can hear the groan of every single church staff member. Why didn’t Jesus implore people to give more time to the church? Why? Why?! WHY?!?!?!

The frustrated staff

Every staff member I talk to has the same 2-3 problems. (Youth pastors, worship pastors, senior pastors, children’s pastors, small groups pastors… all of ’em.)

They have vision for great programs. Great ideas. But they struggle to find the resources and people to implement them.

They all deal with the same pressure: In order to be judged as having done a good job, a noble ambition, they need the resources to implement their programs.

The frustrated parishioner

[Confession: I never saw this on church staff! Like literally… it was there, but I never saw it and no one ever articulated it to me. I didn’t see it until I transitioned from being on staff to becoming a parishioner.]

Each week, sermons implore them to live out the Gospel in their daily life. At work, at home, with their friends, seek justice, etc. Then they are told they need to keep their relationship with God first and their ministry to their family second. But each week they are also asked to help with the programs of the church.

They all deal with the same pressure: They have a 40-50 hour per week job to pay the bills, they have kids that need help with homework and other stuff in their lives, they need to keep their relationship with God growing, their relationship with their spouse and kids second… there isn’t much time or energy available after that. And the church gives them 30 hours worth of things they could be doing with the 4 hours they have available each week.

Frustration by design?

It’s not supposed to be like that. Jesus, our Groom, never intended a life in His church to be frustrating for the bride.

Worse yet. Everyone is frustrated and it isn’t working. The church, as a whole, is reaching less people. Our population is exploding and our churches are happy to hold steady. That’s a net loss.

We need to get back on course with what the Bible teaches us about our daily lives.

Prerequisites to public ministry

(These are the things you need to take care of BEFORE you consider anything at church. Otherwise, take a ticket and head to the end of the frustration line. You’ll be there a while.)

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Are you putting your relationship with Jesus on hold so you can serve? If so, you are being disobedient. No wonder you are frustrated.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus didn’t mean this metaphorically. He meant it literally. If you don’t know your neighbors names and are not actively loving them… then you aren’t qualified to help out at church. Define neighbors: If their property touches or is adjacent to yours, those are your neighbors. God placed you on your block because He is smarter than you are. He wants you to love and serve them. It’s not something you do when you have time. It’s something you make time to do. And it’s more important than helping at youth group or singing in the choir. That’s why it’s a prerequisite.
  3. Love your family. When Megan was 6 she said to me, “Daddy, I wish you spent as much time with me as you spend with the kids at church.”  Six. Years. Old. That’s when I knew I needed an extended break from public ministry. It wasn’t that I was unqualified. And it certainly wasn’t that I was unsuccessful. It’s that things had gotten out-of-order. Never again. If your family is groaning because you are spending too much time at church… it’s time to readjust.

If you have those things in order than you can consider helping a program at church. And if you don’t have these three things covered, not just in your opinion, but in the opinion of the people in your life, than you need to stop doing public ministry.

Trust me, the church will endure and prevail. She will be fine!

To my frustrated church staff friends:

Here are two things I learned the hard way.

  • You are not exempt. Being a pastor at the church does not mean you can be so busy you don’t spend time with God, don’t love your neighbors, and don’t love your family. In fact, having your house in order is a biblical requirement (1 Timothy 3:4) for leadership because it validates everything you do and say. #1 & #3 are usually OK with church staff… it’s #2 we forget to invest in.
  • It won’t get better until you change your behavior. I think I made the mistake of thinking that I could circumvent this if I created a good enough program or if I just invested in developing leaders more. It didn’t. It only spun more out of control as time went on. The reality was that it didn’t get better until I took care of those 3 prerequisites.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1