Monday, June 22, 2009

Total Church Rides Again

I told you.

This book has challenged me more than any book I've read in probably a decade.

On church leadership, the authors say...

"It is important that leaders see themselves and are seen by others as part of the church. Professionalism is always the enemy of authentic gospel leadership. Leaders are not a special class set apart on their own, having to face burdensome responsibilities and forced to endure a lonely existence. Leaders cannot be detached. They must be visible believers who live their lives openly in the midst of the believing community. Jesus put it into perspective when he contrasted the leadership style of the religious leaders of his day with that of the leaders in his kingdom:

Matthew 23:8-12

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

It is both reassuring and challenging to discover that the shepherds of God's flock are first and foremost sheep! In Romans 12 leadership is a vital gift of God for the church, but one that nestles discreetly among the other gifts (v.8).

...The only demarcation among the people of God is that of function, not position. If my role is that of a leader in the local church, then I am a gospel minister using my gifts to serve God's people. But whatever my role, I am still a gospel minister using my gift to serve God's people. A leader is not a "special" case: he is a servant of the gospel among gospel servants, a brother among his brothers and sisters.

...Many of my minister friends speak of church as something from which they must seek solace. They protect their day off and guard the privacy of their home. They feel the loneliness of ministry, looking OUTSIDE the local church for people who will pastor them and events that will refresh them.

In contrast, the authors of Total Church describe their feelings towards their church, where they see themselves as co-laborers in Christ, not unreachable, untouchable, unconnected leaders...but brothers to their bodies very differently. I love what they say:

For us church is where we find solace. The Christian community pastors and refreshes me through the word of God. Someone put it like this..."If I were to say I needed a weekly day off from my wife and children people would say I had a dysfunctional marriage. So why, if I say I need a day off from church do people not ask whether I have a dysfunctional church family?"

It is very tempting when you're a church leader to become a non-person.

How ridiculous.

Last summer, we went on vacation, and during that time, some sweet friends of ours who are also in our church almost up and moved, something so dramatic and hard happened in their lives the week we were gone. When I got back into town and my friend told me, I said, "Why didn't you call us?" She said something like..."I didn't want to bother you and Aaron while you were on vacation." I was so hurt that she believed she was a job to us. I told her, "You are our friends. You aren't a job." But, it caused me to spend months examining why she would have felt weird calling us with such a huge struggle when we were on vacation. I hated thinking that she felt like our relationship was something that we, as "leaders" in the church needed a break from. I remember that night telling Aaron, "I don't want to be these people we are becoming. I don't want to see people as a job. I want to see them as family."

1 Thessalonians 2:8
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.


Brandi said...

You get these conversations a lot among pastors' wives. there's always the question of "should i intentionally seek out a best friend who does not go to my church?" and lots of people say yes. they say you need someone who is removed from "all the drama" and should avoid being closer to some church members than others. i get that you don't want to be part of a clique, but it always makes me so sad when people say that. like i should intentionally keep people at arms length, because they're in my church? doesn't that seem backward? i'm sure that is more difficult for families who are moved around a lot, always trying to break in to an established congregation, not knowing who your real friends are, who will stab you in the back, etc. i know lots of people who "just work" at a church but aren't connected at all, and i could never live like that. the "church as employer" model does not work for me.
i'm excited about your new church, heather. i think justin and allen have been meeting together some and we may come visit a service sometime soon. blessings!

Megan Fletcher said...

My husband was a youth pastor before our current role. I really like the challenge of this book and this particular topic. We plan to read the book together soon since you've sparked my interest.

But, on this particular topic, I am somewhat conflicted. I completely and totally agree that leaders should not be removed from the body. I agree with Brandi that "church as employer" is ridiculous. I've seen it happen--and it didn't happen well!

BUT, what about your family? The statement about not needing a "day off" made me wince. Maybe I misunderstood. But, we definitely need boundaries of some sort and time to refresh. I've seen many pastors who wouldn't take a day off and their families suffered for it.

And, how do you deal with the hard stuff as a pastor/leader if your only/main friends are those within the body? Do you really think everything a leader deals with should be within the body?

Hendrick Family said...

Such good questions, Megan.

I think the authors of this book, when talking about "a day off" in no way mean, never take time off from "work."

There are aspects of ministry that are

I guess, here is how I see the difference right now, as we've been working through these things.

At one point in my life, I did hold the body at arms length and felt super guilty if anyone truly knew me, because I thought that was having "favorites." I think we do need to be very careful...all of us...not just church leaders about appearing cliquish or actually being cliquish.

However, I no longer apologize that I'm close to people. I have older and younger women who do know me better than others. They know what no one else knows, and help me through hard, difficult things.

At one point, I thought I had to look outside the body for those types of relationships.

Looking back, I see these thoughts as extremely flawed, and at their root I now see extreme pride.

There was a time when I actually said, "I would NEVER go on vacation with people from my church. That wouldn't be a vacation! I would feel like I was working."

What a phony I was. The truth was...I thought "working" was putting on this if we're perfect...not humans. I'm shocked at the way I used to think. Praise God for people in my life who demanded that I let them in...I see God's grace in their persistence to be my friend and know me.

There was a time when I would have been irritated if ANYONE from church showed up at our house on Aaron's day off. But that's when I saw the people as our job...and not as a part of our life.

Now, I can't imagine not doing life with people in our body. They are our closest friends. They are like family to me.

Now...when Aaron worked full time for the church, I was still...even after learning to love my church as annoyed when he was called, constantly on his day off for "church business" sort of things.

I don't really know how to answer your question well. But I do know that when we look to Jesus' example, I can't find where he hid away from people for his own personal, selfish reasons. He did take time away to pray. He took time away to spend time with some of his closest disciples. But, I know Jesus' heart and my own heart a few years ago (and still more often then I would like today) are not the same.

I want to learn to see the people in our church as a part of my life...not a job. When Aaron takes time off from work, that means he takes time off from all the details...the "business" part of keeping a church working and functioning. But we may still have people over for dinner that night, or go do something with people from church that day. We love them. Their lives are a part of our lives in a way that makes "breaks" seem silly.

I never ever want anyone to feel weird about calling us on our day off, if they would normally call us when it wasn't our day off. If they would normally call us to tell us something, to ask us to pray, to tell us about some hard thing happening in their life when it's not our day off...then how weird for them not to do that on our day off. They are our friends...our family FIRST...not a job. That's truly how we want to see people.


Hendrick Family said...

I will say this too...

Total Church teaches great things about not turning our pastors into some strange role, they were maybe never intended to have.

We're learning at NL to share the blessing of ministry. Our pastor and elders should NOT be the only people who counsels and takes care of others. That's ALL of our jobs as the body.

Sometimes we see pastors as machines. Sometimes a pastor gives the impression he is one. Sometimes, we turn pastors into machines ourselves. I think learning to do church through community changes how we view our pastor. It should change the kind of boundaries he has to put in place.

I guess what I'm saying would probably not be as necessary to put up boundaries if others were sharing the load, no one saw the pastor as the only person who could (fill in the blank) and we saw pastors as humility must have time to know, normal human things.


Hendrick Family said...

How obnoxious am I commenting again?


I'm on a roll.

I was cooking dinner thinking of how, as women, especially, married to church leaders, this topic is so important to wrestle through.

I was in the kitchen, just now, asking myself..."Why did I used to be so annoyed if people came over on our day off? Why was I so protective of our home?"

Again...not saying we're never supposed to be alone as a family. I'm not claiming something crazy extreme here. Promise. I'm just saying, I used to see people as a annoyance. They were not a natural part of our life. They were a job. I still do some times, to some degree. I hate that.

But...I thought about why I used to think that way, and wow...does everything in my life swing back to pride, or what?

PRIDE! That's why I thought the way I thought.

At one point, I assumed that if I was present, then I was the one who would be doing the ministry...I was the one who would be needed to say wise, godly things. I was the one who everyone would want to listen to. I was the one that would need to do the encouraging...the comforting.

What a funny joke. Just typing that junk now makes me sort of want to vomit.

I was being deceived and lied to by the enemy. True community, when we experience it means that even on my day off, or Aaron's day off...maybe WE are the ones who will be ministered TO. Now, when we're with people I am more so the person doing the learning, the person being encouraged, challenged...even reminded to love Jesus and obey Him.

I was missing out thinking I was so dang important.

Okay...I'll go back to the kitchen.



Brandi said...

i think that's a great explanation, heather. it's that need to be "on" that makes it draining to be around "your congregation."

i think the day off thing is confusing too. for me it's helpful to think, if i want to see my friends on my day off, but not people from my church....why that distinction? maybe you don't want to see anyone on a given day, and that's fine. but if you're thinking "i'll see my real friends but not church people", like they're two separate categories, that's a problem. the goal for community is to make church friends....just regular friends. not a "i'm giving of myself now" martyr-type situation.

Jennifer Bacak said...

This is an interesting topic to me, being a pastor's daughter, and now being a lay person serving in the church.
I think the key here is just what you said about the pastor and staff not carrying all the load.
I love at New Life that we have a lay elder who does so much for the body.
Where did we even get this term I'm using "lay-people?"
The leaders of our church do hold a special position of authority, and will answer to God for how they lead, teach, and shepherd their flock. That's huge, and that deserves our respect!
But never, coming from a family totally packed with ministers, will I see paid staff members as untouchable and superhuman. And I think in many churches, due to the consumer mentality in the typical American church, the staff is carrying 80% of the load.
This creates a superhero mindset for our staff members, and well...we've seen how terribly that can end.
We need to respect our leaders and certainly pray for our leaders, but there should never be an invisible wall between them and the church. And sadly, the bigger the church is and more consumer-minded it is, that starts to feel inevitable.

Megan Fletcher said...

I'm so glad I came back this afternoon to read the comments again. :-) Thank you so much for making it a discussion.

I've been thinking about it more, too. I had a hard time writing the correct question yesterday.

When I read the post, I initially thought about the times when my husband was on staff and there was a hard issue being dealt with. If he were to only have friends within the church, he could probably never process what was going on with someone close to him. But, maybe that's a huge part of the problem. If there's something going on in the church, the leader shouldn't be talking to others about it. Well, maybe. I don't know.

I had close friends within our church. I didn't feel bad about it at all. We moved across the country to take the position, so we had no family or friends there other than what we made through church. I found it really hard, though, at times when I couldn't talk about things openly b/c of the "position" we were in. For example, my close friend would talk about something in children's ministry and it was frustrating her. I would understand her frustration, but I couldn't explain and make her less frustrated b/c I couldn't tell her something that influenced why things were the way they were. (Hope that makes sense.)

I definitely saw that there was a barrier within our friendship because of the leadership aspect of who we were.

However, I never saw us as untouchable. Someone once said something to me about wanting to call us but not because they didn't want to call us at home. Like you said, Heather, I very clearly explained that they were our life, our friends and family, not a job. We tried to make that clear. I think the teenagers understood it pretty well. They hung out at our house quite a bit.

There were definitely some people that we saw more as "work" than part of our family. It was usually the folks who had a lot of problems or were always going through a crisis. When I talked about taking a day off, I was definitely referring more to the "work" part of running a church rather than people and relationships.

We have always been a couple who thrives with having people in our home and have always valued authenticity and openness. I think we tried to squash any thoughts of us being different than others as soon as they seemed to appear. Being a youth pastor (and wife) probably helped b/c teenagers don't have the same inhibitions or expectations that adults seem to have.

Honestly, my husband was seen as authentic and real as soon as he accidentally passed gas loudly during our first camping trip with the kids. We share our testimonies with the kids and were open and honest in response to their questions. Being real and touchable and accessible was a huge part of what we were called to do.

I completely agree with Jennifer about the average staff of a church in America carrying 80% of the load. I think we would view pastors differently (and elders, etc) if we were doing our part.

Our most healthy and vibrant friendships within the church where we served on staff were with those who were active in the body...teaching classes, leading small groups, serving on elder boards, etc. Then, we would try to start inviting others who were less connected to join us for social things, outside of church.

I think the thing I struggled with most was finding women who wanted to grow. I wanted friends who would challenge me and call me on the carpet. Maybe there was a lot of pride there, thinking that I was the one who would be teaching, encouraging, leading, etc (as you said Heather). I'll have to think on that some more.