This post was partially triggered by JR Briggs blog post, Devastating Statistics About Pastors. In that post, JR talks about church leader stats that Bob Hyatt shared at a recent Ecclesia Network gathering; stats which, in terms of pastor failures/problems/pain, truly are devastating.
JR has some suggestions for what you, the parishioner and/or elders, can do for your pastor. They’re all good.
Might I suggest the only way to actually deal with the problem is to recognize its root. Which I would identify as our predominant church leadership system — rather than how pastors are treated within that system. (And I need to note that I think much of what JR, Bob, Dave Fitch and the many others involved with what the Ecclesia Network is doing is critically important to the life of the North American church in a Post-Christendom context.)
The separation of church and pastor is largely responsible, in my never humble opinion, for both the abuse of pastors, as well as abusive pastors.
When pastors set themselves apart from the people, or are expected to be separate from the people they are pastoring, the system breaks down into what we are experiencing today. Whether it’s the stats Bob Hyatt points to at one extreme or the systemic leadership abuses of organizations like Sovereign Grace Ministries at the other. (As an aside, please see this important post from former SGM pastor, Rick Thomas on the hurting people wounded in that particular train wreck.)
In the previous post, I wrote of how Jesus lived with and discipled his followers. He was in intimate relationship with those gathered around him. He ate with them, he laughed with them, he wept with them and he constantly modeled ministry for them. He was almost always with them. Yes, he separated himself to pray and seek the Father, but what we see in the Gospels is primarily Jesus hanging out with those he called. He wasn’t heading off to Messiah conventions to learn from or share his understanding with all the other messiahs. He was pouring his life into those around him.
Wander with me to Luke 10. What do we see? Well. Jesus sends the 72 disciples out in twos. No manly single church planters being sent out to the harvest. He tells them to take nothing for their journey. They are to receive hospitality from those with whom they meet. To pray for their healing. And they return to him shocked by what has transpired.
Note that Jesus didn’t tell them to choose the area where they would build their church, or to get their church logo designed, their website up or to find the perfect worship leader and team. Rather, he sent them out in twos to both receive from and minister to those who would accept them. (And yes, there is a lifetime’s worth of further teaching to unpack from Luke 10.)
The model is relationship. Jesus with his disciples. His disciples in pairs, establishing relationship with those they encounter on their journey. It’s not about setting up branch plants of the particular church model preferred by the individual disciples.
In scanning blog posts or reading tweets of late, I see lots of words about pastors needing to get together with other pastors. I see little about pastors and fellow Christians who are not pastors, needing to be in close and loving relationship with each other. The “us/them” attitude between church and pastor is simply a given. And it leads to a lot more problems than just the stats JR points to via Bob.
Perhaps, the latest and one of the most egregious examples of the separation of church and pastor is the Chuck O’Neal story where he, a pastor from Bob Hyatt’s home town has begun a lawsuit against a number of folk who’ve written bad reviews of his hyper-authoritarian church. Chuck is a firm believer in the popular translation of Ephesians 3:17 as “submit to your leaders and obey them”. And it seems that Chuck simply adds to this, “if they don’t and they dare write publically about it, then sue’em” — which he claims he was advised to do by a leadership staff person working for a well known promoter/practitioner of authoritarian leadership. (For further discussion on the Eph 3:17 translation issue, see Lance Ford’s and Lin’s comments on my previous post.)
From the multiple media reports one can surmise that Chuck believes and practices what I was once told by a senior pastor of my acquaintance, “if it’s not my vision, it’s di-vision. And I won’t allow it.”
Mike Breen, whose latest book I will say again is a must-read, wrote this in a blog post published yesterday,
At the end of the day, what most pastors want (and have been trained to want!) is minions to execute the most important vision of all. Their own. In doing this, they effectively kill people’s ability to get a vision of their own. Nevermind that this approach is antithetical to the Gospel.
Christian leadership is about listening for vision from God within community and then being given the authority and power to execute that vision — to take new Kingdom ground. That’s the birthright of every Christian…to hear the voice of their Father. But in the way we do leadership, suddenly it’s like we are pre-Reformation where only the select and the elite who are given this privilege. And let’s be clear: Our ego has a lot to do with this.
Now I’m not suggesting we shift to a paradigm full of chiefs and no Indians. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t times where we leverage our collective abilities to deliver on a central vision. I’m saying that there are many places in your community where the Kingdom needs to be advanced. And if you want to take that territory, you’re going to need more than just a cadre of volunteers. You have to learn to operate in a model that releases leaders to take those fronts, or you’re going to stand still.
You may think your vision is big enough to all those cracks and crevices, but I’m telling you…it’s not.
More on the Separation of Church and Pastor in Part Two.
NB: Cartoon from the inimitable Naked Pastor, David Hayward.