I am about to write something that I’m sure is almost completely at odds with what I hear a lot of youngish (particularly progressive) types that I know saying. So, here’s the disclaimer: If you believe yourself to be the exception to what follows, then you’re the exception. I’m not interested in fighting you about this.
UPDATE: Further thoughts here.
I know a lot of people who are damn smart and gifted in all things church. They have obviously been called by God to be a minister of some sort. Many of them are pastors and teachers in the classic sense, in that their gifts are the leading and instructing of communities. Given the circles I run in, most of these folks are mid 20’s to late 30’s. They are hip and smart. They love the church that birthed them in faith, but they aren’t necessarily content with it. They see themselves as “agents of change working to preserve tradition.”
Yet among these folks, I notice an odd tension being held. In some places and with some people it is an extremely strong tension, and, I admit, I would like to break it like a rubber band that’s been pulled too far.
The tension I see is the result of what I consider to be two contradictory desires regarding the church.
- There are people want to do something crazy and radical, to imagine church in a new way, to sometimes buck the system or jack with the status quo,
- and they want the system/status quo to pay for it.
Am I the only one who sees a problem here? Not only do we want to “screw up the church,” but we also want the little old ladies pay for it? And then we have the audacity to be aggrieved when it doesn’t pan out? Come on. I thought we were smarter than this.
Certainly, I acknowledge that there might be an argument to be made (and many do make it) that the church has promised us something. Many people believe that they were encouraged to pursue ordained ministry and told that there would be a “job waiting for them” when they came out of the other side. I must be honest that I’m never sure what to do with that claim, for I only know a couple of people who were kinda sorta told that, but not really. This is mostly something that I think we throw around as an emotional ploy. More accurately, I think that rather than promising people something we, instead, do an awful job of reminding them that ministry is a tough racket, not for the faint of heart, and that “No, Landon, you’re not really cut out for this.”
(Again, if you’re the exception then you’re the exception. But not everyone gets to be the exception, and I hope we can be honest about this.)
But getting stuck here is not ultimately helpful. Spending our energies trying to convince the church to love us and let us do what we believe in our heart of hearts that we’ve been called to is, I think, a waste of time. Sure, get out your frustration and anger, but then get over it and move on to something productive. Trust me, I’ve been the guy at the Jr. High dance begging a girl to like me. It ain’t fun, and you don’t want to be wrapped up in that.
So here’s Landon’s First Law of Church Work: The system does not pay you to buck it.
That’s a fact. No amount of bitching is going to change it. We need to stop spending our time trying to play like the new church while expecting to get paid like the old.
So. What’s a young(ish) mainline pastor type to do with themselves? Plant a church. Now. Today. Go do it.
“How?” you ask. I suggest taking a look at the experience of our non-denominational brother and sisters.
My uncle used to coach non-denom church planters, and here’s what he would help them do: Find a job in a “ripe” area (define that as you will) that would pay them just enough to pay the bills, but not enough to sap the hunger of needing to do something worthwhile. Then, start gathering a community.
Sure there were conversations about logistical things, but mostly it was my uncle kicking some planter’s butt to do what they said they believed God was calling them to do. Listening to my uncle talk about it, I noticed a difference between what he was helping folks do and what we seem to think it should be like. The pastors my uncle worked with understood that they needed to be responsible for gathering a community. It seems that most of us expect someone to hand us one, even though we’ve never done a day’s worth of evangelism in our lives.
I believe a lot of us have what it takes to start a new worshiping community. But I also believe that we’re scared and lazy. I know I am. I’m petrified and I’m an Introvert to boot.
But one of these days, I’m finally gonna put my money where my mouth is. One of these days, I’m gonna stop foisting my idea of what a church “should be” on a congregation that doesn’t want to be that and go gather folks that see it the way I do.
One of these days, I’m gonna be as faithful as Abraham and simply go East when God says that there’s something cool for me over there.