Are you a cult leader?

John 1:35-42

“He brought Simon to Jesus…”

As John the Baptist was standing around with two of his disciples, Jesus walked by and John identified him as the one they should be following. The two disciples followed Jesus and spent time with him, after which Andrew (one of the two) left to find his brother. “Simon, we found him. We found the Messiah.” And he took his brother to meet this Jesus. Every time we read of Andrew, he is bringing someone to Jesus. He must have learned it from his first Teacher, John, but Andrew never deviated from his task of getting the saving presence of Jesus in front of those who needed it.

The great thing is that Andrew knew what he was talking about. Andrew had spent time with Jesus. He learned from Jesus. He knew Jesus. Andrew was not speaking from conjecture. He was not theorizing, he was testifying. As John did, Andrew brought people to Jesus because he, himself, had had an encounter with this Christ. His own life must have been changed by this man. His evangelism is true.

Just as his first Teacher did, Andrew made sure to always be clear what he was working for, who he was working for. I think it is a safe bet to assume that Andrew made it a priority to have all that he did point to Jesus. Knowing even the little we know about him, Andrew would have been mortified if people started to follow him rather than Jesus.

Often, we pastors are subject to a cult of adoration. Either people treat us as something to be admired, or we are fighting so hard for respect that we over-inflate our own worth. Whatever the reason, the situation prevents us from focusing on the call we have been created for: bringing people to Jesus.

And it has to be real. It has to be true. It has to be born of experience. When we say “Jesus,” people have to know that we mean it. How can we proclaim a Savior that has not saved us? This is not about butts in the pew or cash in the offering plate. This is about changed lives. If our lives have not been changed, I’m not sure we are qualified to do this work.

How has Jesus Christ has made you whole?

A bored or anxious pastor is not a good pastor

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly said that:

  • When someone has skills or talents that are overkill for what is being asked of them, they get bored.
  • When what is being asked of them is not achievable through the use of their skills and talents, they get anxious.

Pastors suffer from both conditions.

Those who have been called to serve in the particular role of pastor are a unique breed of cat (Aren’t we all? But go with me here…). We say that these are the people who have been identified as being especially gifted at nurturing and educating us into the larger narrative that God is writing in history. This is a powerful and awesome reality, and, out of the full Body of Christ, we have asked particular ones of us to devote their lives to helping us see it.

This is what most pastors have signed up for. Willingly. Excitedly. Pastors are artists of the highest order, and artists will give up almost anything to make art.

And yet…

When a congregation has no interest in exploration or wonder or doubt or innovation or… The pastor is going to get bored, and will struggle with whether she wants to be in ministry in that place. Or at all.

When a congregational board insists that the pastor focus all his time and energy in marketing and recruitment for the sake of the bottom line…. Sorry, “evangelism”… The pastor will get anxious, and will struggle with whether he has actually been called to ministry in the first place. He might burn out, quit, and work at a menial uninspiring job. What a sad place for an artist to be.

What we ought to do with our pastors is help them find the sweet spot of their skills/talents where they are making the art they’ve been called to make and are stretched to make it better. I’ll bang this drum over and over again: Pastors are not called to be managers and administrators. That is an entirely different skill-set.

Pastors are artists. Do you want a good pastor? Then let her make her art, and she will blow your world wide open. If you don’t, then you’re squandering a precious gift that God has given you.

The New Evangelism: A Brand in Crisis

Christianity is a brand in crisis.

This is saying nothing new, of course, but it bears repeating.

To say that a brand is in crisis is to say that it has become muddled and has developed an inability to effectively communicate to its customer base. When a brand is in crisis, there is no longer a clear, discernible understanding of what is being offered. When a brand is in crisis, those with whom the brand wishes to do business have turned their attention elsewhere, often for a myriad of reasons, but, mostly, because the brand no longer demonstrates that it is in sync with their own self understanding.

Brands are not about the thing being offered, but the people to whom the brand wishes to be in relationship.

One thing that brands have going for them is that they are not about a specific product. The idea of a brand comes from the practice of branding one’s cattle so that your livestock can be easily identified as distinct from another’s livestock. The word itself comes from the Norse word that means, “to burn.” The cattle was the product; the rancher is the brand.

I suspect that the brand called “Christianity” is in crisis because is has believed that it is about a specific product.

There is an old saying that goes, “When people buy a drill they do not actually want a drill. They want a hole.” The thinking is that the drill is merely a means to an end. People do not, generally, wake up one day and say to themselves, “I wish I had a drill.” But, when they find themselves in need of a hole, they go looking for a drill.

I think Christianity has confused the drill for the hole.

Confusing the drill for the hole*

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it made being good the message of the Gospel. For far too long we have made adherence to a strict moral code the criteria for judging discipleship. Jesus, on the other hand, demonstrated with his life that his plan of action was one of service and sacrifice. The Christian Faith has little to do with us, and everything to do with whether or not we are servants of others.

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it made influencing the decisions of others the message of the Gospel. As Andrew Root has taught us, Christ did not come to be with us to get us to do anything. Christ came to be with us to share our place in depths of our pain.

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it made heterosexuality a requirement for receiving the Grace and Peace promised in the Gospel. In seeking to lift up purity, we forgot that when the Spirit of the Lord touches a person’s heart there is nothing to prevent them from being accepted into the Body of Christ.

Christianity confused the drill with the hole when it refused to think in an attempt to be faithful. Rather than loving God with our minds and seeking to reconcile all we have learned with the truth of God’s amazing love, we continue to deny the need to care for our planet and insist that women’s bodies can, somehow, miraculously survive rape.

Christianity confused the drill for the hole when it equated the Missio Dei with a political platform. While professing to work with God to make Earth as it is in Heaven, we have sacrificed our call to care for the poor, outcast, and marginalized in favor of political expediency.

It’s time to apologize

Someone recently asked me what I thought would be a good first step to repairing our image, of getting our brand “realigned” (so to speak). In light of the recent Pew study, we know that those whom we might call the “Nones” or the “Spiritual but Not Religious” actually like our God, our Jesus, prayer, etc. The survey’s respondents actually hold beliefs that are surprisingly close to many traditional Christian beliefs.

However, they don’t like us much.

I think the best thing we can do at this point, in light of the ways we confused the drill for the hole, is to simply apologize. Loudly. And often.

In as many ways as we can think of, we should make it known that we’re sorry for being stuck up, judgmental, anti-homosexual, non-thinking hypocrites. We should apologize for obscuring the marvelous teaching of Love that our Savior gave us by thinking more about our own rightness rather than the needs of our neighbors.

I think we should take out ads in newspapers (if anyone actually still reads them) and send emails and put up flyers and put it on our church websites.

I know that wallowing doesn’t help, but I’m not advocating wallowing. I’m advocating being honest.

We’ve really screwed up and made Jesus into something he’s very much not. I think it’s time to very loudly and very publicly come clean about that.

*These points were shamelessly cribbed from unChristian.

The New Evangelism, revisited

Last January, I offered a few thoughts on what a “New Evangelism” might look like. In that post, I cribbed the ideas from a documentary I had watched about influencers, asking if the church could reframe its thinking on evangelism in light of what we’ve been able to learn from those who have influenced our idea of culture. “What would a postmodern evangelist look like?” I wondered.

This past weekend, I was reminded of these thoughts. I was wrapping up a speaking gig on the “10 Commandments of Open Source” and some one asked what reason I had for being so hopeful about the church and the Christian Faith given my professed belief that God does not exclusively call people into relationship through Jesus Christ. Or, to ask it another way: “Why should we devote time to making a case for following Christ when there are a ton of other good offers out there?”

This is a good question, I think. Many people I know claim that Christianity is not the only religion that we could give our lives to. However, we have stopped short of spreading the Good News because we don’t want to get painted with the same brush strokes as “Those Christians.” This is totally understandable. The moment that you allow for there to be more than one option, the less likely you are to insist that yours is the best option. And, yet, I can still think that my option is really, really great and worth considering while, at the same time, being honest about its flaws etc.

So that’s what I think I’d like to devote some time and thinking to over the next month or so. What does evangelism look like in an open source world? While I’m not going to say that others have it wrong, I want to figure out how to make the case for why we’ve got it right. How do we make a case for a consistent worldview and life ethic that doesn’t insist that others are not worthy of consideration and devotion?

And so, to get us started, I want to offer some realities that I think would be helpful and necessary to acknowledge when considering our question.

  1. Evangelism is not a dirty word. I have had bad experiences with the “E Word” growing up. As a Charismatic Fundegelical, we treated evangelism like selling a product and we tried everything in our power to get you to buy what we were selling. Even if it meant lying a little. I’m not kidding. But if the Good News really is good news, then we should want to make it known. We’ve got to get over our fear/revulsion/whatever of evangelism.
  2. There is no such thing as on message for the whole world. Anyone with even a passing understanding of contextualization will know that treating everyone the same is just ridiculous. We may want to say that “Jesus is the Answer,” but I think that grossly overstates what we think the question is. Not everyone is asking the same question, and if the Good News is going to actually be good news then is must be relevant news.
  3. No one knows who we are anymore. And no one seems to care. The recent Pew study is only the latest evidence to us that Christianity is seen as irrelevant, and where we’re not irrelevant, we’re often despised. We can’t trust that anything we do will be held up as important. Sure, some of us still get our names in the paper, but those stories are so few and far between that they will have no impact on our standing in the community we’ve been called to serve.
  4. Evangelism is part marketing, and its online marketing at that. We need to stop thinking that “Invite a Friend Sunday” is going to do anything to stem the tide. People are still spiritually seeking and they will give us a look-see, but we need to make it easy for them. And this means that, damnit, we need to get over our aversion to social media and accept that people are increasingly online. It seems so silly to write that statement, but so many churches are not heeding Carol’s advice that the website/FB page/Twitter account are the main door folks use to enter a church.
  5. People don’t want to interact with “First Church” but the people of First Church. Those “clear boundaries” that we have been encouraged to set up are now seen as the latest ways that we fragment our lives. Seeing church people as blank slates that only hold the church’s message is kinda silly. The fact that Jerome is the one tweeting for First Church makes a difference to how First Church is seen. And, in the end, isn’t it the people that make church worthwhile?
  6. We don’t need to spend a lot of money on evangelism programs. We just need to believe that what we are offering (Christ’s Freedom, Grace, and Peace) is worth spending our time sharing. Seriously, if we believe that what we’ve got is worth it, the rest is just tactics and logistics.
  7. We can’t control people’s opinion of us. But we can be around to help mitigate it if it’s bad. The Pew study showed us that most USAmericas love God, Jesus, prayer, etc, but they don’t like us. If we are not out and about – physically or digitally – we will have no chance of changing that impression. Did you know that we are all seen as homophobic, judgmental asses? Of course not. Because we’ve holed ourselves up and are concerned with saving ourselves, rather than help God save the lost, release the captives, and heal the sick.

I’m sure there are many more realities than that. Those are just the one I can think of right now, on a sunday afternoon. What else do we need to contend with as we think about engaging an open source world?

We agree about pecans, but not about pastors

I learned a couple of very important things over the weekend.

First, most of my Facebook friends agree that the correct pronunciation of the word “pecan” is “puh-CAHN”. There is some slight disagreement as to why it is pronounced that way, but (other than a few outliers) that seems to be the consensus, whether talking about the nut itself or the nut in a pie.

The second thing I learned is that there is little to no consensus on what constitutes “Full Time” when talking about the work of pastoral ministry. In the conversation on my profile, I rediscovered a wide chasm between what we think pastors should be doing, the amount of time we think they should be able to do it in, and the reasons why we think so.

In Open Source Church, I quoted a paper I was a part of writing, “Raising Up Leaders for the Mission of God.” In that paper we said,

The Bible describes a variety of forms of ministry leadership. Evangelists served a critical role as the early Christian church began to organize. In the Middle Ages, the pastor as mediator of sacramental grace became primary. The sixteenth and seventeenth century priesthood of all believers, among other things, elicited the pastor as preacher and pastor as ethical guide models. Around 1900 and with growing literacy new images and metaphors for pastoral ministry began to emerge, especially after the First World War. In no uniform order or pure forms, pastoral ministry models of professional educator, psychologist/counselor, agent of social change, and manager of the church surfaced as ideals. Recent research shows many congregants expect their pastor to master each of these models; to be an expert in each of these roles.

Clearly, we have a disconnect.

In an age in which I believe bi-vocationality will play a greater and greater role, I was interested in what others thought about the question of being a Full Time Pastor. Is it sustainable? Is it desirable? What could a pastor reasonably expect to get done in the time she was expected to work? What kind of work was she expected to do? I didn’t ask any of these questions (I just started the ball rolling and watched it roll down the hill), but they were all answered in some form or another.

There are many conclusions I want to draw from these answers, particularly about larger question of the nature and function of the congregation, but for now I want to center on one basic point:

Our general expectation of the working life of pastors belies the fact that Christians have either not been taught or have ignored teaching on Sabbath.

A few quick thoughts:

Pastors:
We need to both teach and model Sabbath. I’m not sure when we forgot this, but Sabbath is a commandment; a sign to Israel of The Covenant. When the people came out of Egypt, Sabbath was the first thing they were taught. “You are not slaves anymore,” they were told. “Once a week, nothing happens.” That was God talking, not just a good idea.

So we should regularly preach this First Commandment, and work it into our liturgies. We should teach classes on it, specifically, and make sure it infuses anything we say about the Abundant Life.

As well, take your days off and ALL of your vacation! Are we insane? Sustained activity with no break is detrimental to our health and well being. Plus, we kind of turn into a jerk when we’ve not had any time away. You know I’m dropping truth there, right?

Also, we should limit the time we spend on things that other people can probably do better than we can. Because how can we expect to be any good at the One Thing most people assume we’ve been called to do when our brains are mush? We’re the PREACHERS, for crying out loud. For many people in the pews, this is the One Thing we get to offer them. Do we honestly think those sermons we preach after the 60+ hour weeks we’ve had are any good? I’m here to tell you they’re not. That’s our first job and we’re failing at it.

Congregations:
YOU are the Body of Christ whom your pastors are to be building up and equipping to do the work of ministry. The fact has either been forgotten or ignored, but pastors are not the people who are hired to do the work that God has called The Church to do. Pastors are helpers and teachers (in my denomination, they are actually called “teaching elders”) set apart to help and guide.

I know people are crazy busy, but that may be part of the point (and the problem). I’m sure we pastors have not done a good enough job teaching about Sabbath, let alone modeling it (see above). I know that in most jobs, folks may have a harder time achieving work/personal balance. But I fail to see why expecting pastors to endure the same (if not more) crap as they would in a corporate job for less chance at good pay and advancement is fulfilling the promises that congregations make to care for them. If congregations expect the pastor to (at least) show them a glimpse of the Abundant Life, then why make it harder for them to do so?

This isn’t about a better contract or job description. This is about a change of heart and a desire to care for one another, not pawning off our responsibility to care for each other on the MDiv. A lot of pastors I know are willing to go many extra miles to make sure people are cared for. They’ll sit for hours and drink coffee with the retiree, and eat everyone’s pie at the church potluck. But they do these things because they’re loving souls, not because you require it in your employment notice.

Honestly, I have many opinions on how this can and should change, but, for now, at least we’ve established that whenever the pastor comes to a church potluck, she’ll be consuming “puh-CAHN” pie, right?

“As long as we reach one person…”

Any church leader who has been in charge of any kind of programming that is consistently showing a lack of success has said it. “As long as we reach one person, everything was worth it.”

Everything? Really?

To be sure, there are times when that is the case. We read the parable of the Good Shepherd going to find the one lost sheep and we feel justified doing what we’ve got to do to make sure that one person knows they are loved by God. But let’s be honest: That’s not usually what we’re talking about.

What we’re usually talking about is someone trying to justify performance in the face of what they consider unreasonable expectations. Jan Edmiston taught me that these can be classified as “how much, how often, and how many.”

Rightfully so, we find these kinds of measurements to be somewhat antithetical to the purposes God has for the Church. If the job of church leaders is to maximize attendance or contributions, certain kinds of choices will be made; choices that, more often than not, make a person feel comfortable and more likely to show up and give.

Yet, rather than try to “change the scorecard” we say that scorecards don’t matter.

But they do matter. They matter quite a bit. The only way that the Good Shepherd knew that the one sheep was lost was because the shepherd counted.

The “Moneyball” phenomenon showed us that there are objective things that coaches can pay attention to that will ensure better and better results for their teams. What are those for the church?

Because – Can we just say? – with the state of the world and it’s need for Christ’s Grace and Peace, reaching just one person isn’t good enough.

Dear God, please stop calling pastors

Dear God,

I know we talked earlier, but I have something important that I’d like to ask you so I thought I’d send you a letter. I usually do better thinking through thoughts when I write them out. Don’t think that you need to give me an answer right away, but I’d sure love an answer sooner rather than later.

So, here’s the deal: I’d like to ask you to stop calling “pastors” to the ministry.

As I understand it (from that awesome book of yours) the word “pastor” is drawn from the word “shepherd.” The purpose of the shepherd is to protect and provide for the sheep, to feed them well, and keep them healthy. To be sure, sometimes this means that the shepherd needs to make the sheep do things they’d rather not do, and sometimes it means applying some preventative medicine, etc. But, mostly, being a shepherd means that the sheep are well cared for. You know – that whole “still waters” and “green pastures” thing?

So, the reason I ask is because I think we’ve got enough of these people, and I was wondering if you had noticed. In my own denomination we have somewhere around twice as many “shepherds” as we have “flocks” available. Normally, I wouldn’t worry about that because I know that many of those pastors aren’t “out of work,” they’re just keeping their options open.

But what bothers me is the number of new pastors that seem to be flooding the market every year, and the fact that a lot of congregations don’t want a first time pastor. Seriously?

Again, have you noticed this?

Look, Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth, I am fine with you calling the shots. I’m down with you being the one in charge of calling people to service in the church (you can bet I don’t want the job), but I’m wondering if you’ve fallen asleep lately. I mean, I trust that you have a plan and everything, but this is getting ridiculous. Let me tell you what I think you should do about this.

1) Stop calling pastors. I think we have enough for right now. Let’s let the ones we have get into circulation. I’m sure a lot of that will even itself out. Some of the older pastors are going to retire evenutally. It’ll be a bit tense for a few years, but I think we can manage. However…

2) Please start calling EVANGELISTS instead. Seriously. A lot of these newer folks seeking to be pastors are thinking about your church in crazy new ways and it would be a waste of their energy to ask them to go maintain a system that is gonna wrap up in a few years.

Maybe you’re already aware of all this. Look, I know where I was when you laid the foundations of the world. Okay? I get it. I’m not suggesting you’re not good at what you do, but this is getting out of hand. Maybe you actually did call some of these pastors as evangelists and they got the signals wrong. Maybe the Church in general misinterpreted. Whatev. I’m fine with it all. But could you give an indication of what you’re up to.

Okay. I think that’s enough. Thanks for listening. Thanks for considering.

Wanna do brunch after worship on Sunday? I know this great kosher deli.

Landon