A pastor friend of mine told me recently that a quarter of the congregation he serves left for more convenient environs when their services had to move to a different rented facility and change the time of their gatherings to the afternoon. I thought, “Is that all their church meant to them, a comfortable place to meet at a convenient time?” Whatever happened to family, loyalty, community – to say nothing of discipleship and disciple-making? There’s something broken in the Bride.
In my opinion, how we view the role of the Church and what we expect of our leaders in general has contributed to her brokenness. Eugene Petersen, who pastored for many years and wrote the paraphrase of the Bible called, The Message said, “Some people come to church looking for a way to make life better, to feel good about themselves, to see things in a better light. They arrange a ritual and hire a preacher to make that happen for them.” The Church was never supposed to be an event, a place, or an organization. It’s a family on a mission together. We gather in order to be equipped and mobilized in order to scatter into the world to make a difference.
As I walked away from our conversation I got kinda worked up about it, as I’m apt to get about such things. Then as I thought more about it, it occurred to me that we (us church leader types) helped create the pitiful state of the local church by relying on performances and programs to attract members. Once we started down that road we had to keep it up, if not ramp it up, in order to hold on to people.
David Platt wrote, “We’ve created a vicious cycle of endless program upgrades, staff improvements, and building campaigns to feed the consumer monster. The monster is always hungry. Pastors are burned out. Members are marginalized. The lost community gets a corrupted caricature of the Kingdom of God.” I couldn’t agree more. This system is practically a sleeping pill for parishioners and a cyanide pill for pastors.
We mistakenly thought that if people came to our churches for some less than worthy reasons – an entertaining religious experience in a comfy environment – they would stay for the worthy ones – discipleship, community, and mission. For the most part it doesn’t seem to have turned out exactly that way. There’s no wonder, at least to my mind, why we have such a large percentage of immature and fickle Christians in our churches. They came for the cool music and engaging programs performed in convenience and comfort, and when those things waned – after wearing out the leaders – they left for greener pastures. We scurried around to provide the best program at the best place at the best time in the best facility and then when the church down the street provided something even better they “felt called” to go over there. Can we blame them? We taught them what the Church is all about and we’ll have to deal with it when they take us seriously.
That people choose a church based on the music they like, the preaching that reaches them, the location right off the freeway and close to restaurant row says at least as much about their leaders as it does them.
I’ve often said that the pastor’s job is not to “serve us,” but rather to equip us to do “serv-ice.” He/she is not our employee that we hire to work for us. My friend has a plaque on his desk that says: “The good leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” I added to it, “…and gets out of the way!” Ephesians 4:11-12 is clear. We don’t expect leaders to do the ministry, but equip us to do our work of ministry. And we don’t pay the pastor to do his/her ministry, but support him/her so s/he can. S/he doesn’t pinch hit for us, but stands in the third-base coach’s box cheering us to hit for ourselves and telling us when to slide.
There’s something broken in the Bride, and I apologize for anything I did to contribute to the brokenness.