Yesterday we went to Destiny Church. It use to be called Destiny Center, and for reasons I’ll explain later, I wondered about the name change. I am curious if they needed to add the word church because people were confused about whether they were, in fact, a church. I suppose by the name people might have thought it was a meditation center or something. I”ve no idea. We enjoyed the service and I was inspired by the teaching. I’ll touch very briefly on that at the end.
Anyway, I like the senior pastor there, Jerome, and we have been friends; not bosom buddies, but a little more than friendly acquaintances. To his credit he treated me like we were best friends, making, me, I’ll admit, look good in front of a couple of my former congregants who we just happened to meet there (who were also trying it out.) This made me feel good of course, and then an interesting thing happened.
I almost immediately began to wonder if he were really feeling this friendly for me or if it were because I was now a potential congregant. This was entirely unfair and uncharitable of me, as Jerome probably would have, and has, treated me the same if he ran into me on the street.. It also made me ponder something I’ve pondered many times before, one of my least favorite things about being a pastor:
Being a pastor make relationships weird.
Not all relationships, probably not even most and certainly not all the time, but often enough to make me wonder if we’re doing something wrong in this chuch thing. It might just be that there’s something wrong with us; and since the fall, I know that to be true.
In the best cases, a pastor/congregant relationship is simply a well bonded, deep and family like intimacy . I’m finding, as Lifesingers continue to meet at Dion’s and enjoy each other’s company that this is largely true for my Lifesong experience.
Honestly, I helped this by setting clear expectations from the beginning. with several strongly worded sermons on what not to expect from me. I promised to make mistakes (and then, just so no one would forget, I made sure to keep that promise.)
One of my favorite statements in the literature about our church which we got to people early and often was
If a church is a place where you get all the answers, we’re not a church.
If a church is a place where everyone’s got their act together, we are not a church.
If a church is a place where the pastor alone cares for everyone’s needs, is available at all hours, and never struggles, then we are most definitely not a church.
On the other hand we believe a church is the place where there is the most safety and encouragement to ask the most relevant, and sincere questions. We believe answers can be found in scripture, but are best sought together in community.
We are a church which understands that only one person in history has ever had His act completely together and that His name is Jesus and His role is God. There is room in the universe for only one Messiah, and you are not it. I am not it and no one at our church will pretend to be it.
So my most recent experience is filled with better than normal relationships, and perhaps the price of better than normal is some weirder than normal relationships along the way.
Today, as I blog, it has occurred to me that there are some clear things that both congregants and pastor’s could do differently which might make a difference. It also occurs to me that I am an in unusual place of being a pastor without a church but also without rancor. I did not close my last church bitterly, I have not forsworn the idea of pastoring again as a bad deal (in fact, I’m increasingly suspecting I will again have a church), and I have no congregation to manipulate by any advice I might give. So, with that in mind, in case it helps anyone love their pastor better, I present some suggestions. (If I were writing a blog predominately read by pastors, I would weight this heavily in that direction, sinnce I have only few pastoral readers to my knowledge, I have sprinkled only a few exhortations to pastors.).
Not only do I mean no offense to anyone by this list, but if you have a different take from your perspective, I’d love to hear it in the comments.
1) Pastors, stop trying to motivate by guilt or fear. Motivating may at times be your primary objective, and guilt and fear are great short term motivators, but they make for very weird relationships down the line, which means they are ultimately a much weaker motivator than love. In the long run it develops weaker Christians with weaker convictions. Sadly it teaches them to be more easily manipulated by the world, the flesh and the devil. If loving them and teaching them accurately the word of God for their life is not enough for them to be motivated to stay, to serve, or to love others, than be assured guilt and fear may look more effective but will be truly counterproductive. Furthermore they will return the favor and when they leave (and leave they will), they will explain it in ways that attempt to make you feel guilty or fearful.
2) Congregants, don’t proclaim undying lifetime devotion to your pastor in a way which should only be reserved for marriage. Many people in my churches have proclaimed that they would follow me anywhere, and I only believe one of them: my wife. Oddly experience tells me that the louder someone proclaims their devotion to me as a pastor, the more likely it is that the hardness of the chair, the slowness of the worship music, or the inconsistency of my personality will ultimately drive them away. On the other hand, one of my deacons from Lifesong, Phil and his wife, have served with me for 23 years, without ever once declaring undying devotion. Am I saying you shouldn’t speak affirmation to your pastor? Of course you should, but no pastor is helped by effusive, unrealistic displays of devotion. If they are wise they will take it with a grain of salt, and if they do happen to believe you, they will only be more discouraged when you leave, even if it’s God who calls you to leave; and who are you to say that won’t happen?
3) Pastor’s, stop leading from fear. This is not the same as motivating by fear. This is being motivated by fear. Leading from fear is notoriously easy as a pastor; particularly if you are in a downward trajectory which many pastors encounter. Trying to lead in order to “keep people” from leaving leads to terrible decision making and alienates those who were not thinking of leaving to begin with. It turns your focus inward, leaving hopeless people outside your church, both hopeless and outside. It messes up your good relationships in the church by introducing an element of distrust into relationships.
4) Congregants, do not expect your pastor to be an outgoing extrovert with his radar on for ministering to congregants all the time. Personally as a pastor, I believe our commitment to our saints does not end at the church door and I hope to love and minister to everyone whether the grocery store or anywhere, but then I also expect this of my congregants. At the same time I give my congregants grace to be focused on other things at a given moment or time, to be human and not lead by the Holy Spirit at a given moment. Some pastors, myself included, are not by nature extroverts and we get tired if we don’t have time to recharge alone or with just our family. Some of us are not always great at paying attention to our surroundings. I remember many many years ago (more than two decades) a particular congregant who left the church because, according to them they had frequently said hi to me at the grocery store and I had ignored them every time. Despite the fact, that I honestly had never seen or heard them, even one of these times, they were convinced I was just being mean to them. Let your pastors be human.
5) Congregants, Treat your pastors with at least a minimum of respect and love when you leave. I am amazed and baffled with the numbers of truly sincere friends who have essentially snuck out of my church. People who would talk to me about the most intimate details would make one of the most significant decisions of their life, one in which I am already intimately involved, without saying a single word about it to me. As in breaking up, text messages and emails do not count. I do understand that in some cases this comes from a desire to spare the pastor’s feelings, but more often it comes from a desire to protect ourselves from discomfort or from being challenged in our leaving. If you are leaving for good reasons, or even if you are not, your pastor, unless he truly is a controlling guilt mongering, radically insecure pastor (lots of pastors are insecure, but not radically so!) will survive your leaving and will feel gratitude more than anything if you speak to him as a friend would to a friend. Will he try to talk you into staying? Probably, because until the moment you leave he is still your pastor in his mind, and he still wants to give you the best spiritual advice he can, and he probably believes you’re leaving is a mistake. Trust me, after a conversation like this, relationships can still continue, severing ties doesn’t have to be the norm even if you do leave.
6) Congregants, when you do see a pastor whose church you’ve left, let go of the desire to prove to him you are doing ok. Look, we know people leave our churches and thrive all the time. It doesn’t make us feel better or worse. God is gracious and people thrive. I certainly hope everyone who left my church is doing more than ok, but when meeting a congregant on the street who spends fifteen minutes telling me how they are doing better than they’ve ever done, how their new church is amazing and fantastic and of their undying devotion to their new pastor, it makes me feel that either 1) they are not doing well and just trying, out of pride, to convince me, or 2) they are angry and bitter at me and trying to hurt me by showing me how much better they were without me. Neither of these feels very good or leads to a healing relationship between us. If instead you were to express gratitude for the time you had, for the things he brought you, he will not try to persuade your to come back, and frankly will probably be more assured that in fact you are doing well. After all you were seeing things clearly enough to appreciate him! 🙂
7) Congregants, don’t expect your pastor to keep pastoring you after you remove yourself from his pastorship. Again, I do try to minister to and love everyone God puts in front of me with needs. But I also know that I have to focus my energies on the most direct stewardships in my life. My family and my congregation, and the unchurched. In the limited time I have on this earth, these are the people I will pursue. If I respect and trust you then I am content that you have moved on to another church where you are being cared for. This means that our relationship will change when you leave. It’s not that I am not your friend, or that I am withholding love. It is that I am trusting that you ultimately went where God directed and now you have to let someone else pastor you. If as a friend you want to do lunch or hang out or even get advice, give me a call. It’s awkward for me to call you precisely because I don’t want you to feel that I am trying to woo you back or control you. You are the one that left, and I expect you to set the tone of the relationship at this point. I know that’s a departure from how it’s been for years, but that’s the change in our relationship.
Ok, just some thoughts from a pastor without a church. If it’s helpful, great. If not, then it wasn’t meant for you.
As for Jerome’s message, it was all about Big idea #1, the primacy of the church. While it was intended as a call to commitment for Destiny people to be outward centered, focused on reaching others; it felt to me like God was affirming the passion of my heart to continue to reach out to sincere unchurched God-seekers. It went into the simmering stew which seems to be turning into something University flavored, something Downtown Central Albuquerque flavored. It’s not yet boiling, the stew is not yet seasoned, and I’m unsure of how palatable I will yet find it. As my wife said of the slowly cooking ideas, “It sounds right, but it sounds like a lot of hard work.”
But I”m enjoying my rest…and I’m wondering if after 23 years, I still don’t know yet what a church actually is…
Until next week faithful readers, pray for me. Love each other, be ye pastor, congregant or in between, or as a friend of mine, meaning the same thing says…just be cool.