This is the first in a new series here at the Windshield. Ever seen hypocrisy from leaders in the church? Ever felt uneasy about a ministry named after a minister? Ever gotten frustrated, broken-hearted or angry at church?
But instead of just complaining about it, we're going to call PULPIT! on these shenanigans and start to do something about it. The first step? We need to talk about it.
Ergo, where this series comes from.
This series is also to celebrate the release of FINDING CHURCH from Civitas Press, which - yeah - I was a contributing author to. Click on the above link to grab a copy for yourself. And come back later in the coming weeks, because I'll be giving away a copy of the book. Or two.
I recently concluded a ten-plus-month stint as the Interim Minister of Students at a local church here in South Carolina. Despite having served for years at another church in a volunteer capacity in Youth and College Ministry and later stepping up as a Guest/Teaching Pastor at two other churches, this was my first - and potentially only - shot at vocational ministry.
To be fair, some of my friends may have differing opinions about this being my one-and-only chance; however, as I have written about before, there are a number of reasons why I don't see myself as prototypically designed for vocational ministry (although God may have other plans). Regardless, this particular experience taught me a lot about what I want, and conversely what I DON'T want, out of a church or a position within one. It also sadly reinforced for me a professional behavior pattern which I have seen modeled from some of the leaders I have served under.
Namely, regardless of which side of the pulpit you stand on, just be honest and be yourself.
Admit you don't know everything and you aren't an expert in every area. When one random Wednesday evening before the youth group activities even start, the first question out of a middle high student's mouth is "Do newborn babies possess a sin nature, or are they born innocent in the eyes of God," I knew it was going to be a LONG night. It's humbling, beautiful, and wonderful when people trust in your spiritual maturity enough to guide them, but remember you are JUST a guide. You are to lead them to the Source, and not be the source yourself.
You may have studied a lot, and may have a deep theological understanding about a great many things. But sometimes, a question is simply meant to be asked and not immediately answered - especially when what you might stammer out is some kind of half-baked response because you simply didn't want to utter the phrase "I don't know." Ignorance is not a sin; it's an opportunity for you to check your ego at the door (or check it at your diploma). Remember that you still have room to grow and for the Spirit to guide you while you don't lean on your own understanding.
Arms are to be raised in worship, not held out as a barrier. It's good to have and maintain healthy, appropriate boundaries between yourself and others, especially if you happen to be married. Conversely, just because you are a leader in or the leader of a church does not mean you are to be BFFs with every person in your congregation and text them back and forth at 2:00 am. There is a balance that can be struck, but sadly, many leaders set themselves apart or above from the ones they lead.
Too many times I've seen a pastor deliver a message and then either physically disappear after the service or emotionally disappear while they're out shaking the hands of people as they leave church. Christ loves His bride, and I truly doubt that He would ever duck out of or be spiritually distant in His receiving line. Sundays are meant to be celebrations, not obligations. Stop using the pulpit as a shield.
Additionally, if you can't or are unwilling to take your relationships past surface-level deep with the people who serve on staff with you, you may need to re-evaluate some of your leadership tactics. Again, no one is asking you to be bosom companions with everyone, but the people who see you the most outside of your family should not be the people whom you stay the furthest from.
God called you, not The Perfect Version of you. I don't know about you, but none of the times that I have served in a church have managed to supplant the me of who I am before I took on a leadership role. I found it humorous that by filling out an I-9 form I was somehow immediately transformed from "Sonny" to "Pastor," when nothing in me had changed. I still watched (and mildly obsessed) over DOCTOR WHO. I still ingested coffee by the gallon. I still (occasionally) acted like a big goof. I still was sarcastic in my humor. I still got angry. I still had bad days. There were days when I doubted myself, God, and what I was doing. And although I was in a paid position on a church staff, I somehow even managed to continue to sin.
Shocking, I know.
While I don't think I ever explicitly called attention to any of my failings ("Hey, guys, you will never guess what I was sexually lusting over today!"), I also never tried to hide it when I was having a bad day, when I wasn't feeling myself, and when I was struggling. I was still the same person in my eyes; only now, other eyes saw me differently. And I did what I could to try and honor the eyes and hearts of those who looked up to me all the while remaining honest with the me that I knew me to be.
As leaders, we are called to lead by example, and if we set ourselves up as never having problems, we set an impossibly high bar for others. Too many people already exist under the church-imposed yoke of struggling to "be like Jesus," while the ones who are telling them to live that way don't struggle with pride or judgment; they relish in it. Just as with relational boundaries, there are things we can and should appropriately share about our spiritual struggles with one other. Maturity, wisdom, and discernment can guide us in illustrating how we have not lost the need for Christ to wash our feet again and again.
To Thine Own Self And All That Jazz. God made me the way I am. He gave me the talents and personality I have. And it was those gifts, as well as the reflection of Christ living in me, that someone in these churches thought worth having around. Who am I to be any less than who I am? Who am I to dishonor God by not being the me He made me to be?
What have been your experiences with honesty in the church? Have your leaders acted as the first among equals?