Sunday, October 23, 2005

Big Egos and Other Maladies of Ministry

I was one of the worst.

Spiritual pride and self-importance all wrapped up and twisted in with passion, commitment, and a desire to serve.

Somewhere along the way I was taught that commitment to the vision and ministry of the church equaled service to God. I not only bought into this, I was a pusher.

I encouraged people in their giftings and helped them find their place of service in the ministries of the church, believing the more involved they were, the more committed and spiritual they were.

Thank God he took me away from that before I understood why.

We sat in a meeting listening to the "apostle" questioning our commitment and telling us that sometimes ministry has to come before family and that possibly we should consider a new line of work because our business was so demanding of our time. This was really ironic because up to that point, we had practically given our entire lives in support of the ministry.

That was the day we took our lives back. It was the day my children were given the gift of parents whose lives are no longer wrapped up in church meetings.

Scott Williams is writing some interesting posts from the perspective of a pastor. He is one of my favorite bloggers. I would tell him so, but he doesn't have comments on his site.
Drives me crazy!

Based on my twenty years of ministry and my fairly intimate relationships with dozens of pastors i have found:

1. many pastors believe, down deep, that they are the first among equals.

2. many ministers subconsciously believe that most of the vocations their parishioners pursue don't matter.

3. career ministers have absolutely no idea what the real world is like.

4. pastors believe the vast majority of lay people are spiritually and perhaps physically lazy.

5. ministers love to brag about how overworked they are.

6. seminary is almost useless.

7. 20+ hours of preparation is necessary for a sermon of 40 minutes or... how can you possibly believe you are good enough to even speak for 40 minutes?

Expanding his thoughts on point #1, he says:

at minister's retreats we strategize how to motivate you lazy people. we complain and gossip about your shortcomings. we bemoan how hard it is to equip you to "do the work of ministry".

i was wrong but not completely guilty. i was put on a pedestal and though i knew better i let it happen. i wore my humility like a crown and by pointing out how i was one of you, i showed how i was not.

It seems like instead of equipping and releasing, pastors end up corralling people into the organization. What if by roping everyone into programs, they are actually keeping people from their true ministry.

Instead of being yeast and salt dispersed to the world, everyone is tightly penned in corrals. Not caring much about what happens outside the walls, the cowboy in charge can stroke his ego about the size of his herd.


Some interesting quotes from Michael Kruse's most recent post in his emergent series:

Intentional or not, pastors often function as gatekeepers for ministry.

I see congregation after congregation trying to create the right programming so their congregants will be involved in ministry.

Way too many congregations spend the biggest part of their human and financial resources perpetuating “ministry” that someone at sometime decided the congregation “ought” to be doing.

The primary ministry for most of us is caring for our families and our employment.

So how about we start by changing the paradigm of ministry within our congregations and help people identify the ministries they are already doing?

It is sad that we actually take people away from these things, and feed their feelings of importance by having them climb the ministry ladder at church.

I have learned that I had too much of my identity wrapped up in the things I did that were called ministry. It has been a necessary time of detoxing for me. It was disorienting to no longer have the feeling of purpose and the automatic respect that being a leader brought to me.

Laura shares her thoughts about this:

My heart still aches for a place to be needed, to contribute, to play a part in the great things going on, to meet the needs of others. And this in itself isn't bad. But if you add the small bit of honesty I'm allowing myself, I'd also have to admit that my heart aches for power, prestige and status.

Will I ever get off my own pedestal long enough to see that while God may have given me specific gifts and purposes, He may have just planned perfectly enough to use me in small, quiet, secret and unknown ways?

There are many of us learning this downward journey. The things I have had to die to are less important than what has been around me all along.

Picture this, every minister approaching God on judgment day, paperwork in hand with a thick stack of credentials, ministry, and good works ready to turn in. But, God doesn't even look at it, and He only has one pass-or-fail question:

How well did you love and serve your family?

9 comments:

Scott said...

wish i could have said it that well...

Cindy said...

Great post Grace! I've bellyached here enough about church drains on my family- I won't do it anymore, but appreciate your eloquence on the subject.

By the way I also wished I could comment on Scott's blog, which I visited for the first time today. I also wish I had the courage to be as honest as he is! Everytime I get close to that honesty on my blog, I remember getting slammed for it, and I hit delete... Wonder if I'll ever find the cure for this disease?

RonMcK said...

Great stuff. Here are some of my comments on church and business.

1. The modern church tends to have a truncated, church-centred vision. The focus is on revival, which is church centred. If the focus were more on the Kingdom of God, the importance of business would be better understood.

2. Pastors often see business and work as an enemy that is stopping Christians from doing church work.

3. Most churches see business as a source of money for the church and a place for evangelism. Christians in business will be a good source of both giving and evangelism. If that is all that happens, business is just serving the church. The church should be looking for ways to serve those who are serving God in the business world.

4. Christians often see business as part of the world. Business is seen as the centre of the world system. In the western world, this is true. Consumerism has been led by business. The reason that business has become so worldly is that Christians have stayed out of business. However, if we desert an area of life, we can expect that it will not become evil. It does not have to be that way. Business is a powerful vehicle for achieving results. It can be used just as effectively for achieving good goals. For example, most of the technological advances in the modern world have been developed by businesses. Whether the impact of business is good or evil depends on the values and goals of the people who own and manage the business.

5. The church needs to recover a kingdom vision. The great commission was just a re-statement of the original (cultural) mandate given to Adam and Eve: multiply and subdue the earth (Gen 1:27,28). Multiplying can be done by families; with help from the church, where they need converting. However families, government and the church can’t complete the task of subduing the earth on their own. A large part of this task will be done by businesses

6. Business provides an opportunity to for Christians to exercise authority. Often they will not be able to get positions of authority in the government, but any Christian with a good idea for something that people want, can be successful in business.

7. The modern church tends to be imperialistic. Everything has to flow into it, or it is not interested. The church tends to want the best people. When a person becomes a Christian, the pastor immediately tries to find a place to use him in the church. Instead the church should have an apostolic vision. It should train people up (many useful skills can be learnt in the church), and send them out to work in the business world. For example, the church has some really good musicians. It should be sending the best of these out to work in the secular music industry. The direction of the flow should be reversed, so that the church is sending good people out to the business world.

8. I believe that some men, who are currently working as pastors, could have an even greater impact in the business world. A pastor, who has a vision to have a very large organisation, may have skills that God could use better in the world of business.

9. Many men find church boring. The reason is that the church is focussed on people and relationships. Only a small proportion of men are called to pastoral work. Most men need the excitement and challenge of achieving a demanding goal. Many will only find their fulfilment in the business world.

More here.

fr'nklin said...

I am grieved...and you know, I hate that I have seen some of these things in myself...I was a "pusher" too...

Great post

Pam Hogeweide said...

Grace, you are reading my mind! Just today I was saying to God, "I can't go back.". I've been out of ministry now for six months. I want to help my fellow man, but not confined, or "corraled" as stated earlier. I've been asking God to let me serve him in a totally nonchurched place.
Having said that, I love that there are Sunday school teachers who dedicate themselves to serving my kids every week. However, I remember when I taught SS how much I neglected my own kids on Sunday to teach other kids! Perhaps other moms are better at managing their time or including their kids in the process, but for me, Sunday was a work day for a long time and I often did not see my own kids.

I agree with the whole notion that the more you serve in the church than there is a perception that you must be truly spiritual. Wow. How did I ever buy into that lie about myself or others?

I am so encouraged by conversations like this one. I think God is up to something and that His Spirit is shining a bit more light on the system we call church. This holy discontentment and tension is like an awakening of sorts. Can you feel the old wineskins tearing?

I'm not sure what God has for me and my family, but I am quite certain that I won't be living a church-centered or ministry-centered life again.

What does a Christ centered life look like in the Real World?

Good stuff you got going on here, Grace. Another hot topic to get my juices going.

SpookyRach said...

Excellent post and excellent comments!

I am a grown child of minister parents who made a conscious and often vocalized decision to never put the church before their children. IT IS THE RIGHT CHOICE. If not, the church becomes the whore daddy loves more than you.

grace said...

Thanks Scott. I think you are saying it really well. I've enjoyed your most recent posts also. Thanks for the mention on your site.

Cindy, there are advantages to being anonymous.

Ron, good stuff. So far I haven't liked of what I've seen of the churches approach to business people and the realm of business, especially #3 and #7 of your points.

Franklin, good to see you. I'm still detoxing from much of this.

Pam, I'm still struggling with the inbetweenness - can't go back and can't find forward.

Rach, I'm glad your parents did it right. Not many preacher's kids can say that.

Jeff said...

Of course, the flip side of all of this are the laypeople whom you might only see on Sunday mornings yet take every opportunity to tell the pastor how s/he should be spending his/her week. Start a Bible study, start another fellowship group, why didn't you visit Aunt Mildred when she had that cough last week, you're expected at our next Women's Guild, sounds like that sermon could've used a few more hours, what do you mean you get two days off like the rest of us?

Laypeople can get into the mindset that because they aren't there most of the week yet the pastor is, s/he should be picking up all the slack. Sometimes when a pastor makes an appeal for more lay involvement (and sometimes it really does need to come in the form of 'get off your lazy asses'), it's because s/he's tired of being expected to do it all by him/herself.

RonMcK said...

Jnelson, you are right.

"The pastor/leader says it is tough at the centre and harder than being sent out. He is correct, but his task is hard because he is often surrounded by bored, purposeless, proud, critical or lazy Christians. His church is often full of people who have remained as spiritual infants, because the structure of the church did not allow them to grow into eldership ministries." (from Being Church Where We Live)

The current model of church does not work for pastor or people.