Tag Archives: leadership

Bamboozled

I had never heard of Pastor Shaun King before, but now that I have through this provocative blog post about his resignation I have the utmost respect for him.  An excerpt:

The vision of my heart was for a committed community of people that first and foremost served God in radical ways in inner city Atlanta and in broken places all around the world.  Sunday morning would simply be the time when those people came together to celebrate and honor God and invite others into our Monday-Saturday adventure. Instead, I started a super cool Sunday worship service centered church with 700 people and spent the next 3 years begging thousands of people to help me be the hands and feet of God by fighting child trafficking and caring for widows and orphans……I sold my soul for church attendance in our first week and could never quite get it back.

I’m feeling him.  Here is the dirty little secret about the majority of pastors within American Christianity.   All most of us care about are the 3B’s:   butts, budgets, and buildings.  We say we care about other things, but at the end of the day whatever the other things are we really don’t use them to judge our ministry success.  All you have to do is go to any church conference of your choosing.  Most if not all the plenary speakers are people who have mastered the art of the 3B’s.  I could make a list of about 20 people and guarantee that you will see at least one of them at whatever conference you chose to go to.   They are the masters of the 3B Universe.

These 3B masters have been anointed with “sage on the stage” status and the not so subtle message is if you do things like they do you too can become a 3B master.  We drink the the Kool-Aid!   We work tirelessly to put a lot of butts in pews.  We have highly orchestrated financial campaigns to erect beautiful buildings to meet in every Sunday.   And we work those  budgets and make pennies holla.   We’ve been bamboozled.

The pursuit of the 3B’s creates a huge tension for the American pastor because they are not the standard Jesus uses.  Our Lord measures ministry success by judging how effective we are in engaging the brokenness of the people within our spheres of influence.  Really,  Jesus uses reconciliation-type stuff to grade us (Matt. 22:37-40.)

Our goal as pastors to be the best church in the community (chasing the 3B’s) oftentimes clashes with Christ’s charge to be the best church for the community.    In other words, there are things that you could do as a pastor that would be great for the community but terrible for you achieving the 3B’s.  A prime example is implementing a multiethnic vision for the congregation.   I have yet to meet a pastor who took this challenge on who did not at some point want to resign over the conflict it created.   The balancing act is to lead those butts and use the tools of budget and building to minister to those on the margins of society.  Pastor Shaun felt the burden of this tension:

In March of this year, I announced I was preaching my last sermon series of all-time.  For the next 8 weeks, I preached the most radical, game-changing sermon series ever entitled “Disciple.”  Our average attendance was its highest ever.  Our average offering was the highest ever.  Excitement was its highest ever.  Man, I was pumped!! Then, almost literally the day we jumped into change, all types of stuff started falling apart.  People left in droves.  Scores of people started falling through on leadership commitments they made.  Systems starting failing.  Attendance was down.  Offering was down.  Excitement was down. I had no idea that zero correlation exists between how much people love hearing about change and their actual willingness to make it.

I’m feeling him here, too.   Again, I don’t know the man but from the outside looking in it seems to me that he is suffering a bit from idealism.  As pastors it always has and always will be hard to lead people down the right path.  I remember realizing something obvious while reading in the New Testament one day.  A good portion of it was instruction on how to deal with the very real problems of shepherding people.  In other words, as pastors we should expect people to struggle mightily as we lead them towards the teachings of Jesus.  Unfortunately this reality has lead to what I think is a faulty conclusion by Pastor Shaun:

Considering all of this, I think I have given up on church as I knew it.  Big buildings.  Huge crowds.  Few disciples.  I’m not with it.  It’s inefficient and just doesn’t feel right with my soul.  This is not a rejection of big buildings or huge crowds but an indictment on how few disciples are being made in the process of it all.  A better way has to exist.

If you look at the comments section after his blog post  it’s easy to see he is not alone in his thoughts.   Actually I’ve been in the exact same space he is in.   I started a church in inner city Cincinnati with an ideal in mind.  By year 3 that ideal was shattered.  Just last week I had a conversation with a colleague who is on his way out of the pastorate because of the tension of chasing the 3B’s v. Shepherding people towards Christ.

If what Pastor Shaun says on his blog are truly the reasons he resigned its unfortunate.  He can find a different way and it may be slightly better, but because shepherding people will be involved it will be the exchanging of one set of problems for another.  You can change the form of how we do church in America but you can’t change the reality of the problems of pastoral leadership.  What Pastor Shaun, my colleague, and many others who want Matt. 22:37-40 churches need is to develop the lost art of lament.

About lament.  You remember the boring book of Lamentations, don’t you (is it ok to call a book of the Bible boring?) Nobody, and I do mean nobody, preaches from Lamentations.  But I think we need to heed its lessons.  The essence of the book can be found in Lamentations 1:16 which says “No one is here to comfort me; any who might encourage me are far away.”   You see lament throughout the Gospels, the Psalms, all throughout Scripture.   It is a picture of the tension of faith vs. doubt.    To lament is to accept your limitations of being human – you don’t have all the answers, you’re in a season of frustration with God, and you need to vent about it.    It is the art of disappointment.  Disappointment is not lethal to pastoral ministry but part of the process.

What is lethal is to move from disappointment to despair.   Despair is when you conclude that further pursuit of the goal is pointless.  Unfortunately I have seen many pastors take this road.   Literally they just drop out, some from the faith altogether but many retreat to what I sarcastically call “The Church of the Living Room.”   They start a house church or something similar and meet with the same 10 people for 20 years.   Not exactly the best way to fulfill the Great Commission.

I’m glad to see you are disappointed Pastor Shaun.  I’m sorry to see you have resigned with the conclusion that the grass has to be greener on the other side.    I say the grass is green where you water it.


I Am CCDA

We are live at CCDA!   We hope you stop by our EFCA Samaritan Way booth to sign up for a chance to win a free ipad2.   We also hope that you subscribe to this blog and allow us to help you reverse societal division, multiplying Kingdom growth.

Our blog is relatively new (just started this year).   Please take some time to look at some of our posts.   You can also follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.   Enjoy the following excerpt below, which is the introduction of my book Reconciliation 101:  A Handbook for Ministry Leaders.

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This guide is for ministry communities who care enough about reconciliation that they are ready to do something about it. It is especially focused toward those who are called to lead these communities. 

If you picked up this book, you have probably determined that God wants you to do something in the area of reconciliation. My guess is that, at the very least, you have already started on a personal level and desire to lead your ministry in that direction, too. There are three reasons I believe I can help you on your journey.

The first stems back to April 2001, when Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old African-American with a history of non-violent misdemeanors, was shot and killed by a Cincinnati police officer. His death caused outrage in the neighborhood of my then-church plant (River of Life), resulting in millions of dollars of damage.

It was in this environment that we held our first public worship service, in the very neighborhood that had been at the center of the rioting. River of Life became a tangible demonstration of what God can do when people from all walks of life live in unity for the advancement of the kingdom.

For seven years as the founding pastor, I was surrounded by the effects of racial, ethnic, gender, generational, and economic conflict. In leading that wonderful ministry I learned that reconciliation is a verb and is much bigger than merely achieving racial harmony between blacks and whites. I have come to believe that it is the key to fulfilling the Great Commission.

While I was at River of Life, 70 percent of those who joined had not previously had a church home. Most told me that one of the big reasons they came was the fact that everybody was accepted there, regardless of their cultural background.

Those years I spent shepherding a church in the midst of a conflicted community have made me the Christ-follower I am today. That experience has also given me a passion to spread the primary lesson I learned: that reconciliation is the mission of God in our fallen world.

The second reason I believe I can help you on your journey of reconciliation is that I have applied the principles from this handbook not only in a local church setting, but also during my stint as director of ethnic ministry at Cincinnati Christian University. While working there, I was simultaneously earning my Ph.D. I would literally write out a theory for one of my papers and then test-drive it on campus. So I am grateful to the university leadership for being my “guinea pigs.” We had great success in laying the foundation for reconciliation. The faculty became integrated for the first time, and last year they experienced their biggest enrollment of ethnic students in their history.

The last reason I believe I can help you in your journey of reconciliation is because I presently serve as director of reconciliation for the Evangelical Free Church of America. Samaritan Way (the name of my ministry) was at ground zero in 2008. Now, we have successfully built a network of ministry leaders who are leading with reconciliation in mind.

I share these reasons to assure you that what you are about to read has been born in ministry practice. I have done some theoretical work to back up my practical suggestions, but I don’t think you need much of it. You can find that elsewhere.

There are very good books on reconciliation sitting on my bookshelf. Great reads, but I will probably not revisit them. The reason is not because the books don’t have relevant material. The problem lies in the fact that, typically, the books don’t offer much practical help in guiding the reader to “go and do likewise,” as we are told in Luke 10:37.

I would always tell my staff at River of Life, “Don’t bring me a problem without offering a possible solution.” That is why I have written this handbook. I have applied these principles in a church, university, and denominational setting and achieved success.

Author Henri Nouwen stated in Reflections on Theological Education that “writing is like giving away the loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving.” My prayer is that this book will help you reverse division, multiplying kingdom growth.

Let me offer a few tips on how to best utilize the handbook. First, as with a car owner manual, I assume you are actively driving a car. In our case, the assumption is that you are beginning your journey down the road of reconciliation. As you drive, use the principles presented to manage the dynamics of difference.

Second, I believe in the power of the ministry community and will use that phrase a lot. By ministry community, I’m referring to people who form their lives together within the context of ministry. This could be a Christian university board, church small group, or denominational staff.

These communities operate as a space where people can reflect on their experiences. As they reflect, others are allowed to offer varying viewpoints, allowing people to unearth common understanding as well as differences. Knowledge construction in the midst of relationship is what binds us together as followers of Christ. Therefore, you would be doing yourself a great disservice to read this guide alone.

You will also come across new ideas that need processing with others. So, for instance, if you are a senior pastor, read the guide with your elders as a group. Then set aside times to discuss the concepts presented.

Third, I recommend you read the chapters in order. They are based on my presentations, where I take the big picture and narrow it down to the specific. Each concept builds on the other. You could skip around, but you would probably find yourself confused if you do so.

Fourth, don’t expect to find all the answers concerning reconciliation in this thin little handbook. I’m just passing along the lessons the Lord has taught me, with hope that they will move you and your ministry further down the road.

So I’ll end the introduction with my bottom line, a conclusion reached from 17 years of practical ministry and academic study concerning reconciliation, and we’ll build from there: The present concept of reconciliation needs to be renewed.

Read more to find out why and how to renew it.

Click here to buy Reconciliation 101:  A Handbook for Ministry Leaders.