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.