Just yesterday I attended a lovely luncheon honoring Church People over the age of 70 who won “Legacy Awards” in our Presbytery. They have run choirs and classrooms, clothing drives and coffee hours. They have been the pillars of their congregations. This was my second Legacy Luncheon and I hope never to miss one. It’s so clear that these people are beloved by their congregations and that they have loved God by loving the people in God’s family.
I know scores of additional Church People who have served and then served some more. Many have found their niche (and their power) by serving in the many realms of Church World. Often they also serve in higher levels of Church Leadership shepherding seminarians, training Pastor Nominating Committees, organizing mission projects, and administrating the heck out of complicated systems.
And while it’s painful to type this “out loud” some of them are unwittingly damaging the Church they love.
Over many years of professional ministry, I’ve observed leaders coming into rooms of anxious church folks hoping to guide/teach/help them and after sharing that guidance, that teaching, that helpfulness they report back to me that “it went really well.” And yet when I get feedback from those anxious church folks, they are not just anxious (still) but now they are also angry/confused/frustrated. Many of them will resent the denomination for a long, long time after such interactions.
How do we tell leaders who have been leading for a long time that they are actually not as effective as they think they are? How do we teach those who want to serve that their ways often come across as cynical and coarse rather than pastoral and compassionate?
This is delicate business. It’s also holy business – not the only holy business, but holy nevertheless.
In my denomination, we rotate leaders after three year terms. This ostensibly brings fresh perspectives and crisp new ideas. But because of the way we are organized, congregations often recycle leaders over and over again and our experienced leaders become the very people who keep us stuck.
Again, this is hard to type because I’m talking about committed and faithful people here. And yet there is a reason why we rotate our leaders and why we expect continuing education for all ages:
The 21st Century Church is about relationships not regulations. We are about community not crackdowns. We are about pleasing God not pleasing ourselves.
Any of you who know me and work with me have permission to pull me aside when I become cynical or harsh or tired or afraid to let go and please remind me that what I do is not about me. It’s not for me. It’s about expanding the reign of God.
I hope I also have permission to check in with you.
The Church is full of nice people and we dread hurting feelings (although we hurt people all the time.) Yet we can do better. We can let go of the way we’ve always done things and turn those stuck ways on their heads.
Image of the sculpture Device to Rule Out Evil by Dennis Oppenheimer.
In truth, the newer people at the congregation I serve don’t want to join. And our church structures haven’t addressed the way membership is a pre-req for serving on session.
I’ve got lots of people who feel they “belong”, and who identify as a part of the congregation, but don’t get why they would ever need to “join”.
Which leaves the people who have been serving as the people who are also eligible to serve.
I don’t disagree that some long time church saints are mucking up the works. But there are structural problems too that we have to address as a denomination.
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This is an important and needed word, thanks
When you have to have a board of 6 because you’re a dual-denomination congregation and must have 3 of each, and the rotation is 3 years, and there are only 6 of each willing or able to serve, inbred rotation is inevitable. And the “we’ve always done it this way” problem is much bigger. sigh
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Thanks. It needed to be said. But many of our long timers are the ones that the church and/or the pastor can depend on to show up. Hate to say that, but it’s true. Not sure why the “fear” to commit is so challenging, but it is. Just the same, the “fear” of letting go and change is just as challenging. Needed insight. Blessings!