12 June 2018
I have been thinking a lot about two conversations that we had recently. One was at our recent board meeting and one was over breakfast last Friday. The first conversation centered on balancing administrative responsibilities and relational responsibilities and the second conversation centered around my obligations as the pastor in terms of being in the pulpit on Sunday mornings and at prayer meeting on Wednesday night.
I have been doing a lot of thinking since then about those and other related issues. The question I was trying to answer is, “what causes such a difference in opinion between two brothers who both love the Lord and His Church?” This is by no means the answer, but it is one answer I have come up with. Many simpler answers exist than this one; such as that we see the mission of God and the church differently, we see the role of the pastor differently, we see the role of those in the congregation differently, we emphasize different aspects of the Christian life, or even that we view the entirety of Scripture through different lenses (think Calvinist and Armenian, or cessationist and continuationist).
This answer, however, is assuming that those are not the source of the problem. Although, if they were, this would be a much bigger problem. This answer assumes that you and I are on the same continuum, or spectrum, of Christianity. Along this spectrum, though, are different points of view. You may be on one end of the spectrum and I on the other. We are looking at the same animal, but one of us sees the face while another sees the tail.
I believe that our tendency – and this is reinforced by not only our sinful nature but the media and other various institutions in our world – is to view the world in stark black and white contrast. In other words, there are those who agree with me and those who disagree with me and there is no allowable room for middle ground. With your vast array of knowledge, you are probably familiar with the term “the logical fallacy of the forced dichotomy”. That’s exactly what this is: seeing two opposing views as the only two possibilities and pitting them against one another. Our modern political arena is the perfect example of this. However, I happen to believe that there is only about a ten-percent black area and a ten-percent white area and the other eighty percent is comprised of various shades of gray. This gray area is wrought with paradigms and tensions which, while uncomfortable, help us think more accurately about issues.
There are, I believe, at least four such tensions and paradigms that you and I – and undoubtedly others – are wrestling with. I sat down and tried to think through these tensions and articulate them as best I could. I did this for several reasons. One reason is that it helps me think through them myself. A much bigger reason, though, is because I care about you as a brother, our church as a family, and the mission of God as our purpose. I don’t think I can contemplate enough about these things and work through how and what God is calling me to. I hope this helps, in some way, give you not only my perspective on some of these issues, but also communicate to you that I listen to you and care about you. This is my attempt at a thoughtful response to your concerns by addressing these tensions in the Christian life.
I. PROFESSIONAL VS. RELATIONAL
Every job has paradigms – you want to help people who need water, but you also can’t afford to do it for free. Your products and paperwork need to be in order, but that takes valuable time away from making money by working on a water pump. Likewise, there are necessary tensions that come with the office of “pastor”. On one hand, your job is to establish and build relationships. On the other hand, it is to oversee a non-profit organization. To put it more succinctly, serving as the chairman of the board is an inherently professional role and serving as someone’s pastor is an inherently relational role. Managing the paradigm appropriately and adequately is the ongoing struggle for guys in my position.
Typically, men will either be gifted administratively or gifted relationally. Regardless of their gifting, they will lean more on their strengths than their weaknesses. In my case, I am gifted relationally and I struggle administratively. This is a product of my hard-wiring and personality, but also (and importantly) a by-product of my understanding of Scripture. As I see it, the mission of God is inherently relational and necessarily administrative. In other words, administration is a necessary evil which enhances mission fulfillment, but without which the mission can still succeed, albeit to a lesser degree. However, Spirit-led relationships must exist and, in their absence, the entire mission is doomed for failure.
On this paradigm, I err well to the relational side of the spectrum and you seem to err to the professional side. In other words, if given a choice between the two, I will always let the administration fall through the cracks if forced to choose between relational success or administrative success. You seem to be willing to let relationships fall through the cracks if forced to choose between relational success or administrative success.
This is where our disagreement enters about the necessity of an administrative assistant. I do see the value of administration, and I am aware of my own short-comings in that area, however relationships require so much time and energy that I am unwilling to forsake them for good administration. This would not be such an issue if new relationships were not being formed and developed, but (praise be to God) they are! The Seville’s, the Edwards’, Matt Pridgen, our recent CCA graduates, Rose McPherson and Madison Blake are all examples of such relationships – and these are just the new and recent additions. This does not even address my current relationships with those in the church. Heck, this letter itself is an example of time spent investing in existing relationships, as was my breakfast with you last week. The church needs these relationships in order to be effective, and I am working hard to integrate people into the life and mission of our church. If I were to shift my efforts to be an excellent administrator, it would deter from these relational efforts, which I see as not only the most valuable and beneficial use of my time and energy, but also, and more importantly, the calling of God on my life and for His church.
For our annual meeting in January, I wrote an annual report. As a reminder to both you and I, this is what I said in the “relational” section of our annual report just 6 months ago:
For those of you who are wondering, “What is this relational section all about?” let me explain. Local churches do not exist chiefly as organizations, though they are and do require structure. Chiefly, however, churches are communities of people, the very foundation of which is relationship with Christ and one another. The New Testament word “ekklesia”, from which we derive our term “church” refers to the gathering of people, not the building or location in which they gather. In Acts 2, we see a loving, joyful, genuine community of people who, because of their relationship with Christ, lived life together and took care of one another. We also see, in Acts 2:47, that because of their community, the Lord brought new people into the community who encountered Christ and the true church. “Church” does not exist without relationships, and I want to address certain aspects of our relationships throughout this section of this report.
This year, our elders were able to focus more on the state of relationships within the church and our corporate focus on and facilitating of relationships. This was largely due to the organizational successes listed above, which created time and space for such dialogue to take place. We spent much time in prayer discussing this issue, and felt like the Lord was leading us to put more of an emphasis on relationships. This prayer time led to the corporate discussion of shepherd and share groups amongst the church body to create deeper relationships with one another and invite new relationships into our family.
Two groups have developed from that prayer and conversation. One group meets on Mondays and the other on Wednesdays. These groups have facilitated deeper relationships amongst one another, and have allowed those outside the church to experience the community offered by the church. Additionally, I have heard from others in the congregation that our corporate focus on intentional, relational discipleship and evangelism has made them more aware of creating relationships in other areas of life and ministry. For this, I give glory to God and continue to trust Him for multiplication and growth.
However, many serious challenges still exist regarding our relationships that we must call upon God to transform. I mentioned one Sunday morning the story of my friend in Toccoa whose neighbor told him, “You keep inviting me to church, but you never invite me into your home.” We must have a Christ-like intentionality in developing relationships with others where biblical hospitality is the norm. This is true not only of those outside the church, but also of those inside the church whom we may have shared a pew with for decades but have never invited into our home.
It is a huge burden on my heart to see the carousel of lives that come into our church, stay for an all-too-short season, and then woefully exit through the front door one final time, never to return. It is, frankly, a shameful indictment on us all when a person or family disappears, and it takes weeks before people ask the question, “What happened to so-and-so?”
What causes this carousel? While there are many reasons, and they vary widely, leaving a meaningful relationship and community is infinitely more difficult than leaving an organized gathering of loosely connected human beings. Of those who have come and gone from our church this year, how many did you reach out to? How many were in your home and grew to know and love your family? I pray that God will make us more aware of those around us, and cause us to be a church of irresistible, Spirit-filled love. I pray that His Holy Spirit would break our hearts over the lack of relationships which cause people to cycle through our doors without ever feeling embraced. I will continue to call us to be a people of relationship, because that is who Christ calls us to be.
The “Road Ahead”
As your pastor, my focus in 2018 will be more on developing relationships and less on managing the structure of our church. This was a large part of the reason the governing board moved to hire an administrative assistant: so that someone could facilitate the operation of the church while the pastor could “lead from the front” in focusing on and developing relationships. I will be investing more time into creating and developing share groups and shepherd groups, with the aim of building communities whose focus is on making disciples who make disciples.
Likewise, I am calling every individual in our church to that same goal of building and developing relationships with others. If the frenetic pace of life and ministry are such that we have no time for relationships, then it is time to “trim some fat” and rid ourselves and our church of those activities which prohibit investing our time meaningfully in others. If, however, the potential for redemptive relationships exist presently and is simply negligence on our part, then we must each repent of our spiritual lethargy and begin to think and live with a Christ-like intentionality in our relationships.
Just as Christ had an “inner circle” of three disciples (Luke 9:28, for example), I am calling each of us to take personal ownership of a few relationships. Who are two or three people or families for whom the Lord has burdened your heart? Seek to invest your time and effort into these relationships and use what God has given you (resources, hobbies, morning coffee, lunch, etc.) to show Christ to them. I continue to pray that we don’t busy ourselves with ministry activity to the neglect of relationships. May we be a community that values Christ-minded relationships over everything else in 2018 and beyond.
Your role in this brings me to another paradigm within the church. The is the paradigm of:
II. POSTURING TO HELP VS. POSTURING TO CRITICIZE
Now, while I have certain pastoral tensions (like administrative VS. relational), people in your position (that is, a fellow board member and elder) have an ongoing tension, too. You can posture yourself to say, “I want to see you succeed” or “I am content to watch you fail”. Your words, actions, and attitude will reveal which posture you are taking. I’ll give you a couple of recent examples.
I have already mentioned my administrative weaknesses. Posturing to help does not have to mean hiring an administrative assistant. It could be as simple as, “I see that you are struggling with this issue. What can I do to help?” Perhaps it is patiently and compassionately looking at how time is spent and walking through priorities and time management to help come to a better solution. Posturing to criticize, on the other hand, is watching someone struggle, and listen to them admit that they are struggling, and sitting back and casting stones at them for what you perceive to be an easy task. The difference is in the attitude of the heart and, frankly, I believe, reveals a great deal about where we are spiritually.
Another example that comes to mind is someone like Scott who is in the early stages of his preaching ministry. The fact that someone has a receptive heart to respond to the call of God is something rare indeed. Even rarer, I would suggest, is for this to be someone in Scott’s stage of life. However, it is the role of the church – and especially the leadership – to come alongside such a brother and help develop him into the sharpest weapon he can be in the hands of God. Posturing to help is listening, sitting with the brother, and then walking with him through how you think God could use him more effectively. Posturing to criticize is far less than walking out and refusing to even listen to him; that seems to be down-right hostile.
My point here is that, as Christ-followers, we have an obligation to some alongside others and help them. I am not even addressing the added weight of this responsibility for those in leadership. I’m just talking about for any and every Christian. Implicit in this is the attitude of Jesus from Philippians that we actually consider other people and, even, consider them as better than ourselves. If we remain in a critical posture of people, then we will soon find that our lives and our churches no longer include them.
III. TENDING VS. SEEKING
Our first core value, which I preached on a couple of Sundays ago, is that “Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.” In that sermon, I frequently referenced Luke’s Gospel where he talks about the Shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to go and find the one which was lost. This is the paradigm of “tending vs. seeking”. I think this is one of the underlying tensions between Wednesday night prayer meeting and working to start a new Wednesday night ministry with a young adult crowd.
Some view (as I think you do) the primary function of church, and most especially the pastor, as tending to the flock that is gathered. Others view (as do I) the primary function of the church, and most especially the pastor, as equipping the flock that is gathered to seek others and bring them into the flock. This involves not only reaching the lost, but also rescuing those who are on the brink of leaving the flock. It is much easier to rescue a sheep before they run away than it is to chase them down and carry them back! A shepherd content to simply “tend” to whatever number of sheep he has left will only be a shepherd until his final sheep either runs off or dies. Moreover, he clearly doesn’t love his sheep enough to run after them when they go.
I believe that most churches are more akin to chaplaincy ministries which basically tend to, or look after, those in their group until they die. As I mentioned in my annual report last year, statistics have proven that 80-85% of American churches have either plateaued or are declining, which means that most churches occupy themselves with fruitless activity and are simply awaiting corporate closure and death. The vast majority of churches, then, are just a certain number of funerals away from non-existence.
If we were content to simply minister to those who are there, the future of the church would be very bleak indeed. How mature does a Christian need to be before they themselves can lead a group of people into the presence of Jesus? Or, conversely, how mature do they need to be before they can allow others to lead? I am simply acknowledging that this tension does exist, but that I fall on the “seeking” end whereas it seems like you fall on the “tending” end. If we only tend to what we have (like requiring the pastor to come to prayer meeting) then what we have will soon die. This ties in to the previous tension of asking the question, “How can I help?” rather than, “How come you aint?”
IV. LOCAL VS. GLOBAL or NARROW VS. BROAD or IMMEDIATE FAMILY VS. EXTENDED FAMILY
This last tension has everything to do with perspective. I couldn’t settle on a good name, so I gave it three! The immediate family vs. extended family has everything to do with the fact that we are an Alliance church and a part of a large family. We are not a local, stand-alone Independent Baptist church. I’ll come back to that. The second and third (local/global & narrow/broad) both have everything to do with how we view our work and what it is we choose to focus on.
This tension of local/global & narrow/broad is something that I believe every church struggles with. It is trying to constantly expand the church’s focus to that which does not immediately, directly, and personally impact them but which does immediately, directly, and personally impact the heart of God. I am, of course, referring to sending missionaries around the world, but also to encouraging those in our Alliance family who need it. A few examples which are not directly related to missions: sending Scott to Colorado, sending Tim Higgs to General Council, and people outside our congregation filling our pulpit.
Scott is a licensed worker with the Alliance pursuing ordination, and we have the high privilege of training him for a larger work than Whiteville or Columbus County. To spend a meager $600 to send him to Colorado for training at the National Office should be a no-brainer, in my opinion. Especially in light of the fact that at that same meeting we set aside almost $30,000 for building maintenance. I see our investment in Scott as altogether positive for both our church (immediate family), the Alliance (our extended family), and the Kingdom of God. For a church to transition from a preaching station to a discipling, training, and sending station is huge. It is something to be proud of, and a trend which I hope continues with others beyond Scott.
The same rationale applies to sending Tim Higgs to General Council. Last year, we spent, I think, $1,000 to send Tim to Columbus, Ohio for General Council. I don’t remember whether or not this was an issue at the time, but it is, again, an investment in working alongside a fellow congregation to get a work started in Wilmington. Neither of us have ever been church planters, but the amount of encouragement received from small gifts like that often make the difference in a work dying or flourishing in the early stages. And, again, if we see ourselves as part of a family larger than ourselves (we think of other Alliance churches and workers as cousins, perhaps), then it becomes something that we do joyfully.
You specifically mentioned my absence from the pulpit. So long as our view of this tension between local and global, or narrow and broad, falls on the narrow, local side then this will be a bigger issue for those who fall more on the broad, global side of the spectrum. (I should add here that I am not talking about my absence as a result of military duty, but, rather, who fills the pulpit in my absence) I see, for instance, inviting Ken Otto, or Tim Higgs, or Gary Keyes, as examples, as being altogether good because it gives us perspective of our own family beyond ourselves. Not only is it an encouragement to them, but it reminds that that we are a part of an Alliance family which far exceeds our little gathering here. However, if our primary concern is with ourselves (local, narrow) then such opportunities are not received with that heart.
Let me give try and tie this altogether by using the example of giving to missions vs. giving to ourselves. I don’t have to work to convince people that they need a roof. When they slip walking down the hallway, or feel water dripping on their head they are more than willing to give $1,000 to the roof fund! However, I do have to work (and work hard) to convince people that foreigners they will never meet need Jesus and that they should (and that God would call them to) give their hard-earned (which is God’s, anyway) cash for that purpose. If you don’t believe me that this is hard work, consider the fact that you yourself admitted that you do not give to the GCF and not only have you been here for 40 years, but I am presently pouring out my heart attempting to convince you that you should! Furthermore, this is all for one person in our congregation! This is not counting countless lunches, conversations, e-mails, and other letters like this which work toward that same end.
What I am saying is that I fall on the extended family/global/broad side of the spectrum and you on the immediate/local/narrow side of the spectrum. I am striving to broaden your vision, and you are perceiving it as neglect of and apathy toward our local group. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. The local should be taken care of, but not at the expense of the global. Perhaps if we were an Independent Baptist church, I would feel differently. But, we are not. We are an Alliance congregation – we ally with fellow churches and missionaries – and I happen to believe that this fact is a really big deal.
So, all of that is my really long way of letting you know that I have been thinking and praying over what we talked about. I do consider your concerns, just like I consider everyone else’s. I want our church to be about God’s business and succeed by his barometers, and I am doing the best that I can, day by day. I appreciate your help and friendship in walking with me.
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence