Why Church Members Need To Be In The Fish Bowl

fish-bowlNo one wants to be a goldfish stuck in the fish bowl. I once heard a very energetic motivational speaker loudly say,  “Don’t be a goldfish; be a shark.”  I think the sentiment had something to do with charting your own path away from the lame world of goldfish, people who content to swim in circles. I do not totally remember as the speech was a required event stuffed into one of our university’s grey-carpeted meetings rooms.

Yet the general sentiment resonated with many of us and still does. No one wants to swim aimlessly around a bowl while disinterested bystanders toss in little negative comments about our swimming, eating, and sleeping habits. No one likes the fish bowl.

Yet almost every pastor and his family find themselves living in the fish bowl. Regardless of your title, position or role, to be a senior, music, or children’s pastor is to live in the fish bowl.  Church members regularly comment about everything from the pastor’s tie to his family’s cooking habits. Nothing is off limits. A pastor and his family may be praised or slammed because someone saw that the family spent large amounts of time in the little castle or swimming just too darn much.

Some pastor respond to the challenge of always being observed by taking a shark like approach. They actively find ways to close the blinds to their homes, to fence their kids away from criticism, and to protect their wives from all those helpful comments. They proactively find ways to escape or at the very least hide their family fishbowl from view.

Though I lived this way at times, I think this approach is the fish bowl extremely dangerous. Security, safety, and good relationships do not come from hiding from the people in our churches. These things can only be attained by transparency.

The solution to the fish bowl is not to hide. The solution is to get more fish in the fish bowl.

The family is a delicate, private, and precious thing. But our greatest family our truest mothers, brothers, and cousins are not the people with whom we share our DNA. They are the people who share are love for Christ. The truest family is the family who sees your weakness and encourages you to follow Christ. The truest family is the family who is willing to welcome your into their lives, allowing you to see their faults so that you can help them while embracing your faults. We need friendships with fellow Christians that are, “extensive enough, intimate enough, and above all long lasting and committed enough to really uncover our deepest foolishness and cowardice and to draw out our deepest capacity for wisdom and courage.”

The apostle Paul said it this way,

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. – 2 Thessalonians. 

Christians need both the word and relationships to thrive. Paul taught the gospel and he lived the gospel. He was with people showing them how to apply the gospel to everyday life.

Pastors must be doing the same thing. We should embrace the fish bowl, happily working out their faith before others. We must show others how to work by working and how to parent by parenting, and how to manage a budget by budgeting. We must invite people into our lives for the expansion of the gospel. By God’s grace, We must reveal how the gospel can and should transform everyday life. We are to model both the weakness of our flesh and the amazing power of the gospel. As we depend on God, the gospel will go forward in the lives of others.

Pastors need the fish bowl and so do you. Andy Crouch warned

“If you don’t have people in your life who know you and love you in that radical way, it is very, very unlikely you will develop either wisdom or courage.”

If your local church is never in your business, you will be one stunted Christian.

The fish bowl is only a problem because it is a one-side affair. Church members want to reserve the right to attack, demean, and belittle the pastor and his family every time one of their sins bubbles to the surface. When the Pastor comes to confront the deacon about stealing or the piano player about her sexual dalliances, the church holds an impromptu business meeting to tell the pastor to stand down. As one church member told a pastor friend of mine, “I wish you would stop applying your sermons to our church.”

Church members often refuse to swim with the pastor because they do not want to their pastor to challenge their sin with the gospel. Quite often, we pastors are ok with this arrangement because we do not want to have to spend hours counseling messy, dirty church members. As a result, the church creates a dangerous fish bowl for one instead of an aquarium for many. Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightfully said,

A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community

The Christian community that fundamentally fails to grasp that we are all sinners in need of saving is ultimately not a Christian community. A church membership that consists of people who maintain an air of self-righteousness by never inviting others into their homes and hearts is not the church God sent his son to redeem.

For pastors to pastor well, we have to model the gospel, confront sin, and be open to correction.  We have to embrace the fish bowl. For the church to function well, all of its members need to jump into the fish bowl with their pastor.

Are you ready for the fish bowl?