Irrelevant: Pastors Don’t Matter?

irrelevantPastors do not matter. Seventy-five percent of Americans turn to resources other than their pastors when seeking to live out the Christian life. Only one in four Americans think their pastors have something relevant to offer when facing life’s problems. Commenting on these findings, David Kinnnamin and Gabe Lyons said,

You might say Christians leaders are viewed like a smiling greeter at Walmart: they might point you in the right direction, but after that you’re on your own.

I believe Christendom arrived at this troubling point by encouraging pastors to be professionals.

Pastors devote their time to preaching, developing programs, to sitting on committees and to a ton of other administrative duties. Because they are so busy with the ‘work’ of the church, they do not have time for the people of the church.

Well known, Baptists’ leadership groups encourage pastors to only briefly counsel with the people before passing those time consuming sheep off to the local psychologists. As Jared Wilson noted, “A sheep who wants to be feed is seen as someone in the way of the vision.” The pastor who goes beyond the occasional hospital visit and actually cares for his sheep is deemed by many church cultures to be a pastor out of focus. He is a pastor that has abandoned the growth of the church for people.

This sentiment is bizarre and yet very real. It is also grossly unbiblical. Christ was all about people. Paul was all about people. They were not all about programs and church growth models. Yet, most pastors today are all about creating programs and filling pews.

In their rush to grow the kingdom of God, many modern pastors have made the kingdom irrelevant to the very world they are trying to reach. These men have declared themselves too busy to deal with the messiness of people’s lives. As a result, they have communicated that the church and the gospel have no real solutions for divorces, embezzlement, abuse, pornography, and the many other sins that weigh down local church members.

Such an attitude of professionalism is deeply troubling because pastors have access to the most powerfully truth. They have access to the power of Christ which both saves and liberates men and women from their sin. When pastors bounce their church members out of their offices and into the sofa of the local, secular counselor, they are pointing their people away from truth to hopelessness.

As Dietrich Bonoffer wrote,

The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. 

He goes on to say,

Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness.

The world has no power to liberate the drug-addict from sin. The secular counselor has no power to restore a broken marriage. The psychologist has no power to heal the depressed. The power to change, to power to have abundant life and hope is found in Christ.  2 Timothy 3:16 makes this reality abundantly clear,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I think many people do not value pastoral insight into their lives because their pastors have boldly declared for years that they have nothing to offer. In so doing, they have done great harm to their churches, to the body of Christ, and to our nation.

irrelevant-2The American church needs revival. It needs pastors who are not hooked on pornography and enraptured by their own self-aggrandizement. The church needs pastors committed to holiness. But the need even more than that. It needs pastors who are willing to shepherd their people. As Jared Wilson says, “we are not managers of spiritual enterprises: we are shepherds. And shepherds feed their sheep.”

At the end of the day, the pastor who will not counsel does not have an education problem. He has a gospel problem. As Bonhoeffer rightfully noted, “It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient in brotherly confession.” Pastors are poor counselors because they have a poor grasp of the gospel. If pastors believed the gospel was radically changing their lives, they would boldly offer that same power to their church members.

The solution is simple. Pastors need to get serious about the gospel.  They need to love God so much that they cannot help but daily seek to repent and change of their sins. They need to be men who regularly confess their sins to others and invite others to speak into their lives. “Every person should refrain from listening to confession who does not himself practice it.” As the power of Christ takes control of their hearts, they will have something to offer to their congregations. They will be able to put the power of Christ on display. They will become relevant again.

My dear friend, the test of the Christian is not his busyness and his activity, it is his knowledge of God, it is his knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. –Martin Lloyd-Jones. 

Pastors, how are you doing?

Why Church Members Need To Be In The Fish Bowl

fish-bowl“Don’t be a goldfish; be a shark,” is a phrase that has stayed with me. The zealous motivation speaker who had chucked her family overboard to achieve her dreams used the phrase to encourage people to jump out of their mind numbing  goldfish bowls of low expectations for the purpose of devouring their dreams. Yum!  No one likes the fish bowl and those flakes floating down through the water.

Yet almost every pastor and his family will find themselves swimming in circles in full view of every kind and judgemental eye. Those occupy the senior pastor’s chair, the music pastor’s bench, the youth pastor’s closet, or the children’s pastor’s office which used to be the janitor’s closet all swim in the fish bowl. All fall victim to the church member’s opinions which ranging from comments about the guys tie, his wife’s cooking, and his understanding of ecclesiology.  Nothing is off limits. Just try putting a new house or a car into the fishbowl and see what happens.

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 to the fish bowl can prove to be 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 nor is it to swallow the congregation. 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?

Programs Will Not Fix Our Church

programGreat Christians get plugged into their church. I generally agree with this principle. I know there is great wisdom in plugging guest and new members into the various ministries of the church. A church that serves together appears to grow together. As church guru and Lifeway President, Thom Rainer said, “If you are not in a group, you are not really committed to your church.”

I agree to a point. Good church members, godly ladies, and sincere men should readily be about the business of the church. They should be ready to serve in the nursery, to attend a life group, and to take serve on the properties committee. If our church members do not do these things, we have a problem. Our churches have a problem. Only 16% of people who attend only the worship service are still in the church five years later.

To combat this problem, we try to plug people into every and any program. We create programs for our golfers, for young moms, for old moms, for senior adults, and for the youth. If you are alive, we have something for you. We tend to assume that getting someone into a program equals discipleship and growth.

Sadly the program method of discipleship is not working. I regularly run across Children’s Pastor, Minister Directors and scores of workers who have more burn mark than and 30 year-old spark plug. They are worn out, discouraged, and ready to quit. Yes the stumble past the five-year bench mark. But during that time, they have only given. They have not received And now they are ready to quit.

My experiences are not unique. Back in 2007 Bill Hybels the lead pastor of the Willow Creek Mega Church discovered that no correlation existed between one’s program participating and their love for God and others. He reported, “Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into…wasn’t helping people all that much.”

Programs do not mature people in the faith. I would argue that many of our programs actually hurt the faith. I do not believe basketball camps, small groups, and women’s bible studies are bad per se. But often, they become a substitute for real relationships. Instead of having the grieving widow into our home, we rush off to watch a video driven Bible Study on friendships. Instead of spending time witnessing to our neighbors, we are at church preparing crafts for VBS. Instead of taking the new mom a meal, we are rushing off to choir practice. We are doing things for the gospel. But in reality, we are actually substituting programs for ministry. We feel good about our church and our faith. But we have not expressed our faith nor actually functioned as the church.

Consequently, we are surprised to learn that the Dad helping with Awana struggles with drug addiction. We are shocked to learn that our friend in Bible study is getting a divorced. And we are caught off guard by the news of that our daughter’s best friend mom embezzled money. We saw all these people week in and week out and had no idea that they were struggling.

Relationships built upon the Word of God are the power of the church. We exist not to run programs. We exists to stir each other up to good deeds. We come together as the people of God to call each other to repentance. We visit each other to encourage the weak and broken hearted. We are called to exist together in community because the community is where the gospel goes forward.

As Pastor and theologian Jared Wilson reminds us, togetherness is the heart of the gospel (p149). In Galatians, Philippians, I and 2 Corinthians, and 2 Thessalonians, Paul over and over again expresses his desire to be with people. “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” God calls us to community built on the mutual sharing of the Word of God.

The same is true of our savior. He spent time eating, talking, and living with those who he tried to reach for the kingdom.

He does not hide behind his office labeled “Messiah For Preaching and Vision.”He is sweating and crying and sleeping in from of them. And he dies for them. Jesus the pastor know that the sheep need a shepherd (Matt. 9:36).”The Prodigal Church

I think many in our churches today prefer programs over community because community is hard work. Most Christians do not want others to know their sins and to be called to repentance. If believers are doing well, they fear interacting with the hurting because the healthy do not know how to apply the Scriptures to life.

Moreover, programs are easy. We can be busy about our Lock-in’s, our children’s camps, and our relief ministries and not even be saved.  Programs do not require the gospel. They only require our effort, ingenuity, and time. Hopeful the Holy Spirit is directing all those things. But when he is not present and a program is sustained only by human effort, God is not pleased. Notice what he told the sinful Israelites in Amos 6:21, “I hate and despise your feast, I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” God does not like program for programs sake.

I do not believe we need to end all programs going forward. There is a place for all kinds of ministries ranging from food pantries to overseas mission trips. Yet, the ministries are only good if they foster relationships on the gospel. Yet, any program that distracts from community should be jettisoned and jettisoned quickly. If we refuse to confront a brother in sin, to hear the sorrows of our sister, and to bring food to the hungry because we are too busy doing gearing up for VBS, we have a huge problem. We have actually missed caring for the church in our effort to be the church.

If we do not get back to the basics of the church gospel proclamation and discipleship eventually our programing will fail. Our programs cannot restore the broken marriage, help the teenager overcome their eating disorder, and empower the child escape the burden of worry. The gospel preached through the mouths of our brothers and sisters can.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightfully said,

The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truths. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. 

Because we desperately need our brothers and sister in Christ that God has given us, we must be willing to sacrifice all to have meaningful relationships with them. We must throw off every program that keeps us from living out the gospel together. Are you ready to deprogram your church?