A while back I read a blog post about a couple that interviewed for a ministry position. They would have been working with folks in a ragged and rough neighborhood where the woman had once been a homeless teen. It would be a tough ministry and brought back all sorts of not-so-pleasant memories. After some interviews and a visit, the couple was hired, and made plans to move. Then, just before moving, but after they had made all sorts of changes including closing out their lease and telling their children they’d be leaving friends, they were told not to come. Apparently they didn’t “look” holy enough to be on the staff of this church because they had tattoos.
One of my acquaintances was helping a church as interim worship leader. After a brief time he was asked to cover up his tattoos because he might offend someone in the congregation. The ironic thing was that he was doing significant favors for the church, giving up significant concerts he could have done, in places that embraced him as the great musician and person he was in Christ. And he was given far less compensation than he would have received elsewhere. He certainly was open to doing what was needed to minister, but it was amazing that his tats were more of a concern than his heart of service. I was somewhat embarrassed by the church.
Note well: Christians will almost always do ministry to people poorly when they get more concerned with the exterior rather than the heart.
By the way, I have no tattoos, and never will. I do, however, have some truly extraordinary sin you can’t see. I’m so glad for the saving and amazing grace of God!
Leadership Network commissioned a study of Executive Pastors written by Warren Bird and Colleen Pepper. This is of interest to me because I am the Executive Pastor at Crossroads Bible Church. I’m pretty sure that few will actually be interested in the download (free, but you have to register), but it’s nice to see that I’m not alone in the joys and frustrations of this emerging position. The title seems to be applied to ministry staff in several different ways by different churches but in most cases it refers to someone with a high level of oversight and broad responsibility, most like a COO, or Chief of Staff, which is probably most like my position at Crossroads. It is interesting to see some common threads coming together among those holding this relatively new position in the church. By the way, I did participate in the study along with 554 others.
While most people in the pews are familiar with the roles and duties of a teaching pastor or a worship pastor, executive pastors are a relatively new addition to contemporary church culture. Often seen only infrequently in a weekly worship setting, the executive pastor role is one that is still misunderstood amongst many church members-and for that matter, even among other church staff.
I certainly wouldn’t use this study to analyze any one XP (shorthand for Executive Pastor) – especially me, but there are points that I think are dead on. For example, Bird and Pepper write about spiritual gifts. I think mine fit right in there.
When executive pastors are asked to identify their top three spiritual gifts, the results are surprisingly similar, regardless of church size. Among churches with 2,000 or more weekly attenders, “leadership”, “administration” and “teaching” come out on top, followed by “discernment”. For churches drawing 500-1,999 attenders, the ranking varies only slightly, with “administration”, “leadership” and “teaching” topping the list, followed by “discernment” and “wisdom”.
OK, enough about me. Time to read another blog. Mark Wheeler always makes me think.
Today was one of those days where it seemed that every meeting I had added new challenges to be dealt with. A new shepherding relationship that will be difficult. Choices made by others that will add to my workload. Positions held by others will complicate the decisions I must make. A finance team meeting leads to difficult decisions about priorities. A friend is making extremely painful choices about his marriage and I have little to offer.
All in all, not unlike the days of many others who engage in ministry, or just life. Thankfully God brings strength and wisdom in the midst of every day, or we would despair. And He brings reminders of the pleasant, joyful and good gifts He gives: Someone excited about gifts they are giving to one they love. Words of encouragement unknowingly spoken. A simple dinner out with my wife and daughter.
Another day to encourage us to find confident peace in the one who gives peace.
Before you follow this link to iMonk please note that I am a pastor in a very-well-to suburban church and have been for a long time. I like our church and I like what we do and I believe we are pursuing God. But I have to agree with iMonk that there is a very real danger in being in a church like ours. I saw it as a youth pastor. I see it today as an Executive Pastor. Whether we fully agree with all his points we certainly must be aware of this very real concern.
The danger? iMonk writes …
Suburban Christianity is frequently not about an honest following of Jesus. It’s about an edited, reworked Jesus who blesses the American way of life and our definition of normal and happy.
It’s Jesus the sponsor of our beautiful church. It’s Jesus the bus driver of the ticket to heaven. It’s Jesus the guy who wants us to be nice to children. It’s Jesus who presides over all kinds of niceness.
Hey….I can get that from Tony Robbins or Oprah. I don’t need to dilute the demanding, revolutionary promises of Jesus into the suburban American Dream. I can get that life from someone who makes no more demands on me than buying a book.
I too have at stories I could tell of those who had parents that affirmed God’s call in their kid’s life as long as it involved being mostly safe, didn’t take them too far away, or ruin chances for grandkids. And I can also tell stories of those who followed “God’s call” not to follow God but to find adventure, run away from parents, or to be with their friends – so I know how important it is to listen to wisdom from people of godly character.
But the danger is still real.
It is encouraging to find a growing trend among students. Check out this site – I’m almost persuaded to return to being a youth pastor!
In the first part of this blog reflection (bloglection?) I noted that “I believe that that in some cases the gospel message has become muddled to the degree that resultant “converts” reflect, at best, shallow shadows of true Christians. At worst, they might not even be saved.” How did this come to be? A variety of things seem to have conspired to “mess up” our gospel message. Please not that I’m sure that in most cases the motives involved are pure, but the practice seems off. In some cases ignorance of biblical teaching may be at the root. I’ve discerned at least four reasons might lead us to a muddled gospel message.
- A mindset in churches and church leaders that is numbers conscious to the extreme. When we make growth and increasing attendance numbers, or baptisms, or conversions, or whatever the measure of success we can be tempted to water down the message to get a response or a lot of responses. The tendency can easily become one of subtly changing the message to be more palatable while leaving out important parts of the message.
- A “fast food” society that demands information in small bites, and results in thirty minutes or less. We need to be committed to the “whole counsel” of God and commitment to long-term redemptive relationships.
- A humanism that has infiltrated our theology and practice that leads us to cater to the egocentric “felt needs” of men and women in our culture. An emphasis on therapy may be leading us astray from confronting the real need of man (which is to deal with sin that so corrupts everything). Helping someone through their personal struggles and “felt needs” may be a worthy task, but if that becomes the ultimate goal we may present a message of self-fulfillment rather that divine redemption.
- A “muddling of the means” of salvation, forgetting that it is not men, or methods, or prayers, or activities that save. Salvation is a gracious work of God as he alone can redeem us from our sins.
More to come…
I had the privelege of preaching this morning at Crossroads where I began a new expositional series on the the Epistle of James. We spent a few minutes talking about the author who I understand to be the half-brother of the Lord and the leader of the Jerusalem church; noted by Paul as a “pillar of the church”. James would certainly have had the right to make any of those credentials the foundation of his authority in writing, but he instead, calls himself a “servant”, more correctly “a slave” to God. He was a humble man, dependent on God, and noted for a lifestyle of prayer.
Yet his message is blunt and to the point. He pulls no punches. He calls sin what it is, and even points to the possibility that some of his readers may not possess genuine faith. He is both humble and bold, a servant who speaks truth, a man who would serve you best by boldly speaking into your life – and probably be marked as a friend.
I mentioned a man like that who I had known – Fred Barshaw. A godly man with whom I served as an associate in Southern California. He supported and encouraged me, disagreed with me, confronted me, rebuked me a time or two (or three), and did so in a manner that demonstrated his great love for me and our Savior. He was a great teacher-shepherd. The kind of guy who spoke truth and you never wondered about any “agendas” being hidden. He was an accomplished teacher with real degrees and accolades as a master-teacher and administrator, yet Dr. Barshaw was just Fred, a humble, bold friend who helped me grow in Jesus.
Your turn … add a comment … who is your James? The humble – bold person that touched your life?
I’ve started a new blog where I will hopefully post regularly on things of interest behind the scenes at Crossroads Bible Church. It will be interesting to see how many folks from CBC check in … I may have to run some kind of contest for the best comment, or the most significant question. Kind of an experiment in expanding our communication we figure it can’t hurt!
Snapshots of Crossroads … a look behind the scenes of a church.