Tag Archives: pastors

Blind guides: What professional church leaders think about members who ask questions

In a recent Baptist Press article titled “When people criticize church leadership”, Thom Rainer took on the task of addressing why it is that

The level and frequency of criticisms toward pastors and other leaders has increased significantly in the past several years.

Thom’s observations begin with:

First, the standards of church membership have been low in many churches for many years. As a consequence our churches have more and more unregenerate members. Frankly, I would be not be surprised if some of the most vitriolic criticisms come from those who are not Christians.

I’ve heard this line of reasoning offered by several professional pastors so its hardly surprising that Thom would offer this as his initial point. What is surprising is the amount of arrogance required to sustain such a position. Who is Thom or anyone else to call into question anyone else’s commitment to Christ? Oh sure, we could if the person in question fit any of the Biblical criteria for doing so, but as far as Thom is concerned, merely asking questions is enough grounds to call into question one’s salvation.

Second, church members have been unwilling to take a stand when they see and hear unwarranted criticism toward the pastor and other leaders. This silence is shameful and sinful. Belligerent critics remain critics often because other church members are fearful of rebuking them. In some ways, the silent majority is just as wrong as the constant critics.

I’m not sure what churches Thom has been to, but in my experience quite the opposite is true. A member of the congregation is expected to face considerable odds if they wish to even raise a question regarding their pastor or leadership. And when they do, there is an inevitable wall of deacons and other groupies that usually descend on them like jackals to corral them back into line. This is what most pastors consider “unity”.

The first seven verses of Acts 6 tell the story of complaining by a group in the early church. In this case, the concern was warranted because a group of widows was being neglected. The Twelve appointed seven men to take care of the widows and thus, stopped the criticisms.

Though it may not be the central thrust of the text, we see clearly that a divided and critical congregation was a serious concern for early church leaders. The ministry had to continue, and the divisiveness had to stop. We also see that the entire congregation had a stake in this issue (verse 5, “The proposal pleased the whole company”). There was no sinful and silent majority unwilling to tackle this issue.

This exposes a common trait among professional church leaders. Thom assumes here, with admittedly no Biblical support, that the primary focus of church life is on the leaders. So much for that whole bit about the greatest being servants and all that jazz. No sir, that’s not the sort of stuff that will allow pastors to build massive churches based off of the tax free donations of others.

At least in principle, the solutions are simple. The standards of church membership must be held high, and the benefits are numerous beyond just dealing with critics. We can’t expect unregenerate church members to act like Christians.

Apparently regenerate church members are people who don’t cause any waves. They don’t ask questions. In fact, the really regenerate church members are barely distinguishable from zombies.

Its little wonder that churches today are bleeding members left and right. Or that the average “regenerate” church member is unable to answer even the mildest challenge to their faith.

Second, church members must be willing to confront the sinful behavior of the perpetual and ill-intentioned critics. While no church leader should be above legitimate criticisms, the tide has turned too far in the other direction. Criticisms are paralyzing too many good leaders.

Its fascinating that Thom spends so much time assuming that the bulk of criticisms are illegitimate and yet provides no concrete basis on distinguishing between the two. In fact, Thom’s remaining article addresses how to throw out what he considers to be threats to the church business. Little, if any, consideration is given to the question of how we are to tell if the pastor and leaders is wrong and what to do if they are.

My guess is that this omission is due to the underlying assumption of most pastors that they are “god’s men” and have somehow been rendered infallible (likely by their supposed special calling and subsequent ordination into the ‘priesthood’).

Even though Thom’s article is almost 100% wrong, it is useful in pointing out one thing. I believe the attitude Thom displays here is a large reason why men like myself steer clear of most institutional churches as much as we can.

Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit. -Matthew 15:14


Why I’m not enthusiastic about your church either

In a conversation regarding the post, Why I don’t want to go to your church, I came to the revelation that even if pastors and church staff are aware of the issue of declining church attendance that plagues most churches in America today, they still manage to miss the reason for the decline and thus their proposals for fixing the problem are doomed to failure from infancy.

First off, we need to look more closely at the problem.

When we define “the church” as a 501c3 non-profit organization, its little wonder that people are not enthusiastic about participating in programs that amount to glorified marketing schemes.

Rather, what we should do is step back and ask some hard questions about how we view the Christian life. What does it mean to walk in obedience to Christ, our Lord? What does it mean to live in fellowship with our fellow brothers and sisters who are also “in Christ”? And finally; What does it mean to let our lights sigh before men?

I believe that among other things, social media will help produce as significant an impact on the body of Christ as the printing press did.

So what of the solution?

Well the solution is not to merely get mad at people for not being enthusiastic about joining yet another civil club. Its also not to encourage them to be more active in your particular civil club. Its also not to get mad at them for preferring a more entertaining civil club down the street (you know, the one with the disco lights and full screen projector1 ). The solution is for us to admit that what the reformation started, it did not complete.

What I mean by that is this: The reformers correctly identified the dependence on the priests of the Roman Catholic Church as a problem. They also correctly identified the Bible as the primary source of authority. However in splitting with Rome they neglected to get rid of Rome’s worst habit, viewing the church as a business.

The solution to the plight of the American church, therefore, is to work on reclaiming a Biblical understanding of “church”.

We’ve been attending a home church with our 3 small children for a couple of years now. At first the whole “we’re going to church” used to confuse our kids when we would switch between going to a building erroneously labeled a “church” and a small gathering of believers living out the Biblical concept. Now, however, our kids are well aware of the two seperate and distinct meanings of the word “church” and they ask us whenever we tell them “we’re going to church”, “the building or the people?”

Believers in general need to come to the realization that the 501c3 non-profit club they have “membership” in is not the church spoken of in Scripture. Oh I’m not saying its wrong to be a member of such an organization, but we need to stop lying to ourselves and others by expecting such membership to amount to anything more than membership at the local YMCA.

So why am I not enthusiastic about your church? Because I’m not impressed by your programs, your entertainment, your pastor, etc.

However I am enthusiastic about the church, headed by Christ alone. Now that is something worth getting excited about.

  1. I’m thinking about Andy Stanley’s church in particular here. []

Problems with church planting: Too many farmers

The move to focus on church planting strikes me as a massive welfare to work program for the newly minted pastors that SBC seminaries are churning out by the busload. All those pastors need to find jobs in order to pay off their student loans and make a living. The only market with a demand for their skills are the church businesses. And since there aren’t enough existing churches to meet the supply, in fact the demand is decreasing, the only other alternative to lessening the supply (which would mean discouraging people from pursuing theological degrees in the hopes of being employed in a clergy capacity) is to try and salt the market.

This means pastors are expected to become entrepreneurs and start new businesses in risky markets in hopes that demand will follow supply is strikingly similar to what Starbucks tried to do through their opening of hundreds of stores, many times in close proximity to one another, and having them basically fight for survival. I’m sure Starbucks considers the fraction of stores that managed to survive on razor thin profit margins a net gain. But at what cost in both capital as well as manpower? For each store that succeeds you have to factor in the numerous stores that failed in order to get a more accurate understanding of the costs incurred. This, of course, assumes that growth, indeed exponential growth in many cases, is required and not optional. It is. Other business models, specifically that of Chick-fil-A show us that real success comes through careful observation of the market, self-assessment, planning, and implementation. Chick-fil-A doesn’t plant very many stores compared to other businesses in their industry, but the ones they plant have a much higher chance of being successful and self-sufficient.

By contrast, it is a widely known and accepted fact that the vast majority of church plants fail in less than 5 years. And even though it is never a pleasant circumstance when a business fails, it is even more tragic when the business that fails is headed by someone fresh out of seminary, sporting large personal and business debts. What I find mildly amusing is that the SBC condemns gambling (and drinking) and yet it seems hell bent on putting the unfortunate pastoral entrepreneur on the fast track to doing both.


Life finds a way

..or “why the way we traditionally ‘do church’ hurts us in ways we can’t even begin to fathom.”

A random stranger recently asked:

Myself and many others find mutual edification every Sunday. If all you ever did to worship in a regular, organized church setting is passively listen to one man then I’m sorry for you.

How do you know that people aren’t using their God given gifts at any organized church setting?

How would you substantiate the claim that ~98% (my number) of pastors in America are damaging and detrimental to their churches for standing and preaching a sermon?

I wouldn’t place a number on the number of detrimental pastors nor would I claim that some pastors weren’t gifted and able to be used in spite of the flawed system they find themselves in. However I would point to three lines of evidence to substantiate my claim that the system we have come up with of clergy ruling over the laity is harmful.

In the first place, a hierarchical system where non-preachers are viewed as less spiritual, where the gift of preaching is exalted above all other gifts is plainly against many passages found in scripture including Jesus’s own admonition that his own disciples not follow the pattern of the world in setting up hierarchical “power over” systems.

Secondly I would point to the perpetual spiritual immaturity that is fostered and festering in most churches (particularly Southern Baptist and Methodist churches as those are the ones I have the most experience in). When people are told that rigorous study of the word of God is limited to an elite few “chosen” men the end result is a logical abdication of serious study on the part of the “average” churchgoer. This is one of the reasons I believe areas such as apologetics have historically had such a hard time making inroads into the local church because most pastors feel threatened by the prospect of their congregation actually being educated and able (empowered?) to ask serious questions. Sadly it doesn’t have to be like this and I’ll explain in my third line of reasoning below.

Finally, I believe that the system we’ve manufactured (sure, as early as 300AD, but early errors are still errors) and have come to accept as an unquestionable fact is harmful to the Body of Christ is because it leads directly to pastors either being burned out or becoming dictators (I believe in some cases merely for self-preservation). Nowhere in Scripture are we presented with a description of a man who is supposed to shoulder the load that we expect the average “professional” pastor to carry. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that one man in a local group of believers is in charge of visiting the sick, ministering to all the members, responsible for the bulk of spiritual instruction, etc.

Sadly, it doesn’t have to be this way as what we find, instead, portrayed in Scripture is a community where each member of the Body of Christ helps shoulder the responsibility of mutually edifying one another.

Now I’m not claiming that such communities don’t exist within institutional church settings. On the contrary, I believe that the church is a living organism and as Dr. Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park, “life finds a way.” such that there are many pockets of small intimately connected believers that are found in many churches. However what I’m claiming is that those pockets of organic communities that exist within the confines of an institutional church often happen in spite of the system we’ve come to accept and not because of it.

When the main period of “worship” in most churches is seen as being the Sunday morning service (often referred to as “the big show”) the question is not whether members are allowed to employ their gifts at another time but whether they are encouraged to employ their gifts in the meeting on Sunday morning. Since most believers are not encouraged to participate openly I submit that the resulting system where only a few members of the body of Christ are allowed to speak or otherwise monopolize the meeting implicitly implies that the members who are not allowed to participate (think about what would happen if someone were to have a “word of prophecy” and decide to share it in the average Southern Baptist Church) are somehow inferior.

Until we come to terms with the lack of open participation and mutual edification found in most of our churches I do not think we will see anything other than more of the same when it comes to the church’s impact on the world around us.

One must also wonder why we are so reluctant to change as well considering that we regularly hear tales from missionaries and brethren in churches overseas which lack the streamlined hierarchical leadership structure we see here (think Korea, China, South America, etc.) exploding with new believers and a spiritual maturity that ought to make us hang our heads in shame.

So, the clergy/laity split is detrimental in at least 2 ways: 1.) it harms the spiritual growth of the “average” Christian and 2.) it leads to clergy burnout. And the opposite to the clergy/laity split I’ll call the open participatory format is supported by 1.) Scripture as well as 2.) our own experience of demonstrable spiritual vitality in places that do not cling to a clergy/laity distinction/split.