TRIPPING ON POWER

imagesThe feature article in this months CT (Christianity Today) is about pastoral power in the local church.  The author, Andy Crouch, does a very fine job of discussing the differences and similarities between high power churches (think Roman Catholic or megachurches) and low power churches (think Quaker, congregational Baptists) and how power is neutral–it can be either good or bad depending on the user.  The best paragraph in the whole article, though, is almost lost because it is buried in the deep middle.  We all know that most people just skim these things–but they might miss this:

One prescription for power’s right use in high power distance communities is vulnerability and accountability.  If your church is one where the pastor dwells in unapproachable, sanctified splendor, it becomes all the more crucial that known elders and friends hold your pastor accountable.

This, sadly is about all Crouch says about the prevention of pastoral power abuse and that is a shame because abuse of power is a terrible situation that occurs far too often because what passes for church more often than not is merely a cult of personality.  As individuals, pastors should not matter that much–they are only servants doing their job.  Should they be respected?  Yes.  Should they be heeded as experts?  Yes.  Should they be revered as special?  No, absolutely not.  Should they be out of reach of the people they lead?  Never.

I wish Crouch would have said something like “pastors should not dwell in unapproachable, sanctified splendor,” but he didn’t.  I also wish he would have spilled more ink about how abuse of power can be prevented.  Since he didn’t I will.

1.  Ultimate financial power should be vested in a team of people whom the pastor must plead with to get funding.  For me it was the finance team in our church.  Often I would go round-and-round with them about how I wanted to spend money only to have them deny me again and again.  It was frustrating, but it kept my power in check and that was a good thing.

2.  Elders are all the rage now, but I still believe in congregational polity.  However, it is impossible for a congregation to keep a pastor in check.  My deacons always did this for me.  There was always one or two deacons in this small group who despised me, and that was actually a good thing.  Too many churches that have elders as their main body of decision makers have elders hand picked by the pastor.  This is very bad.  Deacons, by contrast, accumulate over the years and gather independent of a pastor’s selection so it provides a good balance.

3.  Money is a great temptation, but the greatest abuse of power in a church is sexual.  No pastor is beyond the realm of temptation and sin.  That is why the greatest tools for the prevention of abuse of power are simple things like windows and agreed upon protocols.  A window in every door is a must.  Again, my property people often did not understand this, but it is vital to have windows and see through glass.  If I could have, I would have made every wall for every room in the church (except bathrooms!) see through glass.  Protocols help to.  I once had a person ask me to pick up their 17 year old daughter from school because their car broke down.  No way.  It is just not negotiable.  I’d rather give her cab money or be judged uncaring.  By the way, things like this are a great reason why female pastors and deacons are not only biblical but sociologically necessary.

It is the church’s responsibility to keep the pastor’s power in check.  I do not mean to torment the pastor or to make life unbearable but I do mean that that the polity and the culture of a congregation should be such that abuse of power, though not impossible, would be difficult.

PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW

Tomorrow they are turning off the cable, which means I will have no internet, and the day after that I’ll be on the road to our new house so it will be a while before I can blog again, so I jolly well better do it now.

I have been intending to write for the last two weeks but honestly, I’ve been so busy with packing, cleaning, painting and transitional things that there literally has been no time.  Even here alone in the big empty house with only the idiot dog there have been too many dreadful things to do.  Its hard work prepping a house for a new owner.  But I am very thankful that the new owners are people we know and love, so this home will be filled with joy and peace.  That makes Mrs. Greenbean I very happy.

Now, to the topic at hand.  Two weeks ago I resigned my church, my beloved church of 14 years.  It was a very painful day.  You can hear my final words in the podcast for a full rationale, but here are some key reasons.

1.  We achieved all of the major goals I knew God called me hear to accomplish.

2.  I feel God is calling me to focus on my writing ministry full time.  It is impossible to pastor 60 hours a week and do this.

3.  The church no longer needs me.  If I thought it did, I would stay.  It doesn’t, so I must go.

4.  An important part of leadership is knowing the right time to exit.  The church is at peace, growing, and by every measurable marker healthy.  Only leave when things are good.  Never leave when things are bad.

5.  I have been here too long.  I can no longer see the changes that need to happen because I am a part of the system.

6.  The most important reason is my family and I feel that the time is right and that the Holy Spirit is moving us toward something new.  If we stayed, it would be an act of disobedience and control.  The church belongs to the Lord, not to me.

 

I knew that leaving would be hard, because I love First Baptist Church and have given so much of myself to her.  What I didn’t expect was that the sorrow would come in such intense waves.  My last Sunday (9 days ago) was very hard, but he hardest day was Thursday (5 days ago).  That is the day I cleaned out my office and turned in my keys and left the building for the last time as the church’s pastor.  That same day my wife left with a friend on the cross-country drive to meet the movers at our new home and that afternoon I sold my truck.  I know, I know, it sounds like a bad country and western song but in many ways I lost my job, my wife, and my truck all in the same day.  I was a mess all evening.

Periodically the sadness rolls upon me and drags me out into the surf of of salty  tears.  I don’t know if I will ever pastor again as I know The Lord has new adventures for me in different kinds of ministry, but I loved being a pastor, and I love FBCPO and so much of me is still emotionally connected to her.  There have been ups and downs over the years, but I don’t regret anything.  The future is exciting, but FBCPO is always a part of who I am and who I have become.

SUCCESS–LESSONS FROM THE “ULTRA” WEALTHY VIA YAHOO BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW ANY

I don’t know if it is proper to write ultra wealthy or ultrawealthy?  Or is it UltraWealthy?  I think I prefer ultrawealthy, with no capitalization.  There is something about using the modifier “ultra” as a compound that makes me think of cartoons.

Anyway, yesterday my home page had an article titled “7 Habits of the Ultra Wealthy”.  There is no one, absolutely no one in my sphere of influence who would be described as ultrawealthy but I read the Yahoo article anyway.  (I know I know, Yahoo is not cool and shows my age, but I just can’t bring myself to leave it.)  The gist of the article is that we can learn from the ultrawealthy about how to be, well, wealthier.  Here are the 7 habits, with all apologies to Stephen Covey.

  1. An equity position is necessary to get wealth.
  2. I’m always looking to gain an advantage in my business dealings.
  3. Doing things well is more important than doing new things.
  4. I hire people who are smarter than I am.
  5. It is essential I really understand my business associates motivations.
  6. I can easily walk away from a deal if it is not right.
  7. Setbacks and failures have taught me what I am good at.

So,  I read those seven and my mind connected with each of them:  These seven speak to pastoral leadership and church life–each one of them.  The difference is the goal is not ‘worldly wealth’ but ‘spiritual wealth.’  Here is what I was thinking for each one.

1.  An equity position is necessary to get wealth–An equity position is just ownership of a company.  A key issue for pastoral leadership is that the pastor must own the direction the congregation is headed, and allow those he or she leads to likewise take ownership and responsibility for setting the direction.  This is very, very hard.  it is not enough for the staff or for pastors to own a vision, but those in the congregation must own it too.  I always butt up against this one because I have found that my vision doesn’t always align with the vision of those I lead.  This is where most of our conflict emerges.

2.  I’m always looking to gain an advantage in my business dealings–The spiritual advantage, that is.  A key question for leadership must be something like, “What is the spiritual advantage that will come from this action (or inaction) when it is complete.”  Too often the question we ask is, “Who will this offend or make mad?” or “Can we afford it?”  I suggest those are the wrong questions.

3.  Doing things well is more important than doing new things–This is an axiom that is true of nearly everything.  I am trying to help our church come to a place where we do worship, small groups, and serving others really well.  Those are the big three, the only three things I try to focus on.

4.  I hire people who are smarter than I am–Yeah.  My associate pastor keeps reminding me how brilliant she is.  In all humility, though, it is hard to find people smarter than me and most of them already have jobs (written in sarcasm font).  Seriously, though, I try to add staff that are different in temperament and personality than I am.  It creates balance.

5.  It is essential I really understand my business associates motivations–This reminds me most of the work of preaching.  I just finished a series on doctrine.  I am ontologically motivated to enjoy doctrine and to see the inherent value in it.  However, I am in a minority.  Just saying the word “doctrine” usually causes people to either go to sleep or leave.  The majority of my work in preaching through this series has been to try and discover people’s motivations in the doctrine–where do they connect to it.  Until I’ve done that work, I really do not have a sermon, I have a lecture.

6.  I can easily walk away from a deal if it is not right–I interpret right to mean two things.  If some activity or ministry or issue emerges it must align with the core values of our congregation and it must be in keeping with my personality.  I’ve learned through the years that if I sign off on a program or ministry that doesn’t fit my personality then I am dooming myself to misery.  Several years ago we engaged in a door to door evangelism strategy propagated by our program driven denomination.  That is just not my style, but I signed on anyway.  The result was misery for me.  I will not make that mistake again.

7.  Setbacks and failures have taught me what I am good at–It is a truism that we learn more from our mistakes and failures.  I have made some tremendous bungles in the past and I promise that I will make tremendous bungles in the future, so will our church.  Yet I see that as a good thing, not a bad thing.  Churches and organizations that never try and therefore never fail in new adventures are destined to sunset and die, as they should.

And that is the “ultra” end to this blog post.

 

THE PRICE OF GAS AND PASTORAL MINISTRY or PASTORAL GAS

This week I have already logged 180 miles doing ministry.  I legitimately could have doubled that had I the time.  For example, today I am supposed to go to Tacoma for a denominational meeting.  It is a meeting I love and am prepared for, but will not be able to attend because of time constraints—next week is Holy Week and I’m a little busy.  So, if I were going to Tacoma again this week, that would up the mileage considerably.

Being in a car is not unusual for me or for any minister.  It is a part of the work and travel is an ancient part of ministry.  Jesus was always on the move as was the Apostle Paul.  To a certain extent I enjoy travel, whether by car, ferry or plane.  What has changed though in recent times is the cost of gasoline.  When I first began doing ministry gasoline was about $1.19 a gallon.  Yesterday I paid $4.05.  Experts are indicating that by the summer it could be as high as $5.00 a gallon.  If I take my 180 miles and assume 30 miles per gallon (which is a high estimate because much of the driving is stop-n-go traffic) I’ve spent $24 in gasoline this week.  Average that out over a month and we have $96, and in a year, well, that is $1,300.  This is money I do not get reimbursed for and which I do not get a tax deduction for because I already max out all my allowable deductions. 

My church pays me well, so the money is not a problem.  I am taken care of because i serve the greatest church in the world.  Other churches solve some of the problem by giving the minister a gasoline allowance.  That is probably a good idea.  The point though, that I am drawing out is regardless of who is paying or how well pastors are compensated, the price of doing ministry is going up—and this price is being calculated at a personal level.  I suspect there are many pastors who are not well compensated and who have no reimbursement plan from their church and the price of gas is killing them.  Will they get a haircut this week, pay for their kid’s band trip, or go make hospital visits?

I suspect that as energy costs rise, we might see the following changes to ministry.

  • More phone calls, less hospital/pastoral/how-are-you-doing visits.  This is a practice I need to nurture a little more.  Because I value the spiritual intimacy of face-to-face and the ministry of presence I’ve always been biased against the phone and in favor of in-person.  Probably I need to get over that.

 

  • Social media may become a tool for meetings and strategy planning.  If I am feeling the pinch as pastor, chances are very good that some of my leadership feel the same way.  I have some leaders who live very far away from the church building.  That means to come have a planning meeting or even attend a ministry event or even worship requires a greater financial sacrifice that others who live closer.  Social media might be a tool to bridge that gap.  How would Skype work in a hospital room?

 

  • Fewer meetings.  I need to do a better job of how I use my time and resources.  It is not very cost-effective (or time effective) to try and attend every meeting other people expect me to be at.

 

  • A renewed emphasis upon lay ministry.  Because the expense is getting higher, sharing that expense with dedicated laity—men and women who also serve—would help distribute the expense.  It is true there are some things only the senior pastor can do, but there are many things which capable, God-called people are able to do just as effective, if not better, than a pastor.  The problem of course is convincing pastors to move beyond this in theory and into practice.