Last night, Nancy and I watched the premier episode of Church Rescue, a reality show on the National Geographic channel about this cadre of three guys (the Church Hoppers) who travel around the country saving troubled churches (think Restaurant Impossible with more God, less mold, and smaller biceps). Initially, I was a little put off - NatGeo makes its money off of finding the strangest freaks and geeks, then creating a series around them (“What, you build underground bunkers to protect against zombie attacks? Cool!” “What, you dance with snakes and drink poison and hold fire to your skin, so that you don’t go to hell? Excellent!” “What, you weigh 1400 lbs and have fathered a brood of Icelandic, chainsaw-wielding, tuna-fishing, UFO-hunting, foreign prison-surviving, vertically-challenged Alaska state troopers [sorry, I mean, you and your three wives]? Well, then, just smile into the camera with the few teeth you have left, and we’ll start rolling!”). Now that their lenses have turned to pastors in churches, however, that means that suddenly the freak appears to be me (well, me and my three wives).
The episode was about Pastor Larry Roseboro and New Hope Baptist Church. Pastor Roseboro desperately wanted to build this big-old sanctuary, and it took the Church Hoppers to convince him to instead make better use of the facilities that he already had. He was resistant at first, but finally accepted their wisdom. At the end everyone was happily singing, dancing, and sweating in the little Bapticostal church. Good lesson - good show.
As I was watching, one key principal stood out to me - a pastor can’t do it on his own. If he tries, the church will inevitably collapse around him. So, why do pastors try to do it on their own? Two reasons - both equally destructive: 1) they want to, or 2) nobody steps up to help.
Pastor Roseboro was of the first type - he did it on his own, because he wanted to do it on his own. There were some circumstances that led to the position he was in. However, his pride and lack of teachability kept him in that position.
Please don’t get me wrong - I’ve got nothing but love and respect for Pastor Roseboro. He was out in that country church doing the Lord’s work. I suspect he was simply working things the way that he was taught to work them. There is no doubt that he has a deep love for the Lord and a passionate love for his church. Also, after some initial push-back, he humbled himself and accepted the guidance of the Church Hoppers. That is major pastoral studliness!
The church was never intended to be a sole proprietorship. Church, from the first century on, was about community. When there was disagreement in the early church, the Twelve didn’t appoint Stephen to take over and fix it. They appointed Stephen and Philip and Procorus and Nicanor and Timon and Parmenas and Nicolas to deal with the issue (Acts 6). Even the fact that there were Twelve leading the Church, as opposed to just Peter, shows that Church is a group project.
Another reason the “led-by-me” pastoral philosophy is a mistake is because “led-by-me” most often becomes “all-about-me”. Leading a church of devoted parishioners without anyone around to anchor a pastor to the ground is a dangerous road for anyone to walk. The local church was not designed to be a dictatorship; it was designed to be a republic. If you are in a church where it is all about the pastor, you are in the wrong church - run away, run like the wind.
Some control-issue pastors want to do it all on their own, but many more find themselves in that position through no fault of their own. As Malvolio once said in Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night, “Some pastors are born ‘it’s-all-about-me’, some achieve ‘it’s-all-about-me’, and some have ‘it’s-all-about-me’ thrust upon them.”
At my church, I’ve got a great board of elders, fantastic deacons, and a congregation well-stocked with godly servants. Many other pastors are not quite so blessed. Everyone has a calling in the Church of God and all have been gifted to fulfill that calling (1 Corinthians 12:7). However, if you could show me that even 50% were actually stepping up and fulfilling their role in the Kingdom of God, then I would gladly eat my shoe (although I might first argue with you that eating my shoe, in actuality, has nothing remotely to do with the situation at hand).
Why don’t people serve? The excuses are legion. My personal top ten:
1. I don’t know what to do.
• Ask your pastor, ask an elder, ask the nice lady who sits next to you every Sunday. Better yet, ask God to give you some direction. I’m thinking that’s a prayer He’d honor. Also, it’s possible the calling God has given you lies outside of the church proper. I’ve often told my congregation that I don’t care where you serve, as long as you are serving somewhere. The Church is much bigger than just that building where we get together to sing and listen to the pastor pontificate.
2. I don’t have any spiritual gifts.
• Oops! Don’t you hate it when God lets folks slip through the cracks? He promised to give gifts to everyone, but that’s a pretty tall order, especially when you consider just how big “everyone” is. But God can be excused - eternity is a long time - eventually it’s got to catch up with Him. Even Jesus in his humanity is working with a 2000-year-old brain, right? Can’t you just picture Him tearing apart heaven, digging through all the cushions in the Throne Room, sending angels wading into the glassy sea, desperately looking for where he left the keys to His white Mustang (see what I did there? Yeah…)?
3. I don’t have time.
• Yes, you do. Fix your priorities, then get back to me.
4. Isn’t that why we pay the pastor?
5. I’ve messed up so badly in my past, God could never use me.
• Paul imprisoned, tortured, and murdered Christians, and God seemed to use him to a fairly large extent. Isn’t the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of our God wonderful? (Besides - little secret here - chances are that the pastor or teacher or elder you’re looking up to has got some pretty herky stuff in his or her past, too.)
6. There are so many others who have so much more experience and are so much better at it than me.
• "If a church only used experienced people to serve its ministries, Captain, it would, logically, die off in a generation" (said in a Spockian monotone). And, in ministry, “better” is a word that has absolutely no practical meaning.
7. I need to work on my spiritual walk first.
• God’s not looking for perfect servants, otherwise every pulpit would be empty and every boardroom table would be collecting dust. God knows who you are, and still He’s called you to serve Him. How cool is that?
8. I’m too __________.
• Old, young, new in my faith, infirmed, fat, thin, tall, short, smart, dumb, German, whatever word you want to put in that blank, write it in. Good, now scratch it out, because it’s a bunch of hooey. Now, over it, write, “…useful to God to not be serving.”
9. My pastor wants to do it all himself.
• No, he doesn’t. He’s doing it all himself, because you’re not helping. Now, if you happen to be in one of those megalomaniac-led churches we spoke of earlier, please heed my previous advice and hoof it on out of town.
10. What if I find out that I don’t like what I’m doing or that I’m no good at it?
• Then stop doing it, and find something else. No harm, no foul. Sometimes discovering your calling is like a neon sign. More often, though, it’s a jigsaw puzzle. It takes time and experiences to place piece after piece. But eventually you’ll see the whole picture. It took me forty-four years to find my way to a senior pastor position, and I still don’t know if this is the whole puzzle or just another piece (and I may never know this side of heaven).
So, here’s to Pastor Larry Roseboro and New Hope Baptist Church. Here’s to all the small churches (and the big ‘uns, too) who are in the trenches doing the Lord’s work. Here’s to the pastors who are slogging it through day by day (often feeling alone, but knowing deep down that they are actually part of a much larger band of brothers and sisters). But, most of all, here’s to the people of the church - sacrificing their time, loving each other, serving their Lord. Those people right there, they are Church.