PR and BS

I recently watched a doco about the infamous Monty Python comedy team and they showed a great clip from “The Life of Brian” where Brian is “preaching” (aka begging the crowd to leave him alone) and was telling the people that they were all unique. In unison they all shouted “YES!” except for one old fellow who said “I’m not”. Which I find very funny. Maybe you need to have seen it or appreciate British humor, but there’s such a sweet irony in that little vignette.

It’s amazing how “crowd control” or the use of PR (public relations, aka propaganda) can be used to produce a strong pressure to conform in a church situation. I used to employ it all the time, but I hated it. I did it for the “right” reasons, but in hindsight, the means didn’t justify the ends.

I’ve wanted to write about this, but needed the time to think it through. I saw a status update some time ago on the Facebook wall of a young pastor who was re-posting something that he attributed to a tweet from Brian Houston, pastor of Hillsong Church in Australia. I haven’t checked his source, so it’s just hearsay, but it essentially said this; “Opinions don’t build the house, wisdom builds the house”. Instantly I was piqued at this comment, because I knew where it was coming from but didn’t have the organized ideas to express why I could smell a rat.

But after going to church on Sunday, I’ve organized my thoughts. It’s about producing conformity – we sell it as unity, but it’s no more than a strategy used by pastors for crowd control, and to apply pressure to a group of people to behave and think in certain ways that will ultimately help you achieve your goals. The motives were pure, the method’s weren’t.

You see, the moment you say “opinions don’t build the house, wisdom does”, it enables you to write off anything that is contradictory to your paradigm, philosophy, strategy, vision, values, and culture as an “opinion” and label anything that reinforces your modus operandi as “wisdom”. It’s really clever. You pump this stuff out subversively and within a few minutes you’ll have the majority censoring the minority with “wisdom” versus “opinion” judgments. Non conformists after all and viewed darkly as threats to “unity” without which God will not command the blessing.

The reason I was able to organize my thoughts was because of going to church on Sunday. The senior pastor who replaced me was relating how exciting his week was in the preamble before the giving and mentioned that someone had come up and said they wanted to give a thousand dollars to the church. Another had approached him and asked where they could serve in the church. He attributed these conversations to the work of the Holy Spirit and summarized by saying that if the Holy Spirit is moving in your life, you’ll get involved. I have no problem with this… except that if you look through this prism the other way, you end up with the idea that if you’re not involved, the Holy Spirit is not moving in your life.

I used to drop these kinds of statements in all the time. It was a way of communicating to people very subtly and cleverly a kind of group-think that reinforced certain ideas and behaviors designed to achieve some ulterior purpose.

But if it was for freedom that Christ has set us free, maybe we shouldn’t let ourselves be enslaved by PR, or worse propaganda, or even worse… BS.

So, I went to church today…..

My old mentor was visiting from interstate and speaking at the church I used to pastor, under his leadership, so I thought I’d face my feelings of failure and head down there to see how it would be. This week I met with my psych and discussed the feelings of failure and being a loser and the fact that going to church brings all those up for me. It reminds me of my uselessness. It was a great discussion and I’ll shed some light one what we talked about later. I decided to journal throughout the service, and I’ve decided to leave it un-edited. So it’s a bit of a scramble, but it’s how it came out. Maybe it’s more questions than ideas!

All up I had a good time. I endured the preamble propaganda and I had some great conversations after the service, which is what made it for me. Some people really do care about me I guess and were glad to see me…. Here goes:

Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. It can be an exciting, vibrant uplifting thought provoking event.
Essentially a party, a shindig. There’s a band, a speech at a party. It should glorify god. Should b encouraging. Open to all.
It’s not church but the church is there

Leaders should seek to facilitate a connection and an experience with god and not get in the way and not be the centrepiece and freakingwell relax. How much help does god need? What if we just got people together and god turned up, what could we add?

What does the bible mean by preaching? Interesting that public speaking was one of the day’s most popular form of entertainment…. But we don’t feed people to lions anymore so do we need to preach? Besides it looks like mainly the apostles preached. Was timothy an apostle? Was paul saying for timothy to harness one of the most popular pasttimes to communicate god’s ideas or the person of jesus?

Owning buildings is not a problem it’s raising the money for them that creates the problem. The focus of the leader becomes compromised.

It has to b a party that is also authentic. So it needs to acknowledge pain and injustice.
It can’t be glib or superficial and no propoganda.

18-30’s r gone. Most under represented age group because they smell inauthenticity and have a very sensitive BS meter. How do we get the young adults back? Ask them?

Testimony and story is important. Corporate prayer

Minimal agenda.

Passivity is an issue. Pple just sit or stand.

Love the idea of contemplation and meditation.
Why isn’t there any silence? Because we’re afraid.

If sunday is a worship service what forms of worship can we incorporate? It can’t b a free for all tho.

The form of the service should reflect the culture of the people celebrating for it to be authentic. Which is why copycat doesn’t work.

Bottom line; if i walked out of an event knowing that god had spoken or touched me personally, that would be enough. everything else would be superfluous.

Why do we have to try and jam so much into 90 mins? We does it have to be efficient and productive? Why can’t we waste time in god’s presence? Probably because we don’t want to lose people. Which only matters if we face budget pressure or the tyranny of ego, or failure to meet misguided success of numbers. The idea that the more people who come the better something is may be a fallacy. Lots of people have come to cults….

Linchpin Leadership

Church leaders are definitely the linchpin of the church. From my farming background the linchpin is that special piece of steel that connect the tractor to the plough, or whatever other tool you wish to drag around. It basically makes something useful, by connecting it to power.

Somehow, church leadership has become the linchpin. Connecting the congregation to God’s power. We provide the motivation, the impetus, the force, the forward momentum to what is otherwise fairly inanimate, heavy, bulky, awkward and otherwise useless. That’s the honest reality of the situation.

It’s even more spooky when you look at the dictionary definition of a linchpin:

something that holds the various elements of a complicated structure together

And that too, goes to the heart of modern day church leadership. Holding the various elements of a complicated structure together.

But how did it get to be, that the church nowadays, revolves around the leader? It was never meant to be was it? Today’s church would be anarchy without a good leader. And if not anarchy and chaos, it would be relatively useless. Going nowhere, doing nothing. The leader is the linchpin, and I hated it.

There is no great church in the western world which doesn’t have a charismatic, gifted, experienced, strong leader at the head of it. So where else can we look for examples? We never hear about the african church that exploded with growth after their leaders were put in prison, or the chinese churches that seem to grow with jailed pastors.

Great churches in the west rise and fall on their leaders giftedness and strength. When those leaders go, if the replacement is a lesser leader, the watermark of the church falls to meet his (never hers) level. But was it always meant to be this way?

The dictionary definition of holding various elements together makes me visualize someone being drawn and quartered by wild horses. There are elements in the church that pull in opposing direction. Ever googled “worship wars”? Pastors are the linch pins and they are being pulled apart in every corner of the western world. Barna estimates 1700 pastors are leaving the ministry every MONTH in the US.

Surely leadership in the church was never meant to be the linchpin. It’s just a gift people….

Relevance Deprivation Syndrome

It’s election time in parts of our country, so politicians have been wildly racing about promising to splash the cash anywhere that might mine a few votes out of the tailings that make up the already mined swinging voters.

In an interview with a couple of former politicians, an interesting phrase popped up in the following context from a former party leader:

”Everyone tells you when you leave you’re going to suffer relevance deprivation syndrome. And when you first leave, it takes some adjustment.” When a natural disaster hit his state he admits, he ”felt relatively useless at a time when there were a lot of things to be done in government.

Other former politicians when interviewed for the article touched on a couple of things that rang my “burned out leader” bells as well.

”If I had not got out of that particular spotlight, or cauldron, or whatever analogy you want to use, I would be a much less happy person. For me, [retiring] was an overwhelming relief.”

Relief is the word another uses too.

”A lot of people complain that they miss the phone ringing,” she says. ”Oh! Joyful! To be able to play music and not have it constantly interrupted by the sound of a mobile!”

When I resigned from ministry thirteen months ago, I too was relieved. I could no longer sustain the weight of responsibility with debilitated mental health. I was too worn down, the nerves too frayed. The toll on my marriage and family life too high and help was too late.

I remember hating my mobile phone ringing. I would rarely answer it. I rarely answer it today and even less our home phone. I just don’t like talking to people. I still haven’t fully recovered. I avoid ringing people back. I don’t know why. I much prefer to text….

And I definitely suffer relevance deprivation syndrome. Aalthough it’s not technically a scientifically recognized affliction it does help to put a label on how I usually feel. One has described it as

“Someone who used to be not just important or famous but useful, no longer is. Their opinion was sought on important decisions, they were kept informed and people needed their permission to do things. Now someone else runs the show and things happen that they don’t know the details of, rationale for and aren’t consulted about. It’s a bit like growing old and watching the teenagers smoke their heroin tablets and run on your lawn.”

Makes me wonder why pastors and leaders are deemed so important in the first place.

Upside Down Leadership

I had lunch today with an older man who mentors dozens of pastors and leaders around our county. I meet with him roughly quarterly. It’s great to have someone to bounce things off and get fresh perspective. He asked me how I was changing and I gave him an example of how everything I thought, is slowly changing. One example I gave him was in the area of leadership.

Leadership for a typical pentecostal is a fairly authoritative affair. The good pentecostal leader seeks God for a “vision”, then sets about casting the vision, obtaining a strategy (also from God), sets goals, and gets about the task. Basically it involves defining some kind of “destiny” for the church and mobilizing the people toward that destiny. It’s not dissimilar to what a CEO might do in a private company.

The hardest thing is to create ownership and keep the people motivated. It’s basically a case of lassoing the people and dragging them down some road that you believe they should be taken. Then it’s just a matter of who is strongest. You’ll either burn-out if you run out of energy first (like me), or if you’re strong and lucky, you’ll get the people there by sheer willpower. All this, is a top-down approach. The leader is in charge of getting the vision, setting the goals, formulating the strategy and mobilizing the people toward the destiny.

I’d do things differently now. In fact, I’d do it upside down – or in reverse. That is, if I ever had the misfortune to be leading people again.

Because I’ve now been vaccinated against motivating large groups of people and keeping them motivated, I’d have to do something very different. I know this is unconventional, and I don’t know anyone doing it, but here’s what it would look like.

I would find out from the people where they wanted to go, and what they see as being their destiny. Then I would serve them by facilitating what is in their hearts. I would try and usher them into what God has put in their hearts already. I would try and help each one find out what they are gifted to do and encourage them to play a role in moving forward that was in-line with their gifting and passion. I would become a miner, of gifts and talents, and try and unearth them and refine them.

It would be a matter of lifting people toward their destiny, rather than in trying to be out front dragging them to some place no-one really wants to go. I would consider that truly servant leadership.

That way I would avoid “using” people and abusing them. I would be giving them dignity and respect. I would presume they could hear from God as well as I could. I wouldn’t be the initiator, God would. I would in some ways, just be the guy clearing the way for the people to reach the destiny God had for them.

Feeling Crap

I have been trying to journal lately. My psych gave me eight sub headings to journal on. I use an online journal (one that allows me to download my entries for backup – would hate for the site to go down and lose all my entries).

The areas to journal on are:

    Thinking
    Feeling
    Body (how is my body feeling?)
    Senses (centering exercise – see, touch, feel, hear etc.)
    Hopes
    Fears
    Dreams
    Intentions (what I am going to do today/tomorrow)

The idea of this is that you can see trends and commonly recurring themes.

Probably the most recurring them is that I feel crap pretty much all the time. More specifically, I feel a combination of dull sadness and hurt. It’s there when I wake up, it’s there all day, and it’s there when I go to bed.

I’m having trouble getting motivated to do anything. I can do the bare minimum, but have trouble doing certain things and have to “wait” for the motivation to come. For example, I’ve been working but haven’t invoiced any customers this year. They must think it’s odd, but I just can’t get around to it…. I need to chop wood for the fire this winter, but can’t get around to it.

The psych thinks I’m grieving. But what the hell is wrong with me? It’s not like I’ve lost a limb, or my eyesight, or a loved one. I’ve just lost meaning is all! I feel sad about feeling sad.
Anyway I’m hoping that this crap feeling will go away one day. I really hope it does go away. I hope I don’t have to stay like this a day longer that I need to. I fear it will never go away.

On the upside, i’ve applied for a two-day a week job bringing a depression awareness program into high schools in my area. It goes until the end of june. I probably won’t get the job, but thought I might apply anyway. It’s the first job I’ve actually applied for since quitting ministry.

Fat, Forty and Fired

My wife also gave me “Fat, Forty and Fired” by Nigel Marsh, the story of an advertising exec, whose company was bought out. Very funny and a great read, with some very reflective thoughts in between. I guess I’m not alone.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted a change. I’d recently read a book called Manhood, by a Steven Biddulph, that argued that every man should be forced to take his fortieth year off. His theory was that the vast majority of men don’t have a life – they pretend to have one. In reality they are lonely, emotionally timid, and miserably, compulsively competitive. One of the main reasons they never get out of this tragic state is that they are enslaved by soulless jobs and careers that lead them to put their lives on hold until retirement.

Of course, when this arrives it is too late. While they work they are too busy to think and therefore they have empty lives where they never develop a rich and sustaining inner life.

As Biddulph puts it “Our marriages fail, our kids hate us, we die of stress and on the way we destroy the world.” I wasn’t sure if it was the effects of the medication i was on, but his year-off notion struck a real chord.

As a young man I used to have a vibrant social life both inside and outside of work. I don’t want to pretend I was a culture vulture but it would be fair to say I had the skill of burning the candle at both ends down to a fine art. Irrespective of how immature and irresponsible I was, the one thing my life wasn’t was one dimensional. Now I only seemed to work, prepare for work, complain about work or go to sleep – and dream about work.

Also, more worryingly, my “nice factor” was diminishing. I was sure all parents shouted at their kids but I was less certain they shouted at them quite as often as I did. I’d become a bit player in my family – leaving in the morning before they got up and arriving home after they were in bed (but early enough unfortunately, to catch Kate and bore the tits off her with yet more dull stories of my work travails).