My Flyfishing club

John Knowles playing a beautiful brown trout at Double Lagoon

I joined a fly fishing club about 18 months ago as I unraveled and knew intuitively that I needed something outside of church and family as a refuge that would help me deal with the seething emotions and backlog of mind bending gymnastics I was going through. The big spin off, is that the longer I’ve been involved, the more impressed I am at this club and how much of a metaphor it is for the church. Oddly, it operates more like I think the church should be than the church I operated!

It’s one of the largest clubs in the country, yet it’s in the least populated state. It runs the largest fly fishing school in the country, pulling people from thousands of miles away who make the trek every year. None of the club members get any financial support for what they do, it is 100% voluntary. I’ve met fishers from other clubs nearby, who are envious of the way the club is run, the relationships and camaraderie and of course, our success.

Oddly, I didn’t meet the club president for some 14 months after joining despite attending two schools (which he didn’t attend) and several other events. He has an amazing team that seems to keep everything rolling sweetly. He obviously delegates well, but at the same time provides enough direction and leadership for the rest of the team to function well.

Everyone who helps out with the events, meetings, training, newsletter, comps etc. are passionate about helping others. They actually serve faithfully and passionately, doing everything they can to pass on their knowledge and take time out to do it well. One such individual, Athol, spent quite a bit of time helping my nine year old with his casting technique when we enrolled together. I was impressed. Another individual, Martin, took it upon himself to organize kids games from 5.30-6.30pm on each day of the camp to entertain the kids so the parents could have a break and get some supper together.

Financially, this club is the bomb. They only have one fundraiser per year, and that’s at the summer fly fishing school. Businesses donate thousands of dollars worth of prizes and these are raffled off on the last night seated in the big marquis over biscuits, cheese and wine amidst a whole lot of laughter and fun. Thousands of dollars are raised. The camp only costs some $120 to attend and you receive access to fishing experts, guides, casting instructors, and international fishers for a whole week worth probably one thousands dollars of tuition. The club have built a lodge without going into debt in the highlands surround by world class trout fishing waters that I can stay at for $7 per night. Yes that’s right, an almost new lodge for $7 per night in the middle of world class trout fishing. What’s more, they have tens of thousands still in the bank.

The servanthood is amazing. One individual inducted as a life member of the club, George, is at virtually every event cooking or catering for everyone else. At the camp he takes care of all the sanitation. He empties and cleans the portable toilets twice a day and does a water run also twice daily for all the campers. The amazing thing is, George is in his seventies and is badly in need of a hip replacement as indicated by his swaying gait. He’s too old to fish now, so he just serves people. In his spare time he serves the community by doing hospital runs for invalids and a myriad of other things to help people.

I’ve realized how it works. It works on passion. Every member who serves, teaches, instructs, hosts, cooks, guides, encourages, photographs, travels and befriends, is totally passionate about flyfishing and helping others experience the joy they have experienced. They’re giving something back to a cause that has given so much to them. It’s the ultimate motivator – passion. No-one is grudging, it doesn’t eat into their time, they’re not too busy, they’re not tired and “meetinged out”, they’re not being cajoled or put on guilt trips, they aren’t operating under “shoulds”, they just love what they do and they love imparting it to others. Simple. But effective.

I can honestly say, I love to hang around with these guys. It’s so easy going. It’s not strained, or forced. It’s bliss.

If only the church could learn something from this club.

Time is not my friend.

I feel oppressed by Time. It’s got one over me.

On Fridays I begin to feel down because that means the weekend is here, which means the weekend is soon going to be over and that means Monday’s coming which means I need to go to work again. It’s not that I don’t like work, I like it when I’m there, but getting there requires me to dig deep and pull something out of my precious reserves to motivate myself to do it all over again.

Time for me has a relentlessness and senselessness to it all that is like Japanese water torture. Drip, drip…. drip. It’s like the death of a thousand cuts. It seems to be grinding me down. Another week goes by, another month. It’s coming at me faster than I can contemplate it. It doesn’t seem fair. It’s like the pitcher launching a curve ball before I’ve even swung through the air and squared up at the plate. It’s like the bowler running in before I’ve faced up at the crease. It seems  just that little bit ahead of me all the time. It’s like a car cutting into my lane on the freeway, then braking, now accelerating.

It’s moving faster than my resources can manage it. I used to manage Time. Now it just stares me down and pushes me about in a sullen way that leaves me feeling molested and violated. I can’t move at the same pace that Time moves. I used to dance with Time and if I needed to, I could outstrip it and leave it for dead. I would save Time. I would kill Time. I would fill Time. I could make Time. I would milk Time for all it’s worth. But now it has its sweet revenge and I feel like a rag-doll in the mouth of a rottweiler pup that doesn’t know its own strength, nor the fragility of its toy.

I wish everything could slow down. I want to be like Neo in Matrix who could, like a police officer, extend his hand and bend and shift Time and bring it to a standstill.

I wish I had the mental agility to process the content of Time, to make the decisions that need to be made moment by moment, and the energy to interact with my environment borne along and powered by that primal energy that forces the earth to rotate around the sun. But I don’t. I’m moving in slow motion, but my world isn’t. We are out of sync and the mismatch is taxing me at the maximum rate, and there won’t be a refund at the end the of the year. Just another year and more Time slipping by and shoving me on its way through.

I protest and refuse to cooperate and play Time’s game. I try to slow down and mark Time in the hope that Time will see some sense. But who am I kidding? King Canute as much as he tried, couldn’t stop the tide. And I am a hapless victim mesmerized by the ticking of a Time bomb like a rat looking into the eyes of a cobra.

Things Scrapheap Pastors do to Recover

In the organization I work for, we have a working group who form policy on helping employees with mental illness back to work. I’ve lodged an expression of interest to sit on the working group to offer some of my thoughts. In the meantime I thought I’d give you some reflections on what has helped me return to work.

Back in 1994 a pastor BM built the church building that I pastored in. He had foresight and great leadership to take a relatively small congregation and purchase eight acres on a major arterial and build a 450 seat auditorium. Shortly after it was completed (a matter of months), he resigned, handed the church over and moved interstate. I was living interstate myself during this time and didn’t move to this church until just after he left. I did however meet him some years later and found out what he was doing. He was running a one-man gardening, mowing and handyman service. Apparently he’d done building programs before, and our church was “the last he had in him”.

This theme is repeatable. Pastor JT arrived at another church I know having pastored for many years. He came to just sit and soak and bring his family in to be restored. He ended up running a fencing company. Pastor RW did the same, but returned to part time study and worked on cars as a mechanic. MW ended up with domestic duties while his wife went out to work. A number of others I know locally did the same as me after they burned out. They worked in agriculture.

I have found working in manual labor to be a wonderful experience. It’s not stressful, in fact I find it nourishing – for a few reasons. One, I’m getting paid to get fit. It’s physical work and this strengthens my body and increases my fitness. It helps me sleep at night. Secondly, being physical without much mental effort required, I can chew the cud so to speak and detune. I have space to think and process my emotions. Something that was impossible in the frenetic pace that ministry was. Thirdly, the outdoors and especially the greenery of plants, (or at one stage, pasture and cows) was therapeutic. I worked in the rain, in the mud, the wind, the sunshine and warm breeze, and it all reminded me that I was alive. Finally, I worked with normal everyday people. Good people that I have come to enjoy. I’ve developed some great friendships – something that gets a bit complicated when you’re someone’s pastor.

So my view, is if you’ve burned out in ministry spending most of your time at a desk, in front of a PC, on the phone, traveling or in meetings, get out and do something part time in a physical, refreshing, low stress environment with normal people. (The thumbnail is mine, I hope you like it).

Sack the Pastor III

So, I’ve been talking about sacking the pastor, and hopefully I’ve made a good albeit brief stab at convincing you of the reasons. I haven’t offered any solutions as yet, and if you’re anything like me, you will have probably gotten an inkling of some solutions already, but possibly a little cynically thinking “alright then smarty pants, what’s the answer?”

I believe I was called and gifted by God to lead his people. I’ve done it for a long time, and done it really well – until I burned out. I could have done it better, but I have more wisdom now, and I can’t afford to court regret, she’s too tough a mistress. The point is, I love leading, and I want to follow God in what He created me for. Leading is something I’d do whether paid or not. I would definitely be happy to work 3-4 days a week in paid vocation and volunteer a day a week serving in the church with my giftings. I’d be crazy not to. When we do what we’re created to do, the buzz, the joy, and the rewards are more than worth what we’d lose in income. After all, how much more money is it going to take to make us happy, satisfied and significant?

Now it so happens that I’ve got some really good brothers that I’m very close to. Macca, Scotty, Andrew M, Andrew H, Tony, Mick and Andrew K. I know, that’s a lot of Andrew’s isn’t it. Scott, Macca, Andrew H, and Andrew K, all worked for me as credentialed pastors at one time or another on staff, and now, none of them do for various reasons. Andrew M’s brother and uncle are both pastors and come from a long line of faithful believers. Tony is relatively young but wise, gifted and feels called to pastor even though he’s never had that title, he ran my life groups for years. Mick has pastored very successfully on staff at a large church before burning out in a worse way than me, and is still on the longhaul of recovery. I know for a fact, that every one of these men, all but one of whom are working full time, would cut their hours and give one day a week to voluntarily pastor my former church. That’s eight of us. If I had stood down (or been sacked by a big-thinking board who read this blog), I know beyond a shadow of doubt that had I gone to them and said “I’ve been fired. We’re no longer staffing this church, so I’m going to volunteer one day a week and work four in a paid capacity elsewhere” and asked them to join me in this new and exciting venture, that every single one of them would do it. That’s eight people – eight man days per week, for the price of five, actually for free.

Now you’ve got eight talented men of God involved at a greater level than they are now, all with unique gifts, strengths, experiences, passions and talents who complement one another, who all have a great relationship, who love and respect one another replacing one man. Really, it should be a no brainer.

I know you’re going to be wondering about who does what, who leads whom, who has ultimate responsibility and accountability for what that team would do and I haven’t gotten there yet either. But the thought of all these men replacing one and saving a full-time wage taking the pressure off the budget and decreasing the crushing load on one is too juicy a thought to resist. And we haven’t even considered what effect that might have on destroying the crippling effects on the laity mindset holding the congregation captive.

You might be asking, “why wouldn’t you just stay on staff and recruit the seven others and then have 12 man days per week?” It’s because inevitably as I explained in Sack the Pastor II, our actions speak louder than words. People do what they see, not what you say. You can’t with any authority or conviction ask someone to give up a day a week and serve in the church if you’re not prepared to lead by example. It’s all for one, and one for all, or not at all. Leadership 101.

Sack the pastor, and get seven more in return.

Sack the Pastor II

I’m continuing on the same theme as Sack the Pastor original post, with some more ideas as to why the pastor should be fired.

Modern contemporary churches proudly explain that we have done away with the idea of clergy and laity still embedded in fossilized movements like the Catholic and Anglican mainstream churches. We claim to have “liberated” the church from this erroneous theology proclaiming that we are the priesthood of all believers and that every believer is a minister. In some places this is explained with some degree of smugness.

I’ve done this little exercise many times. “Put up your hand, if you’re in full-time ministry”. Of course a few hands go up, but not many. Then, knowing I’d tricked everyone, I’d give them the low-down. “If you’re a believer, you’re in full time ministry. You’re gifted, called, commissioned and sent”. This is all good of course, and true, but sadly and unfortunately undermined unwittingly by our good selves.

As paid staff, we become the new clergy – despite what we say. We get paid to do ministry, others don’t. They have to do it for free. Credentialed pastors perform certain functions that others aren’t allowed to.

I used to argue that some roles like that of the pastor of a large church took more time and required a greater focus, so expecting a pastor to fulfill his complex role would be too great an ask while trying to work a secular job at the same time. It was unfair and would divide his focus and dilute his efforts. A worker was worth his wages, therefore he and his family (or she for that matter) should be supported and freed from what would inevitably be somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, our church members happily slot lethargically and comfortably into the age old role of laity and the majority become those who allow others to do ministry for and to them. We pastors now get frustrated because the 80/20 rule suddenly kicks in and we are left to wage war on the split, shedding tears, dripping sweat, and oozing blood trying to get it to 70/30, but deep down knowing it’s a losing battle and that 80/20 is as immutable as gravity. Is it any wonder we burnout?

It’s the old problem of monkey see, monkey do. They’re not doing what they’re told, they’re responding to what they see. And why am I talking about “we” and “they” anyway? We are our own worst enemies. We’ve set ourselves up to fail. On one hand with our words, we’re saying that there’s no clergy laity division, but our actions prove there is, and we are frustrated with what unfolds as a result. Go figure.

Obviously there will be staunch defenders of the status quo and will be able to give all the practical and theological reasons why the church should pay a pastor. I’ve been there, and heard most of them and used some to defend my own career choices. But you can’t argue with the results.

Sack the pastor.

Overreaching. How a Mighty Church Falls.

In Gordon MacDonald’s article How a Mighty Church Falls, he talks about research by Jim Collins (Good to Great and Built to Last) on organizational decline. One of the reasons for the decline of a great organization surprisingly, wasn’t complacency, it was hubris. A sense that because we’re good at a few things, we should be good at everything. He calls this “Overreaching” and defines it as the undisciplined pursuit of growth accompanied by the neglect of those core principles upon which an organization was originally built. It is about getting larger and larger, more and more expansive, even if it costs the organization its soul.

Overreaching is definitely an issue of today’s contemporary church and it’s the offspring of the idea of excellence. I’m not going to get started on excellence because I’ve just got too much to say on that one! Overreaching is what contributed to my burnout and it’s based on several things. I won’t unpack them too much, because naming and shaming will probably be enough to get you thinking.

1. A conquest or revival mentality. Brian McLaren discusses this well in his “A New Kind of Christian”. The idea that church is going to conquer the world and take over and be victorious isn’t much different to the conquistadors who sought world domination in the name of religion. Ours is a little more subtle obviously, so we roll our conquest ideas in a veneer of revival, even though the bible never mentions revival. Sure they happen at times in history, but they’re never sustainable, and visit any place that revival took place today and they’re usually pretty dark places. How often have you heard “we’re going to take this city in the name of Jesus”? I’ve said it. Loudly.

2. Pseudo faith, or should that be hyper faith? We’ve moved on from the “name it claim it”, “blab it grab it” kind of faith, but the idea never went away. It’s still there. You only have to listen to contemporary preaching that asks “what are you believing for? You’re insulting God if you aren’t believing for a miracle. Your God is too small, God is attracted to great faith etc. etc.” So if we are faith-filled leaders, we’ll be believing God for massive churches and we’ll preach about it and cast the vision, and come hell or high water, we’ll kill ourselves attaining it.

3. Our personal needs for identity, significance, recognition or acclaim (depending on where you’re clingling on that slippery slide). Ahhh so much we can say here right but we probably don’t have to. Personally, my identity was wrapped up in my performance. I was driven to perform so I could feel ok about myself. When our church is growing and getting bigger than other’s we feel successful, and significant. The pats on the back and acclaim of the people who attend the biggest church in town doesn’t feel too bad either. If you get big enough, you get more invitations to speak abroad and wait for it – you get to go to the green room at major conferences. This all sounds ridiculous when to me now I’m out of the system, but it all made lots of sense when I was in that little bubble.

4. Wrong theology – Living things grow. Heard that before? This theology (call it what you will) suggests that if the church is healthy it will or worse SHOULD experience limitless growth. Last time I checked, I was alive, but I’m not growing in size. Eugene Peterson is famous for saying that he’d rather pastor a small church where he could know everyone than a large one where he couldn’t know all his parishioners.

5. Consumer mentality – more is better, when sometimes less is more. We get sucked into consumerism and import its’ values into ministry and figure that bigger is better, having the latest and greatest is necessary, and we spiritualize the importance of it.

In all of this hubris, we overreach and just as Collins suggests, it does indeed cost the organization its very soul. That’s why you’ll find that if you scratch the surface of many churches who are overreaching, you’ll find angst, anxiety, tiredness, striving, desperation and burnout underneath the thin patina of faith, growth, excellence, busyness, and the whiff of victory which is always just out of reach.

Sack the Pastor!

On his website Shrink the Church, author Brian Kaufman says “I feel that the mega-church culture is beginning a shift towards simplicity. This shift can only come too soon as large and growing churches continue to hemorrhage, burn out leaders & volunteers, communicate poorly and lose sight of its vision & purpose.”

I posted this on my Facebook wall, and had a leader from a mega church ask if I had any literature on any mega churches that were simplifying according to Kaufman’s observation. But I hadn’t any… so thought I’d come up with one and try it out on you!

This one’s pretty radical: don’t pay anyone.

(overwhelming silence)

Yes, I mean it – don’t staff the church. I don’t see a biblical basis for staffing the church. Paul noted that a worker is worthy of his wages, but he refused to take a wage instead preferring to stay with tent-making. He doesn’t explain why, but I have a few guesses. Working in a secular vocation keeps you connected with people outside the church and rooted to reality by making an honest living. That’s not to say that current staff pastors aren’t earning an honest living. I should know, I worked myself into the ground. It’s just that working inside the church for 60 hours a week, eventually leaves you isolated and disconnected from the world of everyman – the very person you need to have a friendship with – because Jesus did. Does “Friend of sinners” ring any bells?

My solution means that maybe things won’t get done as quickly or efficiently as today’s staff-heavy church, but that will force us to rationalize what we are doing and focus on doing what’s really important, rather than doing what we can because we pay people to do it. The spin-off of not having staff, means that you need to be terribly strategic. You won’t be able to offer as many programs, services and events – which is actually a good thing in the long run. Sadly, in the short term, you’ll lose people, which will mean you’ll lose money and of course this is a dilemma we have gotten ourselves into when we sign up to big mortgages on buildings that lay vacant six days of the week.

Ultimately what it does mean, is that as leaders, we will actually have to do our biblical jobs. That is to equip people for the works of ministry and release them. When people are doing what they’re gifted for and passionate about, they will almost pay to do it. Have you noticed how many charities around the world are getting volunteers to pay to travel to remote parts of the world for the privilege of helping out for a couple of weeks? And these people aren’t christian! Why would people pay to serve? Because it gives their lives meaning and significance. They can’t get that by consuming all the time. Hell you can even pay to go to Thailand and help wash elephants at your own expense, and people are doing it!$440 per week will get you a mattress on the floor and food at an Elephant Nature Park as a volunteer pooper scooper.

Serving in your place in the body, using your gifting and unleashing your passion is a biblical idea and charities are proving that! Yes, I know volunteering is happening to a great extent in the church already, so lets just bite the bullet and go all the way. At least 60% of a churches’ budget is consumed by staff, so imagine what could be possible if there aren’t any.

There are a whole lot more benefits of not staffing the church. I can think of a heap more ramifications, but I’ll let you think about that for a bit and maybe comment. I wouldn’t want to steal all your fun.

Sack the Pastor part II

The Attractional Church II

It’s funny how when you start thinking about something that “material” just turns up. Since this blog isn’t very humerous, I thought we should have a look at some funny things we do to be attractional.

Here’s a church who has a lucky dip and gives away money every Sunday morning. And it works! Attendance is up 900 in just a few weeks according to CNN. Now that’s attractional.

And to finish off, here’s a spoof made by Northpoint Church, one of the largest in the USA who’ve put their tongue firmly in their cheek and made a movie trailer of your typical attractional model Sunday morning service.  Enjoy!

The Attractional Church Part I

The Attractional Church Part III

Mental Overload

An interesting article on Forbes.com discussing how technology makes us rude in the office, actually touched on stress and burnout that comes from overloading our brains which then affects our relationships. The full article is here, but I’ve excerpted a few quotes for you if you’re um… busy 🙂

Technology, of course, was supposed to make life easier and give us more time. And it does enable us to do many things more quickly than before: type documents, send invoices…. But there is a price. It has also created an expectation that all tasks can be accomplished as quickly as it takes to check a Wikipedia page.

The problem is our brains aren’t wired any differently than they were 30 years ago, and tasks that require concentration and creativity (say, writing a Beach Boys song) take the same amount of time that they always did.

“The brain hasn’t changed,” says Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. “We still can only handle so much. But we’re asking our brains to process exponentially more data points than we ever have before in human history, and that mental energy has to come from somewhere.

Unfortunately, human relationships are often the casualties of this mental exhaustion. We have so much to do and so much information to process that we don’t even realize we are interrupting each other, failing to listen, subtly or not-so-subtly saying, “Hurry up. Get to the point, already.”

Not only mental exhaustion, but stress also impairs our productivity…

“The stress level is so high, not just for those laid off or the people worried about layoffs, but also for the people who are left doing a lot more work,” says organizational psychologist Henry L. Thompson.

It quickly becomes a vicious circle: You’re under the gun to get that quick-turnaround project into the boss, which makes you late for the meeting, which annoys your co-workers. Each incident builds on the last and the stress level ratchets, making you–quite literally–unable to think.

Stress, Thompson explains, impairs our ability to use our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that organizes, plans and processes information. The result is you become more disoriented–and more likely to ignore the e-mail or forget the lunch date. “There’s a whole series of things that is exacerbated by stressful events,” says Thompson.

Last week I had the CFO of a multimillion dollar social sector organisation employing hundreds of people who told me, he’s had his actual work hours changed so he can work a half day on Wednesday’s and go play golf. He makes up his hours, but he says for the first two days of the week, he looks forward to playing, and on the last two days of the week, he looks forward to the weekend. He still gets the same amount of work done, or actually probably more as a result of maintaining positive mental health. Smart guy.

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The Attractional Church III

I believe the attractional church has had its day. While it has some great successes (Saddleback, Willow Creek – thumbnail left, Hillsong and many more), these are a tiny percentage of the churches who are actively trying to pull this off. And let me tell you, it’s hard to pull off. By virtue of it’s description – attractional – it has to be done really well, or it’s pure and simply a farce! I’m sure every one of us who have visited different churches at various times (we like to visit other places when we go on holidays) have seen or experienced things done in church that have just made us cringe. There’s very little distance between being attractional and being cringeworthy and it can happen as quickly as the remote microphone batteries running out when the hot visiting singer is launching into the bridge/key change.

One of the biggest problems with the attractional church, is the money that’s involved. It does take lots of money. I’ve been there, and I’ve been involved in the budget process and I know how much it costs. For one thing, because it’s building centred, you must have a big building to hold the crowds, and big buildings cost buckets of money. It’s very hard to avoid having your own big building, because the other options (such as using a school hall) simply aren’t attractive. No, you need a building and you need it to be slick and state of the art. You’ll need a PA system which will cost probably around $1000 per head of congregation. You’ll have data projection, children’s rooms, a kitchen or cafe, a reception or lounge area, loads of glass, offices, hard wearing carpet, comfortable chairs – the works. Of course, none of these are bad or wrong, it’s what happens on the way to obtaining them or paying them off.

The money involved is absolutely huge. The building and land depending on where you live, will cost $5,000 per head of congregation and that’s on the cheap. So you love Willow, you’re excited about building your own Dream Centre, or Hillsong Church, now you need to find some money. You get a word from God. You cast the vision. You have a miracle offering. You may ask your board to re-mortgage their own homes (as Hybels did) if they really believe God is in it. You fund-raise, you take pledges, you keep it in front of the people every moment (because they will dwell carelessly unless they have vision). You develop business partners in the church who will give tens of thousands. You get visiting speakers who are gifted at talking about money to come and do their thing (and pay them thousands to do it). You get people to believe in the dream. You have architects draw it up and show pictures and video walk-through’s of the new building and talk about building the kingdom and how many souls will get saved as a result.

But little by little, the dream of the building inexorably and inevitably begins to erode and compete for headspace (or is that heart space?) that would otherwise be focused on building the people. Slowly but surely, the people become a means to an end. But Christ died because people were THE goal. We rationalize that it’s all about people, and the building and all its trimmings will serve the people, but I can tell you, once you take out a loan and start the building process, the pressure is enormous, and even the holiest saints’ motives and perspectives become clouded and compromised.

Kudos if you pull it off and become the next Willow Creek, but you might want to do your homework and see if there isn’t a better model for you than the attractional church.