After burning out, would I ever lead again?

I’ve been in church leadership since 1990, and full time staff from 2000 to 2009 when I was forced to resign due to depression and anxiety. Would I lead again? Up until now, I would have refused to even contemplate the idea. But my wife just came home after attending church – my former church, fuming about things like hypocrisy, in-authenticity, and PR bullshit (we’ve been made a scapegoat for anything that was bad about church) and we had a great discussion about what church could be like if we could start with a blank slate.

If this burned out, back-from-the-brink pastor could dream a little dream, it would go something like this:

If a pastor didn’t have a budget to meet, rosters to fill, attendance wasn’t measured, and behavior modification wasn’t on the radar, then I reckon it would be a ball. We would be free to do what we’re gifted for.

One caveat would be that I would not be paid – and therefore not full time and not on staff. I don’t think I would even have anyone “reporting” to me in any official capacity, and I definitely wouldn’t have a job description. I would do what I am gifted and led to do and what I’m passionate about. That beautiful little sector where the circles of gifts, strengths and passion overlap is where I’d live.

I’d think more about following Jesus than leading others. I would let Him lead them and remain only a catalyst.

I’d think more about two-way conversations than preaching messages at or to people.

I’d focus more on relationships, than productivity and efficiency.

I would hasten slowly.

I would concern myself more with journeys than destinations.

I would be brutally honest and leave PR spin to politicians, salesmen and con artists.

The life of the church would not revolve around me. I would not be the primary vision caster or motivator. I would allow people to get their own vision from God.

The church wouldn’t be exclusive. It would be a place for followers or non-followers alike.

Relationships with God and others, underpinned by love and acceptance would be the highlight.

Being would take priority over doing.

We wouldn’t own buildings or take on any debt.

The Sunday Service would not be the peak spiritual experience of the believers week.

The arts would have equal place with the spoken word.

Busyness would be a swear word.

I would not burn people out volunteering.

People would be more important than things, issues, ideas, structures, programs, productions, goals or causes.

I would tell stories. God’s story. My stories and others’ stories.

Yes it’s just a fantasy and no I don’t think this will ever happen, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming is there? Some like Small Boat Big Sea are at least heading in the right direction. A transcript of an interview with them really gives me hope.

Wanna write a Christian bestseller?

#106 The Side HugMy cousin is a real thinker. He graduated an engineer, then became a patent attorney and never married, so not only can he think, he’s got the time and energy to do it. He’s basically a self-taught theologian. I really applaud thinkers. They get a bad trot in Christendom – written off as all talk, no action. But I think generating ideas is action and can certainly be a catalyst for action.

Anyway, cuz really has a message about the Father heart of God – which he says is the apostolic message that’s getting drowned out across modern western Christendom by speakers and authors talking about principles for the successful christian life – e.g. seven steps to a powerful prayer life, three easy stages to holiness, five ways to a horny God-honoring marriage. He wants us to come back to the Father heart of God but to do it, he needs to do some pretty solid and heavy exposition of Ephesians 1-3 and Romans 6-8 and everything else in the bible.

When I asked him who his audience is, he says the man on the street – average Joe Believer. But when he tells me what it’s going to take to support his position it sounds like the only people who would be able to digest this high-fibre, zero fat, low carb, extreme protein power bar of thought will be  scholars. I explained to him that there are a couple of issues with the rest of the audience.

Firstly, there is the dumbed-down audience that love reading the latest from TD Jakes and John Bevere on a certain topic usually outlining how to master a certain aspect of the Christian life (western christian mindset). Today’s Christians are saved by grace and then bust their boilers and give themselves nose bleeds working out their salvation by mastery i.e. applying “proven” principles to get results to be a successful, God-honoring believer (never mind that following Christ and the idea of “mystery” has fallen by the wayside). We might be saved by faith, but we definitely live by trying to figure it all out in individually wrapped bite-sized portions.

The dumbed-down audience want to read “safe” authors who are recommended by their pastor or someone else “safe”. Author’s must be able to demonstrate their personal success (i.e. mastery) by leading a large church, loving a happy family (all smiles), speaking at big conferences, owning two large houses, traveling to over 40 countries, writing best seller books translated into 93 languages, having 80,000 twitter followers, with a ministry on TV broadcast to the said 40 countries and soon into outer space (don’t laugh about the outer space, I personally know a pastor who is trying to broadcast their worship and music into outer space).

Cuz, I said sagely, we all know you write to this audience to make money – a necessary evil, but then you pour this money into your “vision” so the ends justify the means.

The other audience he could try is the non-churched Christians, post moderns and emergents. The issue with these guys is that they don’t want to look at the bible as a text to be sliced and diced and analysed. The bible isn’t seen as a constitution or wiki on the Christian life. It’s seen as a true, earthy, primal story made up of many stories about many people, the central character being Christ. The overarching story is about God and people. So if the bible is a narrative, your writing might want to be…. a narrative! And it better be released for Kindle as well.

I explain that modernism takes a technical, analytical, systematic view of the bible producing works like “systematic theology” but emergents don’t want to analyse, they want to synthesise. They don’t want technical, they want organic. They don’t want more information, they want relationship. They don’t necessarily want more knowledge of good and evil, they want life, community, worship and they want this in a social justice, eco-friendly, sustainable and all-inclusive package…. don’t even think of using the word “exposition”.

If you write to these guys, you might want to invest in some pop culture (Erwin McManus has his own clothing line and Rob Bell should definitely have his own line of spectacle frames) or maybe you could practice writing stories. Christian fiction is the new non-fiction! Just look at the success of The Shack. After all, everyone loves a good story don’t they?

I went to church today and my brain went to work…..

I always find it good brain fodder when I go to church these days. First up, they’re an indicator for how well I’m improving. I can tell by how I feel while deciding. If I feel dread, anxiety, or sadness, I know I’m still recovering. Today it didn’t feel too bad lying in bed at 07:30 wondering if I should get up and take the kids to church. In the end, it was either that, or I was going to have to find something else to do with them or they’d climb the walls.

Secondly, I can monitor my feelings while I’m there. Today didn’t feel too bad. Ideally, I would have loved to have crept out during the last song, but it’s too hard with three kids, because I have to go find them first, rather than have them find me afterwards. Besides, I do like to say hi to friends although probably not all at once after the service.

I felt ok today. I wasn’t anxious enough to consider having a beer before going, and I didn’t take my friendly weed either (see last post). I just took everything slowly and deliberately – mindfully I think is the correct buzz word going around.

The highlight was the multimedia church news for me. Strange I know, but this was an area I loved because media was an outlet for creativity. The low point was the sermon. My replacement is doing a series on grace and using a chair to demonstrate that we have to balance all aspects of grace or we become unbalanced. But I thought grace was totally unbalanced!

Anyway, he explained that the first leg of the chair, was grace toward us (saving grace), the second leg was grace in us (changing grace), and the third leg was grace through us (God wants us to do stuff) which is where the sermon majored. He explained that 22,000 kids will die in the next 24 hours from preventable disease but then said we can’t do a whole lot about that, but we can all do something in a 25 mile radius of this church.

For me, the message got pretty heavy. The atmosphere by the end was really gloomy and quiet. I think the pastor realized that because he asked the band to come up and “play something nice”, and tacked on at the end after the closing prayer something to the effect that it would still be OK to enjoy lunch today. Phew!

The take home was that we should all do something, because God’s grace is in us. But your honor, I object. First, the people know all this already (as my wife said “you used to preach this stuff” – gotta love pastor’s wife’s) . The reason they’re not doing stuff, isn’t because they lack information. Secondly, if people had been transformed by grace, you wouldn’t need to tell them to do something, they’d be unstoppable.

My key thought out of all of this, is that pastor’s believe that they need to teach and rightly so (Paul charged Timothy to do it). Unfortunately we live in a culture with a modern Greek teaching style which consists largely of disseminating analytical information in the form of a lecture. This is a really important thought. Analysis focuses on breaking stuff down to understand it, and then the modern style is to just announce the findings to a group of people, who should listen, understand, learn and remember it. The problem with all of this, is that it is totally antithetical to what Christianity is all about. Teaching today, simply wasn’t anything like the teaching that the New Testament was suggesting.

My experience of Christianity is that it is first and foremost a faith. We are called to walk by faith, not by understanding, yet all our teaching is in an effort to understand! Secondly, I have found God to shroud himself more than he reveals himself, and there is more mystery than mastery going on everywhere I’ve looked. Paul says we look through a glass darkly and I concur. Yet everything pastors do in their sermons is to try and clarify stuff, inform the masses, make it easier to understand and do, and God just doesn’t seem to play the game.

OK, enough bashing. Want to know my thoughts on an alternative? It’s a bit post-modern, so if you have a modern brain, it’s not going to make much sense. If I had my time over again (relax, I’m not living in the past), I would ask more questions. I would help people ask good questions. I would ignite people’s wonderment. I would be a trail guide and rather than try and sit them in a room and lecture them about the trail, I’d take them out there and point at all the amazing sights and sounds and smells. I would appeal to their ability to dream. I would try my very best to involve them in a three way conversation between me, and them and the One who knows everything.

In this scenario, I don’t need to be the font of all knowledge. I don’t need to lecture. I don’t need to analyze, theologize, sermonize, or criticize. I just need to be a catalyst for a relationship, a guide for the adventure, your friend and a friend of The Friend.

OUCH! Written off as “negative”

I had one of those “OUCH” moments today. I was engaged with the state president of our movement who had come up with a mission statement he’s contemplating making into a bumper sticker. The conversation went to and fro for a while and was all good, then he played the “you’re negative” card, which I’m not. I just have a different perspective than I used to. It got me thinking. The moment we play the “negative” card, the conversation is attenuated and begins to contract. It is a value judgment that enables us to write the other person off and dismiss their ideas with one sweeping statement. As the person labeled negative, you can either defend yourself (thus sounding defensive), persevere (even when you’re not being listened to), or shut down – which I did.

I think it’s really important to scrapheap pastors that you pick your moments and pick your people carefully if you want to share your new-found perspectives and ideas gleaned from life on the scrapheap. If they’re not ready to contemplate that there could be a better way, you’re just wasting your breath, and it’s just too easy for them to write you off as bitter, twisted and negative.

Here’s some of the conversation:

Derwent
loving others as we have been loved and teaching every1 to do the same. (What Would Jesus Twitter)

Jack
can u teach ppl to love or is it a case of only being able to give away what you’ve received?

Derwent
Has to start with revelation of Gods love for us hence loving as we have been loved but then again I’m sure people can love even if they haven’t experienced love before. What do you think?

Jack

nah psychologists suggest that ppl who haven’t experienced attachment have significantly reduced ability to empathise and experience compassion. U can’t give what u aint got no matter how long someone preaches at u.

Melissa
Is that going to be our banner or something because it is very good. I can see that one in print everywhere!!

Derwent
Yep it’s our vision / mission statement. Heather suggested we get it done up as a bumper sticker 🙂 I like the idea!

Jack
u don’t think it sounds presumptuous to “teach” everyone? when it comes to adult education, the best anyone can do is facilitate someone else’s learning… which is why Jesus used parables…. it was to take people on a learning journey….

Derwent
Jesus’ great commision finishes with and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you – hence our statement. As you and I have discussed Jack, the command that Jesus was talking about was love others as I have loved you. Everything is encapsulated in that one command. Profoundly. Simple and simply profound.

Jack
yeah but he didn’t mean our concept of “teach”. Our concept is greek and modern. It’s rote learning. Someone talks, we listen. Jesus was talking about a rabbinical style. “I do, you watch, we walk and talk” etc.

So if you’re using language for a contemporary audience, it’s not going to mean to them what Jesus meant. We live in a postmodern world… where “Teachers” don’t hold any authority and there’s no power in information anymore. We live in an information world! People don’t want to listen, but they’re more than happy to observe and have a conversation….

Plus, we could probably learn just as much from “them” as we have to “teach”…. see how arrogant the concept of “us” “teaching” “them” is? That’s how it comes across anyway….

Melissa
Bumper stickers would be great! When we did hampers this year gone Brett had the idea to get reusable bags printed up for church instead of the supermarket ones. I think that slogan would be great on them….might be worth looking into for next chrissy!

Derwent
But that’s always going to be the problem with words John, the way people interpret them. We can sit around debating them till the cows come home or simply go ahead and demonstrate them. It’s been common knowledge since I was at uni 20 yrs ago that people learn best by doing so when I use the term teach it involves instruction, modelling, … practicing and internalising. Try not to see everything in the negative because you miss so much when you do. It’s not arrogance when Jesus commands us to do something and it’s not arrogance when we repeat it to others especially when the command is to love others as we have been loved.

Preach it Brother, or … maybe not.

So I’ve been thinking a fair bit about possibly the central thing we do as pastors – at least in terms of time spent on any single thing (research, preparation and delivery). We would take a half-day as a preaching team to work through a message, then I would take a day to write it and then about another half day spent marinating on it before delivery. So all up we’re looking at about fifteen hours of preparation and delivery for one message. Which I think is probably about average.

Recently I read Pagan Christianity by Viola and Barna, which was a really good read and instrumental in helping the church move beyond its institutionalization. They claim that preaching was never central to the church until a couple hundred years after Christ and really came into primacy with Luther who claimed it was the central part of the sunday service. He changed the term “priest” to “preacher”. Understandably preaching the word for Luther, who was putting reformed theology into the hands of hungry hordes of protesting catholics departing the catholic church in utter ignorance, was of utmost importance.

Viola claims that preaching in the NT was only done by apostles – church planters/workers in the process of establishing churches and on special occasions (Solomon’s temple etc.). They also claim that the office of Pastor is not an office, but a function and pastors didn’t preach.

I kinda disagree. I think pastors did preach because I believe Timothy was a pastor (Viola suggests he was “apostolic” because he obviously wasn’t an apostle, but his theory about pastors would fall over) and Timothy was urged by Paul to preach. Furthermore in Acts where it says the early disciples met from house to house and in the temple, would suggest it was a weekly occurrence.

Here’s where I get really creative now. Try and keep up.

Public teaching was done in the synagogue for centuries, so was embedded in Jewish culture. Furthermore, rhetoric was one of the most popular of entertainment of the day among the Greeks. Rhetoricians were public speakers who became famous and well paid for speaking eloquently (subject matter was inconsequential). So culturally in Judea, public speaking was the best form of communication and entertainment – infotainment would be a good word to describe it in today’s parlance. So it seems Jesus and his followers were using the best and most modern forms of communication that was most effective for their culture and the people of the day – preaching and teaching.

Translate that into today’s culture which is neither Greek nor Jewish. Preaching like we live in 100 A.D. in Judea simply isn’t cutting it. I even had trouble remembering what I preached the week before let alone thinking anyone else remembered (and I’m a good preacher). Which is why I resorted to The Big Idea which is simply one singular idea that I wanted people to leave the building with (there were other reasons to adopt it, primarily to use a preaching team and being able to keep a multi-site church moving in the same direction). I mean, how many sermons have you heard and actually implemented? It’s a completely modernist idea to think that simply giving people information will change their lives. We all know it doesn’t work like that, yet we continue doing it because it’s part of the consumer contract we have with our congregants (search this blog for consumerism).

Researchers on adult eduction have found that while teaching children “by rote” – in other words, I tell-you listen-you learn works, it doesn’t work with adults. And because preachers have all been to school and know nothing about educating adults, we use the only model we’ve known. Adult education doesn’t work like that. In fact when it comes down to it, experts concede that adult educators can only “facilitate” another adults learning. I won’t go into all the reasons for that. But bottom line, you can’t teach someone anything until they are ready to learn it. Kinda sounds like that old chinese saying “when the student is ready, the master will appear” – except we’re not masters… but you get the point.

The other thing that complicates the issue is that we live in the information age. No-one knows how vast the internet is. It’s not measurable. That’s how much information is out there. I can download the best preachers in the world hours after they deliver the sermon. And they’re way better communicators that you or I. I can download theology, christian books, magazines and blogs. I can even check the lexicons and commentaries while you’re preaching to see if your exegesis and hermeneutics are up to scratch. So that’s what we’re up against. So if we’re going to trade in information, I guarantee you, your congregation can get better information any day of the week.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us reaching for the best communication forms available to us for today’s culture and not simply dishing out information because adults don’t learn like that (and neither do you by the way so don’t be surprised that no-one else does either), but rather facilitating an experience. How’s that for radical? I’ll let you think about that for a bit, and I’ll unpack my conclusions later.

My diagnosis of today’s church.

So… I’ve been thinking for a few months now, reading anything I can get my hands on, and talking to anyone who’ll listen and I’ve come up with some ideas.

First I should say, I led the second largest church and the church with most sites in our humble state, was our movement’s vice president and I love the church. I say those three things because I think I’m qualified to say what I’m about to say and I’m not critical.

I feel a bit like a doctor when they diagnose someone’s condition. No-one goes to the doctor and accuses the doctor of being negative or critical when they get the diagnosis (a humerous satire just flashed across my mind). Granted, if the doctor only stopped there and didn’t give a treatment, it would only be partial useful.

But anyway, I’ve looked down the throat of the church and told it to say “Ahhhh” and this is what I found. There are three things that I think might define the condition of today’s contemporary church (traditional churches have their own issues and I’m not really interested in them because I’ve only ever been in pentecostal contemporary churches). And if you can add to my list, that’d be fantastic.

1. Institutionalization (tradition, religiosity, top-down directed, sterile, programmatic)
2. Modernism (systems, productivity, teaching, information, principles)
3. Consumerism (Jesus and me, church hopping, products and services, contractual nature)

The early church had none of these, and to be honest neither does the pentecostal movement in Asia, Africa or South America suffer from these conditions and this is where Christianity is exploding. Not so in the west – it’s declining *.

* According to researcher George Barna, there are 11,400,000 Christians who gather completely outside the institutional church in the U.S. (*Data is from September 2009.)

More on Mastery

So, having touched on the thought of “Mystery before Mastery but not without Mastery” you’ve probably already realized some of the downsides if you get this one backwards.

Part of the pressure we face as pastors is “to be an example to all” – which we probably think is biblical… well it sort of is and sort of isn’t. If we have a modern mindset which says performance, efficiency and results are primary, then we equate being an example to “having it all together” – i.e. we need to “master” this life of faith we lead, and be examples of how to “master” the Christian life.

But here’s what I think….. Paul encouraged Timothy to be an example, but qualified it by saying “let your growth be evident to all”. In other words, Timothy was to be an example of growth and following Jesus, not an example of mastery. This allows mystery to come before mastery and takes a whole lot of pressure off Timothy.

Pastors feel like their authority or “platform” or “right to speak into others’ lives” comes from their mastery. But here’s the kicker. We’re no more spiritual than anyone else (we all have the holy spirit living in us), we may be more or less mature than others in certain areas and we may be no less weaker or stronger than anyone else… But we have been called to be an example. In other words, I think God has a call on our lives to be put in a fish bowl, so people can watch us grow and follow Jesus and in doing so are encouraged, inspired and strengthened to growth in their own life.