Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Infuriating Things About the Local Church, Part 1: The Pastor as Butt-Wiper

Since the past two posts have been devoid of actual content and since I can't sleep even though I want to (it's only 8:30 as I'm beginning this, but I'm 24 weeks pregnant and have a two-year-old with an ear infection who woke up twice last night), I thought I'd treat you to an extra post for today. Try not to injure yourself jumping up and down with joy. :)

I've been having a conversation via e-mail with one of my readers (oh, doesn't that sound impressive!) about our experiences in the local church and the likelihood of me returning to the local church as a pastor. My discern-o-meter is currently saying, "not for a few years." I began thinking of some of the reasons why I'm reluctant to return to the local church, and thought they might make a good series of blog posts.

So, for your reading pleasure (or displeasure), I present Things That Infuriate Me About the Local Church. And for the first post, I'm going to write about what I call "The Pastor as Butt-Wiper." In other words, the tendency for churches to allow/encourage/demand that their pastor do pretty much everything for them. It is most prevalent in smaller, well-established, congregations with older members, but I think it does pervade other types of churches, although I don't think it's as obvious in larger congregations.

I'll give a few examples from my time at SJ, since that's the only pastoral experience I have. It really and truly seemed like the church revolved around the pastor (me) and if most things were going to happen, I was going to have to do them. They couldn't...and didn't want to...take the initiative to function any other way.

Example #1: At a Council meeting in my first year there, there was a big discussion on "how to get more people to come to church especially young families so we have more money." Our Annual Conference (gathering of all the churches in our conference) was only two or so months away, and it just happened that year's theme was "Let's Get Growing!" There was going to be a special Evangelism Expo for two days during the conference, with exhibits, presentations, and materials on effective evangelism for churches of every size. And it just so happened that year that Annual Conference was only an hour and a half away, an easy day trip. Of course, I would be present, as would our lay delegate. However, I also made the suggestion/plea that one or two other people take the time and come up to look around to get ideas, grab some materials, get excited. My thought was (and I believe I even shared this with the group) that it would be most effective if several lay people could experience it, as well. I think I might even have promised to buy lunch for anyone who came. The response? They all (about 12 people) looked at me like I had just suggested they go to Mars, and the Council chair said, "OK, so Pastor W&H will go to this thing and bring back some ideas that might help." I dropped the issue then (although I wonder if I should have responded in some way), but I did put several notices in the bulletin (we didn't have a newsletter) with details about the event and an encouragement for a) anyone to go who wanted and b) an invitation to "hook up" with me once they arrived, in case they didn't want to go alone. The response? Nada. I don't even know if my lay delegate attended the Expo, because he certainly didn't mention anything to me. Did I mention that most of the leaders of that church were retired, still driving, and that this event was mostly during the daytime hours?

Example #2: I regularly printed notices of meetings in the bulletin. That's pretty normal, right? However, I received multiple requests from people (one man was especially insistent) that I not only remind them via bulletin of a meeting (perfectly reasonable), but that I print the names of those serving on that committee each and every time in order for them to know what meetings they needed to attend. I did do that (there will be a post on how pastors enable this sort of behavior) but I thought it was a rather ridiculous request. How hard it is to remember that you're on the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee? And this was not a "meeting-happy" church, so it's not like we were looking at even three meetings a week.

How do you feel about this issue? How do you handle it?


Songbird said...

I've found a personal invitation to one individual works best. Yes, it leaves the responsibility in my hands. But in my first church I discovered that people did not hear general invitations (written or spoken) as being directed at them. One of our ministry tasks is ad-ministration, to draw people out into their ministry. I try to look around and see who might be suited to a particular task and bring them toward it.
As far as the printing of names, which does seem overkill, is it possible the church member knew something about other people's forgetfulness? ;-)

Mary Beth said...

And you know, some people really ARE waiting to be asked. Whether it's shyness, immaturity, or disbelief in their gifts...(all of which have described me in church life over time!), it really helps sometimes for someone to say, "Mary! I need your help! I'd like you to go with me to X and help brainstorm about ideas..." or whatever.
(First sentence, props to Dale Carnegie...)

Anonymous said...

I'm in a different place than Songbird and Mary Beth. I've asked folks... face to face... nicely... and it doesn't seem to work. There are folks that just don't see stepping up to the plate... as part of being the church.

For me... that's the core issue... folks in the church... have learned that it is OK... not to DO anything... because by dingys they are saved. While I do agree that they are the beloved children of God... I don't buy that a pastor needs to ask them to do what God has already asked them to do... be disciples... be involved 24/7.

I handled it a very different way than most pastors do. I walked away from the church... resigned... and am waiting on a call to be a leader in the church... where the people of God want to BE the church... instead of playing church. I'm not a very good butt wipe.

Songbird said...

But sometimes they need an explanation of what that means, and to me that is equipping the saints, not butt-wiping.