The Church as Rat Race

Posted: March 10, 2015 in Church, Theology and Faith
Tags: , , ,

Anxiety.  It presses in on you in nearly imperceptible ways.  You don’t always notice that you’ve been caught up in the cycle.  Your best intentions were to never get caught up in the rat race.  But, there you are, sitting there trying to figure out a way to squeeze every bit of efficiency you can from people and the organization.  Productivity, quantifiable productivity, is generally the measure of success.  We may say that’s not true, but one need only look at the end of year reporting to see what’s really valued – numbers.  We are told that a truly gifted leader knows how to achieve the numbers.  The implied logic says that those who don’t achieve, well, they probably never had the vision to begin with or lost it along the way.  That’s the power of numbers.

Numbers can be helpful.  We’ve learned that much.  Numbers can tell us a story.  But, in order to arrive at that story, the numbers must be interpreted.  What do they REALLY mean?  Rob Staples gave insightful counsel when it comes to measuring growth.  He essentially remarked that many things grow quickly, not all of them helpful.  He continued by saying that cancer grows quickly but we wouldn’t think that a good thing for the health of the body.  Numbers may tell us a story about our lives together, but it must be discerned with wisdom.

But, therein lies the problem: wisdom.  In our lust for growing the organization, we have often sacrificed our relationships, our calling, and our ecclesiology (our understanding of the church).  We have created CEO’s, not pastors, that were great at running church like a business, hitting milestone after milestone of growth.  But, when it comes to spiritual depth in the church, we are severely lacking.

Now, we have become concerned about a shrinking Church.  More and more people, it seems, are leaving our doors.  The blame is placed on those leaving or the pastors that seemingly fail at “leadership.”  Rather than learning from our past mistakes, we have only intensified the call to LEAD.  Be better managers.  We haven’t stopped to consider that shrinking congregations may be a symptom of our own discipleship efforts.  Our people are living out their discipleship, which sees the Church as unnecessary or as another entertainment among many options.

Leadership based on “quantifiable growth” does damage to the Body of Christ for it treats pastors and people as commodities.  The people in the church then become expendable.  (Again, growth isn’t necessarily bad, but it is not the goal of the Church).  If they aren’t “producers” adding to the numeric growth, then they are seen as hindrances to the “vision.”  This is where the anxiety is created.  Pastors and churches are weighed and often found wanting when this is the criteria.  This creates an environment that is unable to value other things that are significant in the life of a congregation.

This “leadership” not only demeans the gift that each person is to the Church, but it also creates a poor ecclesiology that operates from hierarchy.  The priesthood of all believers is given over to the professionals.  Or, pastors under pressure to perform create an environment of anxiety in their own churches so that burnout happens within our people.  Sabbath is denied, scorned.  It’s never a good thing when the Church begins to operate more like Egypt, pushing for a higher quota of “bricks” and productivity.  It becomes oppressive and enslaving.  The result is death.

Death from this kind of leadership has been on full display.  In fact, we may be keeping the Kansas City Star in business with the headlines that have filled their pages.  Leadership looking at the bottom line has silenced the Gospel, been found lacking in integrity, and created chaos that have left families unemployed, people in the Church bickering, and political posturing that undermines the trust that people have placed in their “leaders.”

We don’t need leaders.  We need followers.  Shepherds that are willing to follow Jesus as those who embody the Kingdom.  We don’t need leaders.  We need followers.  Followers who are servants to the flock, who feed the sheep.  We don’t need leaders.  We need followers.  Followers who are walking the way of Jesus, picking up our cross and emptying ourselves for the sake of others.  We don’t need leaders.  We need followers.  Followers that recognize that we are in this together – both in receiving God’s vision for the Church and for living out that vision together.  We don’t need leaders.  We need followers that don’t “lord it over others.”

The Church is longing for those who would help us to keep our eyes on Jesus, not the latest leadership style.  We don’t need more techniques.  We require deeper theological reflection for living as the community called “sent.”  We don’t need to be reminded of all the ways that we are inadequate producers; we need shepherds that help us to collectively confess our sins (it should be modeled).  We don’t need another seminar on planting churches “because that’s the most effective way to grow the Church.”  We desperately desire to see the lives of those in authority authentically following the Master’s cruciform life.



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