If you live long enough, you will observe major shifts in the focus of churches in North America. (I can’t speak for other continents.) When I was younger and working in Baptist churches the focus was on evangelism. Our denomination had a goal of making sure everyone on the planet had a chance to hear the gospel. We counted success by the number of baptisms.
Now the focus has shifted to discipleship. It seems like everything I hear these days is about making better followers of Jesus. Success is counted in different ways (ie. how are people growing in their faith). To hear folks talk today, especially those in the missional movement, you’d think evangelism is a dirty word!
Of course these are artificial distinctions. When Jesus said “Go and make disciples”, this obviously involved evangelism and discipleship. They are two parts of the same process.
These days Baptists are fighting over the differences in reform and non-reform theology. Thirty years ago it was over Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal practices. It seems we have a difficult time stating what we believe and what we value without pitting our beliefs and practices against those of other Christians.
I keep coming back to that quote form Jesus “Wisdom is justified by all of her children” (Luke 7.35). To me, this means that wisdom is not found in separating me from you because we practice our faith differently. But rather, wisdom is displayed when we embrace the truths we share together and work towards the common goal.
Looking at it in another way, Paul said that “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers…” I think and act a lot more like an apostle than a pastor. (That’s why I do what I do for a living.) I’ve got friends who are wired to be prophets, others who are fantastic at sharing God’s story in an evangelistic way and still others who are great teachers. Paul’s point (if you read on in that passage) was that all of these people are important in building up the body of the church. If we only focus on our differences, all of the apostles would get together, all of the prophets, all of the evangelists, and etc. And the church would be totally dysfunctional.
So let’s work on getting rid of the “vs.” and replace it with an “and”.
I just read an interesting blog post by a guy named Mark Behl http://tinyurl.com/oqt649e. He explains that if we are not good at managing expectations we better be good at managing emotions. This thought got me to thinking about all of the churches I am working with that don’t have a pastor, and all of the pastors I know who don’t have a church. I don’t particularly like playing “match maker” because so often what I think is a great fit doesn’t work out. There are so many reasons things can go bad between a pastor and a church. But, I am beginning to realize that difference in expectations is one of the most critical causes for bad matches. Here are some examples:
I will see a pastor with strong leadership abilities go into a church that doesn’t expect their pastor to lead. They begin to resent the pastor when he makes decisions without “going through the proper channels”.
Or I will see a Youth Pastor who spends most of his energy out in the community trying to reach unchurched teenagers, while his church is frustrated that he isn’t spending enough time with the kids who are already in the church.
I know pastors who put a lot of emphasis on teaching the Word, delivering long well thought out sermons each week, while their people get frustrated that the service always “goes over time” each Sunday.
There are children’s pastors who spend their time developing a leadership team to care for children, while other people in the church can’t understand why that pastor is never down on the floor playing with the children.
I could go on and on. The thing all of these situations have in common is conflicting expectations. And so, a lot of emotional energy is spent dealing with the conflict. Behl is right that if you don’t learn to manage expectations you better be good at managing emotions.
I wish more pastors and more churches knew how to communicate with each other clearly and honestly before entering into a bad marriage with each other. Maybe we need pre-pastoral counseling. A professional counselor could meet with the pastor and church leader before they come together to make sure they are all clear on expectations, leadership styles, time management, etc. just like a pre-marriage counselor does. Maybe then we wouldn’t have so many premature “divorces” between pastors and churches.