Monday, October 26, 2009

There's a speck and a plank!

Marissa and Suzanne had known one another for most of their lives. They met in church when Marissa was still in elementary school. The girls were both a part of the youth choir that included talented kids of all ages. Suzanne was already in high school, so they weren't part of the same social groups, but Marissa loved being around "the big kids".

Life took Marissa and Suzanne in completely different directions. Suzanne got married and spent several years traveling the world with a Christian Music touring group, and Marissa went off to college. After Suzanne's marriage ended in divorce, she returned home and the two girls reconnected. They were both part of the church choir, had the same circle of friends, and discovered just how much they had in common. When finances became tight, it was only natural that the best friends would get an apartment together. They settled into a fairly typical single girl life - work, church, friends, weekends, dating, etc... Then....

Maybe it was the pain of Suzanne's divorce, I don't know, but she really wasn't into the dating scene at all. Marissa, on the other hand, had always dreamed of one day meeting "that guy" and getting married. She thought "Rick" might be that guy, but after about a year the relationship ended and Marissa was heart-broken. Suzanne's friendship carried her through. Finally, Suzanne made a confession - she was in love with Marissa. Marissa didn't know what to do with this information. They were both active in the church and Marissa knew that homosexuality was considered sin. The last thing she wanted to do was to tarnish Suzanne's reputation, so she kept this revelation to herself. Marissa moved out of the apartment the girls shared and she went about trying to move on with her life. It wasn't easy for a 30-something year-old girl to meet guys, but the Internet offered some interesting dating sites, so Marissa put herself out there. She met a guy.

I can't pretend to know what was in Suzanne's heart or mind, but I do know what she did. When she found out that Marissa was dating, she went to the church choir director and told him that Suzanne had met a guy online and she was involved in an inappropriate relationship. The choir director moved quickly. He called Suzanne and kicked her out of the choir and off the worship team for "not living a life above reproach". Marissa swears she hasn't "sinned" with the new boyfriend, but she's not believed. She's forced to leave the choir she'd been a part of for 20 years, and the church she'd been a member of for her whole life. She loses her circle of friends. One of these so-called "friends" sent her a card. When Marissa opened the card she was so touched, as on the outside of the card it said, "Thinking of You". On the inside, however, it had a hand written note that said, "When you decide to start making the right choices, we will welcome you back."

It's been several years and Marissa has never really recovered. She doesn't attend church, and she protects herself from relationships as she still has trust issues. What was Suzanne's motivation for taking gossip and lies to the music pastor? What was the pastor's motivation for removing Marissa without ever taking steps to discover the whole truth? Only they know what they were thinking. I do know that if Suzanne suspected Marissa was in an "inappropriate relationship" she should have followed the Matthew 18 principle for confrontation and reconciliation. I also know that Matthew 7:5 tells us that we are hypocrites when we are more worried about the speck in another person's eye, then the removal of the plank in our own eye.

We need to get off the pew and reach out to friends and family who are “living in sin”, or making “inappropriate choices”. God loves them, and we ought to love them too! If you know someone who’s been kicked out of church or a ministry because of their own bad choices (or suspected bad choices), get off the pew and love on them. Loneliness is a sad place to live, even though it has a crazy large population. In addition, there may be a "Suzanne" sitting in the pew next to you - someone who is hiding a secret. Get off the pew! Reach out!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ministry Servants

We live in a scary economic time and no one wants to lose their job. Unemployment can be especially frightening for people that are over the age of 50, as ageism is a very real fact in America today. So, people are willing to do almost anything to hold on to a job. Employees are working late nights and weekends with no financial compensation, and they are taking extra measures to keep their emotions and feelings in check so as not to make waves. Fear and intimidation are powerful tools.

Over the past few weeks I have become increasingly aware of just how negative the workplace environment can be for church employees. Because Pastors have the right to fire employees with little provocation and can decide to move in a "new direction" on a whim and at the drop of a hat, being a part of the church staff can be very oppressive. I've met a number of church employees who have said, "I don't dare express my dissatisfaction for fear it will get me fired." We're not talking about spiritual or Biblical debates here, but rather we're talking about an overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated staff. Pastors love to tell their staff members that they are not just "employees", but they are co-workers in "the ministry", and as such they should be willing to make whatever sacrifice is needed for success. If employees are not willing to give it "their all", then they need to find another job!

Our "ministry" is our life. Every aspect of our life - our job, our children, our family, our friendships, and even our grocery shopping outings - everything about our lives ought to minister to those with whom we come in contact. The Bible is riddled with instructions for employers. They are definitely held to a high standard in God's eye. One example is Ephesians 6:9; "And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him". I am not suggesting that you pastors out there are threatening your employees. But if they are working in an environment of fear and oppression then they may feel threatened. If you have told your staff that they need to give selflessly and without fair compensation "for the good of the ministry" then you are may be taking unfair advantage of your employees.

Come on Pastors, get of the pew and be an example to the world. Most of you have families, and you go home to them - as you should. If you're not willing to work seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day for the ministry, then you really ought not expect that from your staff. Their ministries expand to their families and friends and they need to go home.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

You're Fired!

You know...a pastor is the only boss, and the church is the only type of company wherein an employee can legally be fired with no provocation and solely on the whim of the pastor. Because the church is a non-profit organization, they are not bound by laws that protect the employees, and those same laws protect the church from lawsuits that challenge often unfair business practices. Pastors are even better than mothers when it comes to using the phrase, "because I said so!"

We, however, are not unlike a four-year-old whose mommy can't find a good reason for the decisions they make. I, and so many people I know, have sat across the desk from a pastor and with tears in our eyes, and a quiver in our voice we've uttered the words, "but why?" "Because I said so!" Those four words break hearts and change lives. We understand budget constraints. We understand the consequences that come with breaking the rules put forth in the company bylaws. There are many legitimate reasons for firings...and we understand those. But "because I said so!"? Those words are hard to hear - especially when it means losing the job you love, the friends you work with everyday, and the paycheck your family relies on. Sadly, those words also lead to negative views of the church, Christians, and so often - God Himself.

The Ten Commandments can seem like a laundry list of "do"s and "don't"s, but the Bible then goes on to tell story after story after story that all answer the question, "but why?" We see, by peering into the lives of those who have come before us, why God has set up the laws of love in the way that He has. Come on pastors, get off the pew! Just because you have "the right" to use the words, "because I said so" doesn't mean that using those words is the right thing to do. We are not four-year-old children! We are men and women who deserve to be treated with respect. The tireless hours, months, and years of service we give to your ministry deserves better than "your fired because I said so". The way you (we) treat our employees and servants is being watched by unbelievers who are looking for a reason to trust us. The world is looking to us to answer the question, "what would Jesus do?" Jesus walked the earth for 33 years demonstrating how to treat people and how important it is to answer the questions, "who?, what?, when?, where?, how?, AND why?" Get off the pew!

Monday, October 12, 2009

What is our Business Model?

Every year Willow Creek ministries, which operates out of the Chicago, IL area, sponsors something called, "The Leadership Conference". This is an incredible 3 day event that happens in Mid-August each year and is simulcast all over the country (and other parts of the world as well). The Leadership Conference is an amazing time of challenging inspiration. Leaders share their visions, their successes, and their failures, so that church and community leaders might learn. Church leaders have been attending this impressive event every Summer for many years.

A few years ago, a large contingency of Spiritual leaders decided to no longer attend the Willow Creek event because they were offended by the non-christian business leaders that had been asked to speak. Apparently they didn't see the value in learning from the unsaved. We can be so arrogant!

Jennifer has been on staff at a church for a year and a half. She was hired to assist the part-time music pastor and as part of her duties she created the screen media for each of the Sunday services. She created the files which projected the words of the worship tunes up on the screens as well as the pastor's notes, and she chose the creative backgrounds as well. She's very good at what she does and her talent and intuition is appreciated by staff and parishioners alike. She is, in fact, so good at what she does, that she has been asked to create the screen media for all services held at the church in the past year and a half - Christmas Eve, Woman's Ministry events, Men's breakfasts, etc...

Six months ago a new Senior Pastor was hired and he immediately added services and responsibilities to Jennifer's plate. Jennifer's hours doubled, but her pay remained the same. She was becoming exhausted and overwhelmed. In the "real world", large successful companies would never get away with making these kinds of demands on their employees, but this is church. Sometimes it seems that we translate "heart for ministry" to "slave labor".

Last week Jennifer went in to talk with her boss. She brought with her a list of ideas - ways they could simplify and streamline, and ways to be a bit more efficient. Her boss listened and wrote down all her ideas and seemed to be sympathetic to Jennifer's exhaustive plight.

After listening and making notes, he looked at Jennifer and said, "The pastor has decided to move in a different direction and you are being fired."

Jennifer loves her job and was excited about the new pastor and the new direction he will be taking the church. She was really looking forward to being a small part of this new adventure. This is not the way you treat faithful, honest, gifted employees.

"The world" doesn't treat employees this way and it is no wonder that the Willow Creek team invites un-churched world business leaders to teach the church. But shouldn't it be the other way around? The church should be setting the standard and the business model for the world. After all, Jesus himself is our teacher and role model.

It is often said that if churches were run like businesses they would be so much more successful. Get off the pew people. We need to stop running our good people ragged, then discarding them when we decide to go in a new direction. Anyone who is willing to work twice the hours she's been contracted to work for the good of the ministry, is someone who is willing to move and grow in a new direction.

Jennifer has the talent, the motivation, the drive, AND the heart for service and ministry. This is another example of a good person being used, worn out, then thrown away and unnecessarily wounded. Get off the pew Church! We should be setting the standard--the business model. Get off the pew.