2 weeks ago, we did the 30 Hour Famine which culminated with a time of communion and a wonderful potluck meal (see this post for more details). At that time, I reflected that it was this intense sense of unity & community that is, or at least should be, a distinctive characteristic of the church and I marvelled that in the year that I have been at this church, we have not experienced it at any other time. While I am sure that some of those in specific small groups or those who have participated in specific activities have indeed felt these peculiar ecclesial bonds, they are not regular parts of this church body. I think there are several reasons for this, encompassing several key areas - including, but not limited to; theology, worship & praxis, organizational structure and culture, both internal & external. I hope to take the time over the next few weeks to reflect on these different areas, to look for the weak spots and to find bridges, if not complete solutions. Of course, these aspects of church life are all intertwined - changing one would necessarily require changing others, possibly resulting in a cascade of transitions and evolutions. I will first turn to organizational structure & internal culture.
My church follows the seeker-sensitive worship model coupled with a corporate (ie, a business model) structure. We have a total of 5 pastoral staff persons; the senior pastor (SP), the executive pastor (EP), worship arts pastor (WP), youth pastor (YP or me) and a part-time children's pastor (CP). We also have a church planter (PL) and a full-time "office manager" (ie, secretary), as well as a few part-time people; janitorial services and infant child-care. It was also recently announced that because small groups are a high priority for us, we will be hiring a part-time small groups pastor, who will work 4 hours a week - a figure that struck me as extremely odd until I remembered we are in difficult financial straits.
Though there is a great deal of talk about servant leadership and equality among the staff, the truth is that we operate on a CEO structure. All major decisions require the SP's approval and few are ever brought before the entire staff for discussion. In fact, there have been numerous occasions when a decision was made and generally announced to staff & congregation alike (the small groups pastor hiring decision being the most recent example). The problem, however, is really not that the SP occupies the central leadership role - he should. The problem is that there is absolutely no accountability; he does not answer to anyone. We have no general church board and as of right now, we have only one non-staff elder (the other 2 are the SP and the EP) who, while being a wonderful godly person, is a perennial yes-man. The SP's decisions are never challenged or questioned and from what I have seen, there is very little discussion over any given issue. The SP comes to his conclusion and the other 2 get on board. This means we have a very top-heavy leadership structure and one that is terribly in-grown. No one asks hard questions about the way we do our services, the way we spend & account for our money, the way the SP or the EP spend their time, the amount of involvement the SP has with non-church related activities or whether we are failing in regards to discipleship and spiritual formation.
Now you may ask why I don't ask those questions and it is a reasonable inquiry. However, I would point you to my recent end-of-year evaluation. For this evaluation we were given a 2-sided sheet with a variety of questions about our personal walk, successes, failures, areas to improve, etc. One question was "if you were the SP, how would you run this church differently?" I discussed my answer at length with the PL because he and I share many of the same concerns. My answer to that question was 1) more intentional pastoral care, 2) more focus on small groups & discipleship programs and 3) more flexibility with the format/model. The first 2 were discussed in the evaluation without problem and to much agreement on all sides - they are aware of these deficiencies and want to improve these areas (thought little ever seems to actually be accomplished). The third, however, was sharply questioned - What exactly did I mean? I had planned to say something about more biblical preaching and less secular music in the service, but was immediately on guard from the instant hostility my rather innocuous answer caused. This was made all the more clear in the meetings I had over the parent-problems a couple of months ago. In the follow-up with the SP, EP and the elder, it was seized upon that I had said in passing that I do not get much from a seeker-sensitive service. Which is true and I know few mature Christians who actually do - the music is banal & sickeningly comfortable and the message is normally therapeutic with a Gospel presentation at least every other week. In short, they get old. I proffered this answer, though far, far more diplomatically. Their reply made it clear that they considered the model sacrosanct and beyond question or improvement. It apparently enjoys a nearly canonical status and will only be changed in the immediate aftermath of the Rapture and/or a nuclear holocaust. Some disparaging comments were made about "those who want to change things" and it was suggested that if I were one of them, I'd best be careful of the door's return swing on my way out.
In those meetings, it was further emphasized that I was the hired-gun for youth ministry. In my previous experiences in the corporate world, we had vendors who came in to specific tasks and only those tasks. Regardless of the personal relationship that might develop with an individual vendor, they were not on the team and there was always that wall of separation. Quite frankly, that wall exists here. Neither I, nor the WP nor the PL (both older gentlemen, mature in the faith and with years of experience in and out of ministry), are even being considered for inclusion on the elder board and are certainly not a part of the inner planning sanctum. We are all vendors, myself especially. The church plant is part of the SP's strategic vision for this church and the WP is directly involved with the Sunday morning show, so the loss of either of them would be much harder to cover & replace. I, on the other hand, am out of sight with the youth group and there are volunteers who can handle my job should I quit or be fired.
Structurally, then, my church is a closed, business-model-driven organization. The upper eschalons of planning & strategic vision are closed to all but a select few and those on the outside are not truly part of this body. This, of course, stifles the openness and fidelity required to experience bonds of true fellowship. If I am afraid to open my mouth to speak about the problems I see because it is clear that my input is not welcome and my job is not secure, then I cannot help but hold back. That element of fear will poison all of my interactions here and prevent true friendships from developing with either the staff or members of the congregation who are unaware of these things. In short, it isolates me and my wife, and if this is true of me, then there must be others who feel the same way. There must be others who feel as though their service and ministry are neither important nor valued, and whose input is given a polite smile & nod before being quickly forgotten. Or worse, filed under "those who want to change things."