Thursday, August 23, 2012

Not a Pastor? Shut yer pie hole!

I come across stuff like this all the time and often via well respected ministries but they never fail to make my heart ache. Bobby Jamieson writing for the 9 Marks blog Church Matters addresses the question of how "laity" can make changes in the church. His answer? They can't and they shouldn't.

Read Why You Can’t Change Your Church (Part 1 of 4) and weep.

Seems like at least once a month I get an email from a church member—not a pastor—asking how they can change their church. Not “change” as in printing the bulletins on different paper, but as in reworking the church’s leadership structure and membership practices. Should they give the pastor some books? Call a meeting? Start a study group?

If you’re in this situation, what can you do? How can you change your church when you’re not the pastor?

The short answer is, you can’t. If you’re not the pastor, you can’t change your church. Really. I mean it. No surprise retraction waiting in the wings.

Now, I’m a congregationalist, so of course I believe that a church can—and must—fire their pastor if he starts going where the Bible doesn’t go. The pastor doesn’t have final authority; the congregation as a whole does.

But apart from those exceptional times, if you aren’t the person who is formally charged to preach the Word and lead the church, then you can’t change your church in any fundamental ways. This applies almost equally to a pastor who is not a church’s primary preacher. (I’m referring primarily to “the pastor” since most churches only have one.)

I am not saying that Bobby is inaccurate but what he says is terribly wrong.  Basically it boils down to this. If you aren't a "pastor" as our religious culture defines it, you don't get a voice other than when it comes down to hiring or firing the guy that does (assuming you are in a church that has a congregational form of government, many people don't even have a voice in hiring/firing). Not only are you not permitted to have a voice, you are not even able to because the system isn't designed that way. If you disagree with something he says you have three choices:

1. Shut up, grit your teeth and take it

2. Leave

3. Work to get him replaced

The system is designed to be this way and we wonder why we have pastors that are burned out and laity that are tuned out. We have changed a relationship where elders are more mature believers who we are to emulate and turned it into a relationship based in conflict. In many churches men are disengaged or absent and we bemoan it but what do we expect?

Don't misunderstand or perhaps misrepresent me. The point here is not that we should always demand to get our own way. The point is that there needs to be a better way, a way that reflects "one another" rather than "one and all the others". When the system is designed in such a way that the "laity" is silenced we should expect the sort of conflict we so often see in the church. When we stop seeing elders as more mature members of the family and instead see them as employees to be hired, constantly evaluated and often fired, we have lost any semblance of what Biblical leadership is about. When some sheep start to see themselves as something more than what they are because of education or "ordination" or titles, they find themselves stepping on the robes of the Good Shepherd.

I can take some solace in knowing that this system is dying out but as it does many people are going to get hurt by the death throes. Pastors who find themselves under fire from fellow believers who become their employers and demand the impossible from them. Their wives and children who dwell under unimaginable pressure. The regular pew sitters who slow atrophy and die week after week wondering why the guy they are paying to be their pastor is so flawed.  I think we have just assumed this to be "just the way it is" for so long we can't imagine anything else but we must. The church cannot and has not thrived under this system and never will.


dle said...

I recently read this book:

I was appalled that this highly regarded book basically said that there's nothing anyone can do to prevent the stupid things churches and church people do, so it's best for you to learn how to be a flexible and adaptable person so you can put up with all the stupidity.

This roll over and play dead mentality is stunning. Nothing anyone can do? Ever? No biblical way to stand up to misguided leaders? No way for brothers and sisters in Christ to be equals and reason together? None at all?

I've seen so many churches blow up right before my eyes, with me waving the giant "you're headed for an enormous cliff" sign till I practically keel over. And the headlong fall proceeds nonetheless.

So maybe it is true. Maybe no one cares to listen until the autopsy. Rogue pastors. Snobby elders. Cult-leader-in-training youth supervisors. They are our lot. Not a thing anyone can do. At least that's we keep being told.

Makes me cynical and angry.

Steve Scott said...


The opening phrase on the description on my blog is, "I'm not a pastor, ..."

At one church I attended, the elders "discovered" that I had a blog (via anonymous snitch, LOL) and had several meetings with me, rebuking me for even discussing theology on the internet. Kindred spirit with Jamieson, no doubt.

Unknown said...

Clicked through and read the entire part 1 of 4. I get your point but I don't think he's saying what you think he's saying.