Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't Make Me a Target

There's a small part of me--a small, petty, resentful, peccatory part of me--that thinks the worst possible thing you can do to a person is to hire him or her onto the staff of a church.

I don't have that thought at all times; far from it, actually. In my more idealistic moments I think it's probably a privilege to serve a faith community in such a formal capacity. But there are days when I observe the challenges that church staff endure, and I wonder what they did wrong in a previous life. And I don't even believe in that sort of thing.

I used to attend a church whose pastor spoke very openly about his view that, if you want something done, you should ask a busy person. That pastor oversaw a congregation full of very busy people, for which he was largely responsible. Burnout ensued on a grand scale--the kind of burnout people seek therapy for, the kind of burnout people oust pastors over. I left that church suspicious of such a rather rosily presented paradigm.

Since then I've wondered, in my smaller moments, whether that pastor's strategy was simply pre-emptive self-protection. I've occasionally encountered the opposite extreme: if you want something done, you should ask a pastor, or a youth director, or a church secretary, or anyone with an in-box at your place of worship. No church activity, under this model, should take place without the watchful oversight of church personnel; no event should pass, no prayer should be uttered, without the explicit "Amen" of a person of the cloth. The result, I suspect, is similar: burnout on a grand scale. And so I'm suspicious of such a superficially devout paradigm.

One thing I notice about both poles of this continuum is the hidden clause of the contention: "If you want something done (and you don't want to do it yourself) ask . . ."

Now, I'm sure churches aren't the sole domain of this sanctified sneakiness. There's a sense, in fact, in which it's a basic principle of leadership:

(1) Identify what you want.
(2) Identify what you're not willing to do about it.
(3) Delegate.
(4) Repeat 1-3.

It may even be elemental to the human condition. But there's something small, petty, peccatory in such a model when laid out so starkly.

There's a power dynamic in play: to delegate is the privilege of the enfranchised, not the disenfranchised. The weak serve the strong; the strong target the weak. That's social Darwinism in a nutshell. Churches are not immune to such power dynamics, and for that reason at least churches--from the staff to the laity, from the elder to the newer--are called to an ethic of service, something like

(1) Identify what is needed.
(2) Identify what you're capable of doing about it.
(3) Do it.
(4) Repeat 1-3.

In my more idealistic moments I might call that leadership, but I'll be honest: it's midnight and I'm in a bad mood.

I've also recently been gently chastened about leadership being a virtue to which far too many people aspire. By the simple rules of capitalism, tyranny and other such elemental forces, it's clear that most people cannot lead; most people must follow. By the simple example of Jesus, however, it's clear that all people--even the Lord of heaven and earth--can serve. And so, in those moments when I am feeling particularly paradoxical--simultaneously snarky and saintly--I pray, "My kingdom for a kingdom of servants!"

I'm going to need a good night's sleep to figure out what that even means.

8 comments:

Al Hsu said...

I find it very significant that Jesus said very little about leadership per se, but far more about service and followership ("Come, follow me"). And Paul in 1 Cor. 12 would say that if you have leadership gifts, then you should lead, but the rest of us should do what we're gifted to do. This is quite freeing, I think - we only need to do what we are called and gifted to do.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Good point, Al. Scott Bessenecker is writing a fair bit about leadership and submission in proper context lately; you can jump to his blog from the Loud Time sidebar. Good stuff.

Llama Momma said...

I've honestly given up on identifying needs in my church, or even hoping the church might meet MY needs.

I go. I worship. I leave. Except once a month, when I'm regulated to that private hell that is the church nursery.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Llama momma, I feel your pain. Funny how that nursery can capture even the most disheartened. It's like that second set of jaws that pop out of the alien's mouth.

No, really, I love kids.

You should read *Life After Church* by Brian Sanders. Great critique of church as usual; great encouragement for moving forward.

Pete Juvinall said...

Llama Momma/Dave: lol. We ended up having to say 'No' recently to any more nusery. Now, we've done 4 year old sunday school before and that is, at its worst, really entertaining performance art.

Daphne said...

not sure if i ever told you but i love the way you think and write. and you crack me up. :) thanks. keep on writing! what book are you going to recommend to me?

Llama Momma said...

I'll check out the book. Thanks for the recommendation!

I'm not completely disenfranchised. Maybe just halfway.

If there is such a thing as halfway disenfranchised.

Whatever. You get what I'm saying. :-)

Anonymous said...

I come from a church background where there wasn't any paid clergy. The elders ruled by communal prayerful discernment and the deacons worked on the physical needs side of things. I have never seen a church set up that was more conducive to getting people off their rears and into using their gifts. There was no one paid to be responsible for certain things. Your passion became your ministry - you'd seek guidance from the elders, pray, recruit, move forward. Ever since, participation in a church that has paid clergy rubs me the wrong way. It is like a license to sit back and do nothing - after all, "we pay these people to do the work." It is often the same mentality we use when purchasing any service. When our church lost its pastor, it lost a lot of people with him - they couldn't handle going to a church without a pastor because they might be called upon to do something. But that was a time of real growth for the body as people realized they needed to step into the gap and use the gifts God had given them. I had hopes that this would last into the regime of a new pastor. Now that we have a new pastor however, there has been a collective stepping back and we are back to a one man show. A situation not only dangerous to him and his family and health but to us as we slowly let the gifts that blossomed to die.