Toxic Cultures and Poisoned Pastors
Thursday, June 7, 2012 2:44:38 AM
Just lately I have been hearing lots of people talking about building retreats for pastors and their wives. Their concepts usually involve a cabin in an isolated location where stressed out pastors can unwind and get close to God for several days or even weeks without being interrupted by people and phone calls.
Personally I would rather be somewhere like a resort where there are nice facilities and opportunities for recreation, as well as the space to draw near to God. I understand that some people find wilderness to be a great place to find communion with God, and being out of a mobile service area means that they don't have to have the discipline to turn the phone off themselves.
The fact that many people are discerning a need for pastors to be spiritually regenerated suggests that there is a real problem in the church that is being recognised. Unfortunately that only deals with a symptom and not the real disease.
The real problem is that we have a toxic church culture which needs to be born again so to speak.
These are the factors that churches and pastors need to address.
1. Success in ministry is about faithfulness not about numbers.
There is such a huge emphasis on numbers these days that just kills grace. Businesses need to be profitable and measure sales and customer numbers. The church is not a business.
When people ask me is my church growing, they are asking if I am being successful in making converts or enticing people from other churches to join my group. Nobody ever asks me if my people are becoming more prayerful or more generous or more Christ-like.
A pastor who is deeply obedient to God may still find his church not growing in numbers and yet will earn God's reward.
Let's stop playing “Mine is bigger than yours.”
2. Pastors are not employees.
Churches often have expectations of how pastors should perform their ministry. If they don't meet those expectations, if they see that the goals of their ministry can be met through different methods, then there may be trouble, Pressure will be brought to bear.
Many pastors are caught between the call of the Lord and the demands of their boss.
Churches need to learn to let their pastors be free to lead them under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
3. Not every pastor is a celebrity
A very few pastors get to have mega-church celebrity status. The trouble is that they are the ones who set the standard that everyone else should aspire to in terms of numerical success. They are the ones who write the books and speak at the conferences. They also make it seem that it is so easy and if you follow some basic steps every church can grow to 20,000 people.
This sets unrealistic expectations in the hearts of pastors and churches that will lead inevitably to disappointment and frustration.
The one thing that was truly remarkable about Jesus' ministry and which was replicated in the early church was relationships. Jesus hung out with his twelve closest friends pretty much full time for 3 years.
In our institutionalised and depersonalised churches genuine friendship is rarely experienced. This leads to burn out and destruction.
By the grace of God I have discovered two factors which will revert the church to true community over time.
1. Cell Church
I am deeply committed to this style of church life. It is a vessel for developing the church into a true body, a real community of faith. It releases people to serve one another, to share lives together and to be Christ to one another.
The pastor of a cell church does not have to be the solo minister, the expert on praying, comforting, exhorting and encouraging. Cell leaders and cell members share the load. The church becomes the church as people transition from consumers of religious products to disciples of Jesus.
This is not about having small groups as a part of the church programme, but ditching the programmes in order to help christians to grow in the Holy Spirit. This is a radical change for many churches, but it brings life. People like Joel Comiskey and Ralph Neighbour have written extensively on this topic.
My own cell group provides an example of how nurturing cell groups are. Last night was a crazy night. We had been away from home all day and had got home in plenty of time to get ready for cell group. As we arrived, a friend turned up and we chatted for well over an hour. There was barely time to microwave some food for dinner before the crowd descended. I felt led to abandon the topic for the evening and change direction somewhat. What was interesting was that we had an awesome time of laughing and joking together, followed by some prayer for serious issues. There was some real healing received in that meeting that is not possible in other contexts.
2. Apostles and Spiritual Fathers.
I used to be a cog in a denominational machine. I did not respect those in the hierarchy, much less love them.
Then God called me to start a new church outside the structures. Now I was king of my domain!
But the Lord led me into a relationship with an apostle, a man with the grace of being a father in the faith. Now I know I am loved for who I am. I submit myself to his directions out of love and respect not out of rules and by-laws.
My church remains autonomous, but we have someone who loves us and who has been called by God to that ministry.
There are many people around who call themselves apostles but aren't the real deal. They are just on a power trip.
A true apostle will bring freedom and grace to the churches and ministers they oversee.
Rather than authority being based on structures and traditions, apostolic authority comes from the Holy Spirit and is based in relationships.
These two factors, cell church and apostolic grace keep me in a place where I never feel over-stressed or on the edge of a breakdown. I enjoy a holiday, but I don't hang out for the next vacation or conference.
I am free to be the man of God that I was designed to be, in relationships that God has designed for me and loving the church God has given me.