ladies and gentlemen, the church has left the building

as the lights dim, and the concert ends, those behind the stage curtain expect the crowd to shout for more; just then a voice comes over the speaker system proclaiming, "ladies and gentlemen, the church has left the building." while many standing behind the curtains chant for more with their lighters in hand waving back and forth trying hard to get the crowd excited; they do so to empty seats, many have found the exits and are heading out of the shell that was the church to experience something new, something different, something scary, something exciting, something dangerous, something doubtful, something reaching, something christ called us to be - many are finding themselves outside the church, striving to be the church, while not wanting to even think about the church, or think like the church, or about the church - the paradox between being "THE" church and being "the" church is incredible; the schizophrenia is enough to make a crazy person lose sleep, shave their head and tattoo monkey's all over their back [play that one in your mind for a while]. but there is a bigger back story to this adventure, there is something very interesting happening in the narrative of the church, something almost touchable, something smooth and shiny, yet rough and edgy. most in the church are missing this back story because they believe that what they are doing is the "only true expression" of "the church." they are lost in their "church" maze and refuse to just peek over the hedges to get out.

you see, not growing up in a christian home i have always been amazed at what some people in the modern evangelical church see as "off limits" to a true and exciting expression of what it means to be a follower of christ. it seems that many in the modern evangelical church are unwilling to address certain issues. certain traditions that seems to have been around "forever" are off limits and the story is never questioned. in talking with pastors, and other "church leaders" i am amazed at how little they know about church history [the story] and how long the church has been doing certain things. here, i would like to address two of the ones that have effected my story over the past few years, the role of one of the "pastor" and the role of the "denomination." let me first address the role of the "pastor." keep in mind, these two area will be related, and yet very random in nature.

what is a "pastor?"
God opened my eyes to this reality not to long ago. you see, i serve a community of faith as the narrator. now, for a long time i would have said, "i serve a community of faith as the lead pastor and we call that position 'the narrator.'" you see, the "narrator" was always in quotes because i wanted those who read it, or those i spoke too about it, to see that the position of "narrator" and "lead pastor" were the same, so they would know i was the boss - but in reality they're not the same, and never were. i have come to the realization that we have no "lead pastor" in our community of faith, only people who share in the story and seek to find their place in the narrative. people willing to take the step and share the story of who jesus is to them, in their lives and in their context. you see, a "lead pastor" needs to be a person who defines what faith is for others; they are the "go to guy" [yes, usually male] who must address all issues of faith; they seek control and demand that people listen to their words. they are the ones who dictate the story and define the plot, the players and the outcome. but i have never been comfortable being that kind of person, not because i can't be that kind of person, i can; i have always been uncomfortable being that kind of person because i believe that is not the role of anyone in a community of faith. it is not that i do not have an idea of what my faith is, but because i believe scripture tells us to simply be supportive of each other and that the only true boss is jesus. now, i know so many people are going to say, "yes, jesus is the head of the church" and then they will add, "but...." and give some reason they need to be the power broker, no matter the title given. i believe we need to rethink this and we need to address the issues at hand. you see, all voices need to be heard and all voices need to be given an equal light of expression. it is when people who claim the title "pastor" start to define the rules and set the boundaries we lose who we are as a free people in christ. in 2 corinthians 1:24 paul writes, "we're not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. we're partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours." this is a reality most "pastors" just seem to miss. in this there are no "buts" only the reality that my "boss" is christ and no other person can define that for me.

for me, i like being the narrator and not a "lead pastor." not because i think the responsibility is less, but because i see my role as sharing the story, walking alongside others and sharing story is exciting. you see, as a narrator i talk with people, i share how things are with me and i express how faith works in my life. as a "lead pastor" i would be required to give a "three points and a conclusion" message that in reality shares nothing. the role of a narrator is to help people think, the role of a pastor is to tell people how to think.

the denomination
not growing up in the church i never understood denominations. when i lived in new jersey i started to attend a "methodist" church, but i had to call a friend to make sure that the "methodists" were "christian" and not "mormons." my friend took an hour to explain the differences, and to be honest i was not sure what was happening when the conversation was over. as i read the history of the faith i truly believe that all denominations have need started by men who sought power and control. now, some will say that "their hearts where in the right place" - but i wonder. when we read the words of jesus we never find words that divide the church, in fact jesus speaks about unity of the church. in luke [9] the disciple tell jesus that they stopped a man from casting out demons because he was not "part of our group." but jesus tells them not to do that, because as jesus sees it, if the man is not against jesus, he must be for him. but what is even more interesting is that right before that jesus tells the disciples that they need to overlook what they think is important and get with the possibilities. in my reading of church history denominations have been started because someone did not like the teachings of so other group. there is no unity in the body of christ when we think in terms of denominations, because everyone else thinks they are right and all others are wrong, and everyone wants to be the head - no matter that they say in public.

i was speaking with a person who was one of the leaders in a rather large denomination when i started to say that denominations, in general, were like elephants, to large to change direction, and when in a group turning becomes impossible because they will trample over each other. he laughed and was quick to exclude his denomination from the comparison. he said his denomination was like "a bird." it could take to flight and change at any point quickly. my first thought was "Horton the Elephant" [Horton hatches and egg]

because story is so important i need to share with you a part of my story; i have actually been turned down for positions as a pastor in churches because i did not grow-up in a "christian home." i have also been turned down for positions because i was not a "member" of the denomination, even though the denominations have ways of accepting "outsiders" into their fold. to be open, that needed to be shared because it does cloud my personal view, and i know it does. in that, i still find the way we view pastors and denominations to be very interesting, and unsettling at the same time. interesting, because it show that human nature can not be broken by the church [even though scripture teaches us that when we are in christ we can over come our human limits] and that we trust our own more then we trust those who are new to their walk with christ; unsettling because it assume that if one is "born into" a christian home, they have a deeper walk then a new comer to the faith. also shows newcomers are never truly welcomed into the church, no matter what the church says. but this experience is a reality for many who have come to the church over these past few decades. you see, while they desire us to come and fill the seats and give a tithe, they are not willing to hear our voice.


Jeffrey said...

I was recently chastise by a "pastor" for not having a pastor or "being in church" anywhere. This, of course, meant that he wanted me to come to HIS church and HE would be my pastor...

I responded by informing him that I felt everyone was my pastor (if i must use the term). At the moment God uses someone to teach me or invoke a question in me, they have been my pastor...whether it be my wife, a friend, or a bald headed monkey tattooed guy...

that's my .02 worth.

The Pastor said...

Being a pastor myself, I know what you mean. There are many who want to put me on a pedistal, then watch my every move and analyze my every word so they can disagree.
Being my 1st church and a seminary student, a few in the church see themselves as trainer instead of included in a journey where we learn together and from each other.
You can come to my church anytime. I don't care if you were born in a Christian home. I only care about your discipleship with Jesus Christ.


bill vanderbush said...

It was the title that intrigued me. I think to myself, "Yet another cutting edge guy in ministry looking to do the same old thing with a new twist?" (Which means you probably read "Blue like Jazz" or some other postmodern signpost to the next cool way to be the church) I really loved this post though and was deeply challenged as a pastor and greatly encouraged in creativity and expanding the definitions of what it means to be a leader. One thing did bother me though. There's no sense of honor for those who have laid the foundation for where you now stand. Make their ceiling your floor rather than curse the ground. It is their sacrifice that enables you to move to a place of inheritance. Mat 10:41 "Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward." God's vision for your life is bigger than you have time to fulfill so eventually it will be needful to have something to pass onto the disciples you make. You will want them to carry the mantle as faithful stewards rather than making the ideas and ideals that now seem so new come off as an irrelevant waste. Every new idea is in danger of becoming the tradition that makes the word of God of no effect. (Mark 7:13) There are many faithful servants who are called Pastors who faithfully teach and declare the word of the Lord in our day. Scripture says those who do so are not only worthy of honor, but double honor. (1 Timothy 5:17) And while man is never to be worshipped some are to be exemplified. Hebrews 6:12 "...imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." What really touched me though was your concept of pastoral leadership as the "Narrator. You are onto something. Really. That term is truly worth some meditation. All pastors would do well to take this posture. I'm sure going to apply this to what God is leading me to teach and do. It's an amazing thing to consider when we consider each person as a key contributor to a singular story and those of us in position to lead become the Narrator. That's really powerful. Thanks for posting this blog.