Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Assault on the Ministry Family: Bride.

You can find the entire series in the Links tab at the top of the page.  

Little kids are funny creatures.  One minute they have found their newest best friend on the playground and are content to play with them for the rest of their lives. . .until the next minute they are screaming, "It's MINE(S)!" to the person that took their toy/snack/interesting object.  They are fiercely protective over their treasures and woe to the person who tries to take them away from them.  

Ever tried to pry a disintegrating cookie from a toddler's hand?  

Unfortunately, I've seen grown men and women act the same way about their churches.  It starts out innocent enough.  You see it in the older and established members faces when they walk down memory lane and reminisce about The Good Old Days of the church.  They talk of faith and hard work and labor and building the buildings with their own sweat, tears, and bonds.  They know about every nail and board in the building, they remember friends that have passed on that worked tirelessly to ensure that the church had a good solid building to attend.  They discuss 40 year old dreams and are still waiting for some of them to come to pass.  They have a self-imposed ownership of the building because their names and faces are on some of the oldest documents in the church.  

I've seen it in youthful faces as they try to break down the walls of tradition in their church.  I've watched them stand before the church with fire and passion in their eyes as they ridicule the establishment, how they plead for momentum, and get frustrated with the powers that be (many who are older than their grandparents).  I've heard their conversations about what they want their church to become, how it could better reach people their own age or in the community, and steps they want to take to make it happen.  I've seen their shock and disappointment when their previous Sunday School teachers (the ones who used to tell them that they could make a difference in the world for Jesus) ignore their requests and talk so poorly about their generation.  I've seen them give up and walk away.  

I've seen youth groups who are told that they are part of the church and that "they aren't the church of the future, but the church of today," and yet they never step foot in the main worship services because they are sequestered away in their teen services and classes.  They are constantly at the church or out doing incredible, fun, and spiritual activities, but they are completely separated from the Sunday morning congregation.  And I've seen them graduate out of the group and feel completely out of place in the adult services and classes.  They miss their sheltered environments with interesting art and lighting and live bands.  They miss the fun and the teen-centered environment.  They do not know how to interact with the adults because they have only been around people their age and just like them for the past 6 or 7 years (or more if they spent every Sunday before youth group in the children's service).  Some stick it out, but statistics tell us that most of them eventually leave the church.  

I've seen ministers who talk of their churches as their own personal properties.  I've seen men and women so fiercely protective of their ministries and ideas that they are quick to lash out at anyone who goes against their opinions.  They nurture and tend to their churches better than their spouses, and sometimes their families are jealous of the mistress that always takes first priority over them.  I've seen red faces and lost tempers when things don't exactly go the minister's way.  I've heard of the retired ministers who lose their places and sense of entitlement in the church when they no longer have their names on the doors.  

I have seen churches split completely in two congregations.  I have watched lifelong friends and brothers and sisters in Christ walk away from each other in anger.  I have sat in congregational meetings and have wanted to shake intelligent people who, for whatever reason, temporarily lost any sense of reason.  I have had my name slung through the mud and I'm ashamed that I've participated moments of mud slinging as well.  I've had men look me in the eye and tell me, a church staff member, that women have no right or place to serve in a leadership role in the church.  I've cried tears of rage following meetings with people who were spitting fire over decisions that were made without them.

I've seen people mad, sad, angry, desperate to save their churches that they completely forgot to see the church sitting in front of them.  

Our church is not a fancy building or a gym we rent on a weekly basis.  Our church is not the style of worship service or coffee or the pews or the folding chairs.  Our church is not the money or the budget or the sound system or the carpet.  Our church is not the time of day, the decorations, or the generation.  Our church is not our memories, our pride, or our special events.  

Our church is the bodies that fill the seats--and the ones that still need to find their way in the building.

I've seen the ministry staff desperately try to keep their congregations happy.  They work tirelessly to listen to suggestions and complaints and comments and try to sort them all out.  They sit down with the elders and church leaders and try to develop long-range plans and direction.  Ministry leaders can be prone to worry when they offend a certain family in the church--especially the families with deep ties and pockets.   I've seen leadership obsessed with attracting a certain type of person or demographic. 

But, regardless of whether the Blue Hair Club in your congregation comes from sweet old ladies who received a bad rinse or a punk kid who purposefully chose that color, they are all part of your church.  They all deserve a voice and deserve a church staff and leadership who are committed to their eternal well-being.   They desperately need a church that loves them and loves on them.  Your church may not be your ministry's staff desired audience.  The staff may dream of having a younger, older, hipster, military, urban, small town, young families, or adult contemporary audience--but they have been planted by the Lord to serve that particular congregation for a particular season.  

How discouraging it can be for the church staff who are fervently seeking the Lord's direction in their ministries, but are spinning wheels as they try to keep their congregations satisfied and remain employed.  How frustrating it becomes when they are told that they must offer certain programs and services because that's the way it's always been done.  

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something that's crazy:  I believe that the young, the old, and the in-between can go to church together and be fed.  I believe that sometimes the older generation needs to learn how to bend and listen to the ideas that the younger generation shares.  I also feel like the younger generation needs to shut their mouths once in a while and listen to the mature voices who have seen more life and have truth to share.  And, I feel like the youth should have a voice in the congregation--and that they also need to step out of their trendy classrooms on a regular basis and participate in the worship service with everyone else.  

My husband likes to talk about the church as the Bride of Christ.  I've been married for almost 11 years and I may not have all of the life experience as others, but I do know some things to be true.  

I love my husband.  

He is my lerve and a stud muffin.  He brings joy to my life, he makes me laugh, and he always surprises me with his witty commentary.  He is a deep thinker and sensitive to the feelings of others.  He is extremely sarcastic and competitive.  He is a good daddy to his little girls, and they believe he had something to do with the hanging of the moon.  He occasionally makes me crazy, and he puts up with my moods (especially lately) and my neurotic need for order and routine.  We don't always see eye to eye, but we make a good team. 

But I have learned that I am not whole just because I'm married to him.  Yes, I want him to be around.  Yes, I rely on his companionship and help and assistance.  Yes, we make a good home together.  His job is not to make my life better, to take out the trash, or to have my needs met.  We share our lives, our love, our meals, our bed, our family, our time, and our dreams and desires.  

But, contrary to the famous line from Jerry Maquire, my husband does not complete me. 

The Bible is full of Christ's love letters to his people.  He sacrificed His life for us, and we're busy worrying about how our churches look, how our music sounds, and how we are going to be remembered in scrapbooks and homecomings rather than falling more in love with Christ.  We're like the sweet couple who spends their entire engagement planning the wedding ceremony but never gives a second thought to the marriage that starts at the conclusion of the ceremony.  

Dear Church, we are the Bride.  

The people who sit next to you on Sunday morning and at congregational meetings and at the Thanksgiving meals and in the classes down the hall or in the annex building are all the Bride, too.  Your ministry staff needs the church to recognize that bickering over trivial things aren't doing anything to save the marriage.  You may not have all of your dreams realized when you walk into the doors of the church building.  You may not always agree with the style, the presentation, or the packaging of your church.  And when the congregation's complaints boil down to matters of personal preference rather than spiritual issues, then the ministers are left with having to deal with spoiled and unhappy people who just want their way.   

What if the congregation could set aside some of their petty desires and dusty memories and start to look for ways to serve one another's needs?  What if everyone realized they have something to learn from the new and old traditions in the church?  What if the church recognized that they need to work together to reach those in their community who need to hear the Truth.  I have a feeling that something beautiful would happen and that the church would be transformed.    

But the church is not going to complete us, either.

Our completeness is found in Him.     


To be continued. . . 

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