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Telling Part of My Story

March 18, 2008

I’m not entirely sure if this blog entry will turn out to be instructive or cathartic. Perhaps a little of both. I’ll tell you what I did first, what happened as a result, and then we can discuss together what it means.

Reading this book by Viola and Barna last week brought back memories of 1997. I spent a lot of that year working on a book I wanted to market on a similar theme as Pagan Christianity. I had been thinking for a long time about Christianity’s American expression and not happy at all with what I saw. In particular, I took exception with how much American pastors were still playing the dominant role in church ministry and how individual members felt like second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. This problem is nothing new: It has existed since the first century. On this point, Viola is accurate and astute. The concept of the Priesthood of all Believers has not worked out well in practice.

The book I decided to write was going to be called “Releasing God’s People”. At the time, I was still marketing my first book and doing radio interviews with stations across the country.

A Denver radio station asked to do a 15 minute interview with me which was to be followed up with listener questions. In the minutes before we started, the interviewer told me that they usually had one or two callers at that time in the morning and I shouldn’t expect to be on the phone for more than 20 minutes total. During the first ten minutes of on-air time, we talked about my book on parenting techniques and he pretty much followed the “questions list” my publicist had sent him. At one point, he stopped and asked if I was working on any new projects at that moment. I blurted out that I was writing a book on “Releasing God’s People” which would center on taking much of ministry out of the hands of the pastor and giving it back to the average disciple of Jesus. It was like I had woken the interviewer up with a slap on the face. He went from disinterested radio jock to curious enquirer. I should point out that this was not a religious radio station.

After ten minutes of questions, he opened it up to the listeners. From what he later told me, they had never had that kind of response. The phone lines were jammed with people wanting to ask questions of this “pastor guy”. After almost an hour of the question/answer banter, the radio guy cut it off and finished his slot for the day. When we got off the air, he asked me if I would send him a copy of the book when it was done. I assured him I would send it upon its publication.

He never got a copy of the book. It was never published. The manuscript still sits in the bottom of a file drawer awaiting its day. I am going to explain the two reasons for that in a moment.

I was approximately 80% finished with the book when I did that interview. The portion I was working on not only was the most difficult, but also the section I felt the least amount of peace over. It was the part where I explained what I thought should be done. In preparation for one of the chapters, an idea occured to me. It seemed so brilliant at the time that I really didn’t ask anyone if they thought it was a GOOD idea. That might have saved me a lot of anxiety.

Here was my idea. If anything was going to change, it probably needed to come from the people at the center of the problem: pastors. And if I was going to write a book about what I thought should change, I should be willing to lead the way. I still believe that. I just realize now that my idea was faulty. It didn’t seem that way at the time, but it was.

Here is what happened. I was teaching a series on Ephesians 4 in preparation for presenting some of my new ideas on the role of the pastor. During the week before the message, I had taken a sign off my door. The sign had given my name and my title and was situated at the front right hand corner of the sanctuary. I took off the words “Senior Pastor” and just left my name there. Then, at the beginning of my message, I announced I was resigning as “The Pastor” of the church. After allowing the gasps and emotions to subside a bit, I then explained myself. I looked at the Scriptures concerning the role of leadership in the church and found that it is rare for one person to be called by God to lead alone. It did happen a few times in the Bible, but the more common pattern was for God to raise up many leaders and give them various degrees of spiritual authority. What I was “resigning” from was the idea that I was the only leader in the church, the only minister, the only real servant of the Lord, the only one who could be called “God’s Anointed”.

After that service concluded, several people came up to me with concerned and worried looking faces and told me “I love you Mike, but I don’t think this is going to turn out well for all of us”. Several of the people I saw as the most mature members of the Body shared this same opinion with me. I hate to say that my wife was one of them. In fact, the people who loved what I had to say the most were the scariest ones: The rebellious, goofy and immature. Immediately I had to ask “what have I done?”

The next year was a horror story for me and the church as a whole. As I sought to bring changes to the leadership structure of the church and to have those changes filter to every level of the church’s experience, more and more incidents of sin, rebellion, and people trying to exert improper control over each other happened. In one year, 8 members of the church had to be disciplined for sinful behavior. We had only disciplined a half dozen in the 9 previous years. There was a huge split in the leadership team. A year later, half the board split off and formed their own church. The church voted to leave the fellowship of churches they had been a part of since their founding 16 years earlier. We had been the fastest growing church in town at that point and now we were shrinking like an iceberg in the Sahara.

And all I did was remove my title from the door. What harm could that have done? I mean, it was only a title, right?

Some of the wisest leaders in God’s church that I know have pondered this situation with me. I have written several people whose books sell millions and who are acquaintances…and they have shared their wisdom. I have sought the Lord and He showed me some things. Ministry leaders, prayer warriors, worship leaders, deacons, elders, small group leaders, Bible College presidents and evangelists have weighed in on this situation. Their wisdom amounts to three principles that I didn’t see the full value of at the time.

1. Human beings want God’s authority vested in other human beings. This goes right back to Israel’s first King. God didn’t fight it…he realized we have trouble with being lead by the unseen God. The Bible is clear that God raises up leaders (even secular leaders) to bring his hand of order and discipline.

2. The spirit realm is all about authority. When someone relinquishes authority, there is a vacuum into which the enemy can work more freely. King David is the classic example of this when he committed adultery with Bathsheba after refusing to be the leader of the Army going into battle. Never were there more ominous words in the Bible than these: “It was the time that Kings went out to war, but David stayed home.”

3. Rebellion is always waiting to show itself as soon as there is anarchy. You cannot have a group of people without a leader. For if you do not designate a leader by some means, the strongest and most power-centered person will take charge.

By not recognizing these three principles, I had caused God’s church irreparable harm. I have publicly confessed that sin to that congregation almost before it was too late. God did repair some of the damage, but most of it remains to this day. I refused to finish that book and publish it as a result. I think I know what the answer can be. I am waiting for someone else to write it, since I believe I have lost my right to be the one to say it. May God raise that person up.

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10 comments

  1. Mike,

    Might be one of the most reflective and important blogs I’ve read in a long, long time. If you’re not up to the task of finishing the book, I pray that God raises someone soon. The book needs to be written, published, and read by every pastor in America, myself included.


  2. Mike, I beg to differ with you. You have first hand knowledge of what happens when the change is made the wrong way – and now knowledge of the right way. Who better to write the book.

    Don’t let Satan fill you with residual guilt and prevent you from finishing that book!


  3. I am not really dealing with guilt in this matter. I dealt with that when I confessed my mistake to the congregation. However, there are times when our actions and inactions are indicative of our hearts. My heart was not in a place to conclude the matter. It is not that I won’t have anything to do with the discussion. It is simply that God has shown me I won’t be the one to write this book. I have no qualms with that. This is why I read so many books on the changing of the church. When I read the one that contains what I believe is the pattern that will work, I will be its biggest cheerleader. I have seen bits of pieces of it here and there, but I’m not convinced we have hit on the answer yet.


  4. Mike

    When I first read this post I immediately thought of King David and his temple, or rather, Solomon’s temple. You would think that someone whom God called, A man after His own heart, would be the perfect person to erect the temple. But there are times when, as you so eloquently said, our actions preclude us from setting forth and accomplishing the desires which hide in the deepest recesses of our heart.

    I don’t mean to be the voice of God, nor compare your actions to the years of bloodshed which David spilled (thought I don’t think you’d take this that way =O) I only mean to affirm the maturity of your decision. Others in your position may not be so sensitive to God’s authority.


  5. I believe too many people want to be leaders in our culture and this spills over into the church. Many are people who are not, and never will be, leadership material. They might look and sound like leaders, but on the inside they are something else. I seriously doubt the proposition that everyone can (or should) be a leader of some sort. It’s the old too many chiefs and not enough Indians problem. Some people can force themselves to be a leader when necessary, but not for long. Their God-given gifts are elsewhere. Add to the problem the fact that leaders and followers in the church no longer have a clear understanding of authority. Authority is no longer politically correct.

    I agree there should be more than one leader in the church (though there should be a senior leader accountable to a group of other leaders), but they should not be chosen willy-nilly.

    When they were replacing Judas I notice that they were to select someone who had been with them the whole time. This leads me to believe that they knew the two candidates VERY well. They then prayed and cast lots to make the final selection. I do not see the church selecting leaders in this Biblical way, and as a result I can tell you some of those chosen are not ready! The senior pastor often delegates leaders because it’s expedient and seems safe to choose his team, but it invites disaster. We end up with leaders who are doing it out of duty or guilt or for financial reasons. And we end up with some leaders who have problematic sins in their lives. Leaders should lead because they are completely in love with Jesus, and because they have the gifts of leadership, and because they are able to lead others towards an ever increasing love of Jesus.

    And by the way, we should return to the practice of casting lots because it requires faith that God has selected the leader and not our weak human hearts that are prone to partiality. Serious!


  6. Well, I will give you, anon., the reason that the lot isn’t used any more. The lot was cast before the Spirit of God was given to the church. Never again do you see the leadership choosing people that way after the Spirit was given. The best example of this is in Acts 13 where we read “The Spirit said to them ‘Set apart to me Barnabas and Saul to the work for which I have called them’.” The early church relied on prophets, teachers and apostles to do much of the choosing of leadership.

    Good try with the lot, but I don’t think it is what we need. It would be going backwards.


  7. I know casting lots may seem rediculous, especially in light of your position that the Holy Spirit is supposed to lead us (which I agree with, though sadly I sometimes forget). It is just discouraging to see nepotism and the ol-boy network, and not the Holy Spirit, prevail in the selection of many leaders. We (the church in general) really need to get back to sincere prayer and divine leading in the selection of our leaders.


  8. Anon. that is absolutely correct. I can’t really see too much nepotism any more, but the good ol’ boy network is alive and kicking. Holy Spirit is the only one that I trust to get things done. More about that later.


  9. I do not see much difference between nepotism and the good ol boy network. As for nepotism, all you have to do is look around our denomination. There are generations of families working throughout the organization. The dictionary describes nepotism as “Favoritism based on kinship.” I do not see how it can be mere chance that so many relatives work for the same organization. It sure looks like nepotism. And, sadly, I am sure it is not exclusive to our denomination.

    The deplorable thing is that people do not care. In fact, they almost expect it; viewing it as normal. But it is wrong because a veneer of Godly propriety is presented when the reality is something different.

    Thre are two other major problems as well. It seems that the church (in general) struggles to help people love Jesus more than anything in this world, and it does not seriously get Christians to serve or advocate for the marginalized. That is, we are selfish. We measure success by numbers, programs, and financial health. And we attain this definition of success by making sure the preaching is professional, contemporary, entertaining, and relevant. We must feel good, or experience a high, when the sermon is over. Next, the worship music must be contemporary, loud, and professional enough to make us feel something, though I’m sometimes not sure what we are feeling. Finally, there must be no heavy-handed guilt trips placed on the people via any expectations.

    The older I get, the more I realize success for a Christian is about loving Jesus more than anything. Next, it is service. I mean a culture of service to perpetuity. And if not service, then at least sacrificial giving to those who actually do serve orphans and widows.

    But few of my brethren (including myself) are ready for such genuine Christianity. It has not been modeled for us and our secular culture pushes us in the opposite direction. It would probably scare a lot of people away from the church.

    So, what are we to do?


  10. I’m sure that not all nepotism is a result of the formation of a “good ol’ boy network”. We don’t view it that way when a cop’s son or daughter goes into the force. Or a doctor’s child or Bobby Bonds’ son Barry. Sometimes there are children that are positively influenced by their parents and this gives them impetus to go into the ministry.

    I agree that Christianity is partly about loving Jesus and others as ourselves. There is no way to argue with that.



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