Well, it’s that time again. As the end of the year approaches our leadership team has revisited, revised and worked out an annual budget. As per usual, we voted on it at a special called business meeting two weeks after we had handed it out. The meeting following service was brief as our administrator reviewed the budget with the membership, going over some of the highlights, and then came time for questions, clarification, and discussion. Crickets. Not one question, not a single comment, and no one really wanted to discuss anything. I’d blame it on the NFL’s Sunday lineup, but this week wasn’t a very impressive lineup, and besides, it feels like this happens every single time. We went to a vote, and the budget passed unanimously.
You may be asking, “What’s the problem?” Maybe you’re in a ministry context where there’s arguing and bickering, where things get downright ugly. Make no mistake, a contentious church is a burden to serve. There are a bevvy of articles written in regard to pastors who serve in a hostile environment, pastors who endure dishonor, pastors who live under the constant microscope of judgment under the guise of accountability, and rightfully so. Those who serve in these contexts carry a huge weight as they labor to serve those who demand service. There is another burden, however, that seldom gets discussed. It resides on the polar opposite end of the spectrum and I call it the burden of the unanimous.
There is a movement in Christendom to combat the consumeristic mindset within the church. We are beginning to look for ways to make corporate worship less like a performance and more like the interactive expression of worship that it’s meant to be. We are seeing more classes, messages, and lessons emphasizing that the church leadership are not here to do the work of ministry, but rather to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. Yet for all these efforts, we still find churches where the membership takes a largely passive role in the overall mission of the church and places the burden of mission on the leadership. This is expressed in the burden of the unanimous.
Leadership needs the interaction of the led. Any meat sack with more than a teaspoon of gray matter can start running and have the horde of mindless zombies chase him across town, but the general called in to suppress the zombie apocalypse needs reports from his field marshals who are strategizing with platoon sergeants and fire team leaders who are fighting beside individual soldiers. In a church, the leadership needs the same interaction. We need to know what their passions are so we can empower them. We need to know what struggles they’re facing so we can equip them and encourage them. We need to know what they’re doing so we can know how walk beside them. When we get no feedback, no questions, no challenges, no input, it puts the mission of the church in the hands of a very few people, limiting the effect of ministry.
In our church we have a pretty impressive ratio of members involved on some level, so I’m not saying there’s inactivity. However, when the pastor can “do no wrong” and every decision is unanimously approved without discussion, it’s very much as if pastor were doing it all by himself. If the church is a body, and every part is necessary, then there needs to be more interaction, more prayerful and intellectual interaction. As pastor, I only see so much in my circle of influence. We have 60 other people who live, work, and play in vastly different circles. Those observations and the ideas that stem from them are essential to the fulfillment of our mission. If God has truly arranged the parts of the body as He sees fit, then each one of our members are here with purpose and intent. We cannot afford for people to set it on cruise control and check out in some of the most critical stages of ministry. Singing is nice, but that seldom changes lives. I’m glad the class is full, but that teaching needs to bear tangible fruit. It’s our witness in the community, among the lost, that has an impact. We need everyone’s voice in order to position ourselves to have an effective witness in our community.
A unanimous congregation may not be hostile, but it can be every bit as frustrating and discouraging. My suggestion for starting a culture change in this case is to begin personally inviting people into the planning process. Big churches call this “team building.” Prayerfully seek who needs to be a part of “phase I” of the wake up plan and ask them questions about what they see and what they feel. Ask them what kinds of things they believe would serve to reach the lost or encourage the saints. Find out the kinds of things they are passionate about. When you begin to give people some stake, some ownership, in the process they will begin to show excitement regarding the outcome. As a few begin to get excited, others will follow suit. Oftentimes, people just don’t know that their input is needed (There’s a difference between input being welcome, and income being needed). As leaders, we want to see people follow; sometimes, as a leader, it’s our job to circle back and go get them, rally them, and show them the way. We don’t like to have to hold the hands of adults. But sometimes, you just have to hold their hands. What you may find, however, is that hand-holding grows into arm-locking, and that would be a beautiful thing!