Monthly Archives: April 2008

It Takes A Team to Run a Church… Or Does It?

A number of years ago I was approached to evaluate the concept of a co-pastor model for a local church. Having just lost its founding pastor due to a severe family illness, this relatively small church (less than 300 members) faced a moment of decision. It had two young, highly skilled assistant pastors.  Neither one was quite ready to take over the lead pastor position.

Many members were concerned about the leadership void. Some suggested hiring a new senior pastor. Others lobbied for one of the assistants to take over. Both of the assistant pastors wanted to work together as a team. They presented the idea to the church’s governing board of lay leaders.

It didn’t go over well. The board struggled with the co-pastor idea because it was so foreign to everything they had ever experienced. These leaders were used to top-down management of a church, and they just couldn’t see how anything else would work.

One of the men told me that he didn’t see a lot of basis for a co-pastor model in the Scripture. I responded by saying the same could be said for many other things that have become sacred cows in America’s churches. Much of how we do church today has been influenced by pagan practices more than Scripture. That is not to say that these things are necessarily bad. But we must be careful to realize that just because something has been the tradition for a long time doesn’t make it a divinely inspired practice.

Looking to Scripture, you will find support for a variety of leadership structures. This includes single leaders, delegated leadership, management by a counsel or board of leaders, official/appointed leaders, and impromptu leadership arising from a moment of crisis. I thought about this issue of leadership structures in churches as I read the cover story from the latest issue of Leadership Journal (www.leadershipjournal.net).

The cover story focused on The Next Level (TNL) Church in Colorado. It uses a four-member pastor team approach to leadership. TNL decided on its current approach after the former senior pastor cracked under the pressure of running a large church with thousands in attendance each week.

Here are some insights from the interview. No names are used to keep with the concept of all four pastors working together as a teams. Direct quotations are in “”.

  • The senior pastor model can put a lot of pressure on one person unless there is adequate delegation and release to other leaders.
  • “There is something systematically unhealthy about becoming dependent upon a single leader.”
  • Team leadership spreads around the responsibilities, which means the show will go on even if a crisis event impacts one leader.
  • Team environments can create an atmosphere where pastors feel free to bounce around ideas and really explore new ways to do things. 
  • The concept of team leadership doesn’t seem as strange in other countries. But our rugged individualism in Amercia makes it difficult for some people to implement.
  • The co-pastor/team approach is not for every church. Each local fellowship must decided what fits best. There should be room to try new structures as seems best to fit each individual situation.  
  • At TNL, each pastor oversees a specific ministry area. They make large decisions together.
  • According to the article, a big reason why TNL’s leadership structure works is that the pastors are truly friends who enjoy serving together. Their teamwork model reflects the more collaborative culture that exists especially among younger people today.
  • “No structure is perfect. If you change the structures, you’re just trading liabilities. The liabilities that go with the team structure suit our culture, and they suit our personalities.” This quote captures a key point that there is no perfect system because all will involve imperfect people. The key is to recognize the holes in your approach and to go about fixing them.
  • Having different leaders up front doing ministry can be a plus and minus. Some people want only one person on stage most of the team.  They like the consistentancy of the same face every week. The nice thing about having multiple leaders who teach or do stage ministry is that different people will connect with various communication styles.
  • “Culturally, we also like to worship celebrities. We all have a little paparazzi in us that we bring to church.” A team approach gets across the point that the value of a local church is much more than just one dynamic speaker.
  • Leaders can be free to focus on their specialties without having to have an opinion on everything. In the senior pastor models, the top leader tends to be asked about every little detail.
  • “Our team structure demands healthy relationships and health communication. Without those we cannot get the job done.” Sadly, healthy communication is one of the things that is lacking in many churches around the country.
  • Leadership teams must have chemistry. This is not something that you can force, and it should get stronger over time.
  • “Most structures don’t allow lead pastors to take a back seat.” One of the major reasons for this is that lower level pastors don’t want to take risks that will get them in trouble with the boss. And senior pastors don’t do enough to release and communicate with their subordinates.
  • One of the liabilities the team approach is that it takes a lot longer to make decisions. The good part is that you have a number of voices to vet ideas.

What do you think? Could a team/co-pastor model ever work in your local church?

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Bitter People

“The Church is full of bitter people who have not gotten over their past.”

A guest preacher said the above statement this morning during my church’s service. Unfortunately, I found his words to be stunningly true. When you become a Christian, Jesus takes away your sin and shame. But it can be hard to let it go. This same attitude can take over how we look at others.

When others have hurt you, it an be even harder to forgive them. This is especially true when the people who hurt you claim to be Christians. Just as Christ forgives our sin, he calls us to do the same to others. While we don’t have to put ourselves in positions that we can be hurt again, we have to be willing to trust God with the offense and to move on. This is much easier said than done. We tend to think by forgiving others we are some how validating their wrong actions. But that is not the case. Forgiveness does not equal validation of a sin. Forgiveness means the wrong is being trusted to God.

If you don’t forgive, hurt can lead to bitterness. Although you would think that people would want to get rid of bitterness, strangely the opposite occurs most of the time. People get used to bitterness and become dependent on it. Bitterness becomes something that they don’t know how to live without. This attitude then follows them in their future relationships.

American churches are full of bitter people who put on a happy face for Sunday services. Then they release their bitterness through conversations and actions throughout the week. Many times they are completely unaware of the poison they spew. I should know. I have fought bitterness, disillusion and frustration in my life, including my experiences in the Church. Truth be told. I still fight it from time to time. 

A good friend and spiritual mentor once said to me, “Chaille, you will discover that your greatest joys and hurts take place in Church life.” I think this godly man is right because we expect so much more from Christians than those who don’t know God. But if we are honest, we should realize that the only one who we can really trust to do it right all the time is God not His kids.

Bitterness gets in the way of our freedom and release. It keeps us prisoner, not allowing us to move forward with our lives. It keeps us from trusting in the future and robs our relationships of intimacy. Bitterness makes us bound more tightly with each passing day. In forgiving others, we discover that we are the ones who become free. 

The preacher this morning said that we should get over our bitterness and hand it to God. He also said that our pain and our scars help make us who we are and can be used to help others. He pointed to the many men and women of the Bible who experienced God’s saving power through their pain and scars. It is interesting that when Jesus rose from the dead His disciples recognized Him by the scars on His body. Jesus was known by His scars. The same can be said of us. Those scars can become something useful or just a painful reminder of our past that haunts our present.

Are you bitter? Who is that one person that you still bristle every time you hear his/her name? Who do you tend to blame for your greatest hurt?

You can either choose to be bitter or better. The choice is up to you.

More Carsonisms

Here are a few more gems of Hebrew insight from my Hebrew teacher, Dr. Carson Brisson.

“Hebrew is a revealed religion. They are not interested in what you have to say if you have not listened.”

“In the Scriptures, the land becomes the personification of the people.”

“In Hebrew, you don’t turn light on and off. You open the light and close the light.”

Revelation

Dr. Brian Blount, the new president of Union-PSCE, spoke in my NT2 class today. As a respected African American New Testament professor, he brought an interesting perspective to Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. He wrote a book called Can I Get a Witness? that connects the struggle of blacks in the USA with the events and imagery covered in Revelation. While I am more interested in pure Biblical exegesis than cultural studies, Blount’s connection of Revelation with modern struggles flushed out some new ways to look at a somewhat familiar and bewildering text.

I have always been suspicious of anyone who has everything in Revelation worked out. When somebody walks toward me with an End Times chart, I want to run. At the same time, I don’t want to be lumped in with scholars who downplay the prophetic nature of the text believing it is merely imagery. I think all sides in this discussion have some valid points. And it seems that all too often the real key issues get lost in disagreements over lesser details or wild goose chases trying to figure out specific pieces of the apocalyptic puzzle. I tend to think that God uses mystery as much or more than specific instruction to get our attention and motivate us to His holy goal.

Dr. Blount made many interesting points during his lecture. Here’s some of the highlights:

  • There are many visions in the book but only one Revelation. Blount stated that the key theme of the revelation is that Jesus stands as sovereign Lord over all human history.
  • Revelation can be dangerous book for those who don’t heed its warnings or misapply its message. Some people have wrongly taken the text to mean that this world does not matter. But Blount insisted that is completely contrary to what John wanted his reader to think.
  • In John’s day, it would have seemed ridiculous to those in the natural world for Jesus to be declared Lord of all. Rome was the ruling power on the earth.
  • Blount stated that if more people today understood John’s Revelation, there would be more daring action and transformation in the Church.
  • Revelation does not flow in linear progression. It is a series of conic spirals that interweave. There are flashbacks and different spheres going on at the same time. Blount called it a “3-ring apocalyptic circus.”
  • John’s visions in Revelation pick up on some important themes and characters from the Hebrew Scriptures, including Jezebel, Balaam, plagues of Egypt, Eden imagery, Ezekiel’s visions, etc.
  • Another key concept is that John was calling the early Christians to be “witnesses” of the Gospel. He wanted them to be willing to do things that made them stand out even if it caused them persecution or death. The goal was to live as a witness of Christ not to die as a martyr. John wanted Christians to stop passing as normal Greco/Roman citizens who believed in the emperor cults.
  • Even when God is unleasing plagues on the earth, His aim is repentance and restoration not destruction.
  • The Lamb is portrayed as both a gentle sacrifice and a warrior. 
  • Blount said that the imagery in Revelation was meant to frighten its readers into fearing eternal judgment more than any earthly pain imposed by Rome.
  • Blount explained the imagery of Satan being released after the millennial reign of Christ as a sign of sins stubborn ability to keep coming back to deceive humanity.
  • The restoration of the garden imagery from Eden closes the loop of history from Adam to Eve.
  • John doesn’t want the reader to try to calculate or flowchart the last days. It is not about knowledge as much as action, devotion and striving to be a witness to God’s kingdom here and now. It is a call to be radical for the cause of Christ because Jesus said He was coming soon.
  • Instead of trying to figure out who the beast is, John would want modern readers to be motivated by the imagery to act in such a way that upholds Jesus as Lord and seeks to bring godly transformation to this world here and now.
  • Blount pointed out that the term antichrist is not in the book of Revelation. That is pretty interesting since antichrist is one of the first things that many Evangelicals think about when you mention the book of Revelation.

I may blog on some of those points later. For now, I hope they give you something to chew on.

Carsonisms

The last two semesters have been quite a joy to regularly hear little spiritual gems from my Hebrew teacher, Dr. Carson Brisson. His insights into the Hebrew Scriptures have been quite inspiring. I also love his little life lessons.

Here are a few of my favorite sayings from the last week in class.

“The ‘god’ whom we predict is not God at all.”

“Peace is not the absence of something. It is the presence of something.”

“God is an apple cart upsetter!”

Weeds

My lawn is a perfect picture of neglect. It is a not so beautiful patchwork of weeds, wild onions, grabgrass, and wild plants. It didn’t get this way overnight. It took years of neglect. The lawn guy said, “You don’t have much grass for me to work with. We are going to have to kill or get rid of everthing and start completely over.”

I used to think that I was OK with an uggly lawn. Afterall, I am busy doing more important things like working, ministering, going to school, mentoring students, etc. Who has time to spend worshipping the great green god of a nicely maniquered lawn? But I have started to realize that I am no different than any other guy.

When faced with the results of my decision, I cannot stand it. I don’t want a lawn like the brochure. I just want something that is not considered a public eye sore. I don’t want to have to apologize to my neighbors every time they look past me to the horrible mess destroying their property value. It isn’t a good witness. That is what seems to hurt the most. So I am going to do something about it. Unfortunately, it is almost useless to try to do anything until August. This summer I will have to take my lumps like a man and accept that I may have the uggliest lawn on the block.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the spiritual lessons in my lawn experience. Sin is a lot like weeds. It only takes a few to start chocking out the life of the real grass (anything that is good). Then, in a few years we wake up and suddenly notice that our life is full of sin with little left that appears good at all. We only notice it suddenly although the process has been working steadily for years. An expert (a pastor) comes and tells us what we already know, we need a completely renovated lawn (life). He suggests Jesus Christ as the answer to kill the weeds and to produce growth of lush, green grace (the best life possible). And unlike my lawn, I don’t have have to pay the price for the renovation. Jesus did that on the cross.

I was reminded of this Scripture, which compares the glory of man and the Word of God.

Isaiah 40:6-8 (NIV)
A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall,  because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”