Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Ghost Story

My father was a story teller. He grew up in a time that just about the only entertainment was story telling. So good story tellers were in high demand.

When dad spoke of his growing up days in the 1920’s and 30’s it sounded to me like he lived centuries ago. Much like my stories must sound to my children and grandchildren when I talk of party line telephones; listening to the radio at night; 45 records and black and white televisions with ten inch screens. When dad was a child they didn’t have indoor plumbing, electricity, (no electric lights or machinery) central heat or cars. In his early childhood they didn’t even have roads. He told of quarrying limestone on their farm, hauling it to the proposed road site and watching as the county came by with a rock crusher and there was their first road. The roads weren’t paved for several more decades. His mother cooked huge meals on a wood burning stove. He often woke up on cold winter mornings to find that a sheet of ice had formed on his wash basin. They farmed with mules pulling their equipment instead of tractors. They didn’t listen to the radio because they had no electricity to power one. It sounded like another century to me.

With little else for entertainment, storytelling was a well-practiced art in rural Kentucky. Robertson County was and is a very hilly part of the state. Farming was difficult with little tillable land. Most of it was in the bottoms. So the county was sparsely populated. It was not unusual to know everyone in the county. This was especially true for my father’s family because my grandfather McConnell was the County High Sherriff. So my father hung out with story tellers of all ages and thus perfected the art. When my father told a story you could see they people he was talking about; hear the surrounding sounds; smell the scents in the air; hear the accents of those speaking. In my mind’s eye I can still “see” the stories dad told.

He loved to tell of, as a boy of about 13, going with his girlfriend and a couple of other couples to visit Mide (Like wide with an m.) Fogg. (You just gotta love that name.) Mide was an old “widder” lady who lived back in a hollow in a tiny log cabin. When the kids came on a Sunday evening to visit, Mide dressed up in her good black dress and pulled out her best pipe for smoking. Her eyes were a bright sparkly blue that stood out in her thin wrinkled face. She was thin on the verge of being scrawny and had not a tooth in her head. She had a high, almost squeaky voice and, of course, gummed her words.

The young people would arrive in the very late afternoon. On this particular occasion it was late fall – around Halloween. There was wood smoke in the air and rustling leaves underfoot. The couples gathered on Mide’s porch to share the local news and gossip for a while. As darkness closed in someone would always ask her to tell a true ghost story. Ghost stories abounded in the hills of Kentucky and Mide claimed to have witnessed several of them. She would lean back in her creaky old rocking chair; take a deep drag off her pipe and as a faraway look settled into her eyes she would begin.

“As was the custom in those days, when a farmer had a big job to do that required more help than the family could supply, neighbors gathered for a work day. The task of the day was to clear a field of trees and prepare it for cultivation. The women had gathered in the house to prepare a huge dinner for the many hands gathered. The children were in the side yard play games and the men were down the hill clearing the land. It was almost dinner time (The noon meal.) when one of the men appeared at the kitchen door and looked in the screen. One of the ladies noticed him and called to his wife that Clarence was at the door. When she went to the door he looked a little strange to her. He just stood there and looked at her, then waved goodbye and walked away. She thought that was a little odd, but then, Clarence was a little odd. She thought little more about it as went back to patting out the biscuits she was famous for in Robertson County. Within a minute a ruckus arose down the hill and several men sprinted to the house. They brought the news that the tree Clarence had been cutting down had fallen on him and killed him. A strange silence fell over the women in that kitchen. It seemed obvious to his wife and to all to whom she told her story that Clarence had stopped by on his way out of this life to say goodbye.”

That may have not been exactly the way Mide told it, but that was pretty close. She told that story and several others. She claimed they were all “true”, first person ghost stories. She had those youngsters on the edges of their seats and managed to scare the waddin’ out of them. And then she sent the kids home.

It was fall so the sun set earlier each evening and nighttime was amazingly dark back in those unlit Kentucky hollows. Nobody in those hills had even heard of a flashlight. The trails in those pitch black nights were difficult to see and basically impossible to follow after dark unless one had his way home memorized. Dad said he wished he hadn’t brought a date that he felt obligated to walk home. Without her in tow, he would have taken the most direct route and run all the way home.

Happy Halloween. May God gift you with a Mide Fogg to enrich your life and scare the bejesus out of you.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @bill45053.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Can a Church Be Unfixable

In conversation with a clergy colleague whom I used to coach in leading a church in transformation (Her church ran out of money to pay me but that hasn’t stopped us from talking.) she asked the somewhat rhetorical question, “Are some churches unfixable?” That really got me thinking.

Theoretically and theologically (According to my theology which believes God can do anything.) no church is unfixable. When I consult with churches, I am often asked by church pastors and lay leaders if I believe their church is going to make it. Honestly, sometimes I have my doubts. It is not unusual for a church to not realize their need for revitalization and transformation until things have become grim. Many of our churches are not just unhealthy, they are on life support and it is time to pull the plug. But if you suggest that to the church leadership they want to give you a sound beating. If church leaders would direct their passion toward transformation instead of denial, more churches would be transformed and flourish.

Most leaders are unaware that a normal church loses an average of 10% of its membership on a good year. If there is change in the church or if there is conflict, the decline will often be much more dramatic. That means that most churches need to bring in a minimum of 10% of their present membership to stay even. Honestly, it is an unusual church that experiences that much “Growth.” Thus, most are consistently losing ground on a regular basis. Often the decline is very slow, incremental and hard to detect. Unless, of course we have one of our good old fashioned church fights that poisons the atmosphere in the church and speaks volumes to the surrounding unchurched about all that is wrong with the church. No doubt the unchurched look at the church in open warfare over issues that seem inconsequential to them (And are usually inconsequential to the church, really.) and think, “See, I knew there were good reasons to not go to church.” Every preconceived negative notion they have about the church is proven when we just have to have a fight. One of the best things we could do for evangelism and church growth is to think about how our fight will affect others before we have one. And then not have it.

But the question of the day is, are some churches unfixable? To answer that, allow me to share a story from early in my ministry journey. I was a student minister the Christian Church in Waddy, Kentucky. The Christian Church in Waddy is one of those wonderful churches that are willing to put up with the ineptness of student ministers to have a sermon every Sunday and help kids like me gain some experience and hone some skills. I still think fondly of those wonderful people. One summer day a car pulled up in front of the parsonage and a lovely young woman, who was a stranger to me, emerged. She introduced herself and told me that her mother was a member of the church. Her mother, Nellie, had not attended for a long time because of a chronic illness. In fact, she had stopped by to let me know her mother was in the hospital in Shelbyville and ask me to go visit her. I was happy to and left almost immediately for the hospital.

When I entered Nellie’s room I was struck by how small she was. A better word would be emaciated. She could not have weighed more than 100 pounds. As we conversed she shared that she had come to the hospital because she could not hold down any food. I asked her how long she had been ill. She said, “About 20 years.” I thought, but didn’t say, Wow! Later in the conversation I mentioned that I had met her daughter and we talked about her for a while. Having a child, I assumed she was married so I asked about her husband. At that question an amazing change came over her. Within seconds Nellie’s demeanor totally changed. No longer warm and engaging, she became hostile and surly. It was as if a storm had suddenly internally overtaken her. Her voice even changed. It took on an edge. She told me she was no longer married. That she and her daughter’s father had divorced. From her profoundly negative response I thought the divorce must have been recent. Divorces take some time to get over – to get past. There is a grieving period.

Again I was completely floored when she said they had been divorced for several years. My mind started clicking and I asked her exactly how long they had been divorced. She replied, “About 20 years.” In my head the lights flashed and the warning sirens went off: Twenty years sick and twenty years literally hating her ex-husband’s guts. Sounded like a significant connection to me.

Being young and stupid I asked her, “Nellie, have you ever considered that your illness and your obvious hatred for your ex-husband could be connected? Could it be that your hatred and unforgiveness are causing you to be ill?” She looked me directly in the eye for what seemed to be a very long time and then said, with the light coming on behind her eyes, “Yes. I believe there is a connection.”

“Would you like for me to pray with you so you can forgive your ex and seek God’s healing?” I will never forget her reply. She simply said, “I’d rather die.” And she did.

So, can a church be unfixable. Yes, but only if it chooses to be. When a church is confronted with the need to change; with the need for transformation and refuses, it is saying the same thing Nellie said to me all those years ago in that Shelbyville, Kentucky, hospital. I’d rather die.

And that is, to me, the surprising answer I hear from many churches. They don’t say they would rather die. But they do refuse to change and that is basically declaring a death wish. And that is Unfixable.

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ or on Twitter @bill45053.
Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 13, 2014

9 Reasons Unsociable People Like Social Media

There is a lot of chatter around the subject of the sociability of social media. Many questions are being asked. And many of them are good questions. Is social media good for our society or are there too many negatives to the large amount of time many people spend on social media? Do we spend so much time and energy connecting with people in the cyber world that we are failing to fully live a non-cyber life?
If you are observant you have seen a table full of teens or young adults in a restaurant with their faces buried in their smart phones texting other people about what they are doing. Which seems strange to me because all they are doing is sitting in a restaurant not talking to the people they have chosen to spend the evening with while texting people they have chosen to not be with. (Yes I know about prepositions.) The question is asked, “Are we missing the moments of life as we attempt to record the moments of life?” We have all seen the people who, during a child’s performance in a play or at a recital, are busy scurrying around the room attempting to get the best shot or camera angle. Will they have to go home and watch the video to really see the performance?

It is not unusual for me to forget my smart phone and go a day without it. Even so, I have been a bit concerned that I am too tethered to it. Yesterday I downloaded an app that registers how many times a day I check my phone. Of course, I have to check my phone to check the app that tells me how many times I check my phone. Somehow, that just seems wrong.

Often I go to lunch and leave it sitting on my desk. The only thing that motivates me to carry it is that if my wife calls me more than twice and I fail to pick up she assumes something horrible has happened to me. I hate to cause her that heartache and concern, so I try to remember to carry my phone. But I will admit that eating lunch without my phone works for me. Unlike some of colleagues who seem to spend a majority of the lunch hour texting and chatting on their phones. No doubt these conversations are of great importance but they leave me, the person sitting with them, feeling rather unimportant and out of the loop. I occasionally think about texting them just so I can have their attention. Since when did the people calling or texting us take priority over the people we are with physically? It is like the old days when I found myself in the check out at a department store and the clerk would stop checking me out to answer a phone call. Why does the phone take precedence? For years I have had the policy: If I am busy, my phone is busy. If I am with someone I will not pick up a call. (Unless it is my wife. Reason already stated.)

Here is the other side of that coin. Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texting and all the other forms it come in, works best for people like me. I am an introvert. Those who don’t understand introverts assume we are unsociable or antisocial. Not true. We introverts love people and we love conversations: Only we like you in small doses and are only interested in talking about meaningful matters. We love to talk but we abhor small talk. And even though most might not think it is designed for us, the “unsociable”, social media is a gift from God.

Unsociable people love social media because:
  1. We can engage with you when and as often as we want to – or not.
  2. We can end the conversations with the click of a button.
  3. If you get on our nerves, we can unfriend you.
  4. You can send us long texts and we don’t have to read them and you still got to say all you wanted to say.
  5. We can answer you with an emoticon. Like this.
  6. We can mark your email as spam and never see it or feel a need to read or respond to it.
  7. If we don’t want to check Facebook we don’t have to look at it. For days at a time.
  8. We save time because we think: Why spend three minutes texting you when we could just call you. And then we think: If I call you I have to talk to you – forget it. Thus we save all that time.
  9. Twitter allows the user a message of no more than 140 characters. That is pretty much our maximum message anyway.
So, if you are looking for me, check out social media. And if I fail to respond to you try not to take it personally.

 Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook or on Twitter @bill45053.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Faith and Trust

Something that is probably obvious to others has only recently become clear in my mind. Faith and trust are different. One is built on the other but they are not the same thing.

If I go to the dictionary for help I usually don’t find much help. Looking at Faith I found:

  1. Confidence or trust in a person or thing:
  2. Belief that is not based on proof:
  3. Belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion:
  4. Belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.:
  5. A system of religious belief.”

Faith can’t be proved by the scientific method. Many things can’t but because it can’t be “proven” it is easily dismissed by many in the scientific community. For some odd reasons, some people of faith want to debate the issue with those who dismiss belief in God because it can’t be proven. That is a real waste of time because the two sides can’t be debated because there is not common ground or a set of shared values. Thus, in the end, each side is sure they won the debate because the opposition’s argument made no sense to them. Correctness and victory are in the eyes of the beholder. The victory of the “science guy” is widely held because science has become our modern religious faith system. Most educated within the humanist educational system just assume the scientific method is not to be denied.

Faith believes in things unseen and the un-seeable. The author of Hebrews put it like this. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2 NIV) A person of faith believes in something one doesn’t see but we can often see the results of the existence of that which is unseen. The Bible mentions the wind. It moves about and we can’t see it but we can feel it on our faces and see the leaves on the trees being stirred. Another example of an unseen force is love. I can’t see love as a force but I have seen love at work and have felt the impact of love on my life.

To know God and have a relationship with God, one must have faith in God. God is not seen. When I share with non-believers that I have never seen God but have seen God at work, they tend to dismiss such talk as silly because their belief system has no room for God – no room for the unseen and unprovable. They can’t believe me because to do so would call for a complete recalibration of their core values. And that is way too difficult and too much work.

Much of what we read in scripture is about faith. We talk about faith. We seek to have more faith. But Hebrews tells us that faith is a part of the Christian’s Elementary education. Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Hebrews 6:1-3 NIV) Faith is basic to all that Believers understand about God and the things of the Kingdom of God. It is one of the foundation blocks upon which we build. Faith is necessary to coming to know God and for growing spiritually.

Faith, practiced, is powerful. We see that in a couple of stories of faith recorded by Matthew. Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region. As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” Matthew 9:20-31 (NIV)

Without trust, faith is fragile. Trust is built when faith is put to work and produces results. When one starts to experience the results of putting one’s faith in God one begins to trust God. For the mature Christian, faith is no longer an issue because, by living a life of faith, we have come to trust God.

When I think of faith and trust I think of my relationship with my wife, Nancy. Before I met her I had faith in love and that I would someday meet the love of my life. I couldn’t see love. I had not yet experienced loving someone in that way. I wasn’t sure I had ever seen that kind of relationship in action. But I had faith it could happen. All I had was that precarious faith in an unseen possibility. And then I met Nancy. And our relationship grew as we experienced each other and life together. As our relationship grew my trust grew. Do I have faith in Nancy? Sure. But more than that, I trust Nancy.

As long as we seek to prove or disprove God according to the scientific method we will fail. Instead I encourage you to experience God. God is not to be proven; the Living God is to be experienced through a vital and growing daily relationship. Trust me on this. J

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ or on Twitter @bill45053.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fired: Bad or Good - It All Depends on How You Look at It


I received word last week that a dear friend was laid off from her job after over 30 years of service. I felt badly for her. Losing a job, even one you don’t particularly like, can be a blow. It is especially difficult if you happen to like what you have been doing, have been doing it for a long time and are good at it.

I have never been laid off from a job. But I have been fired from a few. Being laid off means you have the possibility of collecting unemployment compensation. I never had a job that provided that possibility. Preachers aren’t covered under unemployment insurance. (Just another perk of the job.) I was just sent home with a smile, a handshake and a kick in the butt. I have been through it and there are at least two ways to look at losing a job. It can be a bad thing or it could be a good thing.

A Bad Thing:
  1. You are losing an important (and possibly necessary) source of income.
  2. You will not enjoy the close relationships you had with coworkers. (No matter what promises are made.)
  3. You feel disposable; less than you were; unnecessary; possibly worthless. Your self-image takes a hit.
  4. Suddenly you have at least eight hours a day to fill with meaningful activity. Some advice: Don’t turn on the television. It is a black hole that will consume your life. I was once ill for several months and got hooked on “Days of Our Lives.” I almost had to go into rehab. It was embarrassing to admit what it did to my friends. Especially my male friends.
  5. You have to tell significant people in your life that you were fired and deal with their responses. It is always weird.
  6. You walk into McDonald’s and think, “Perhaps I could work here.”

A Good Thing:

  1. You don’t have to get up early to go to work tomorrow.
  2. Time is freed up to do all those projects you have wanted to do when you have some free time.
  3. You can stop and smell the roses. (Or whatever happens to be hanging around that might smell good.)
  4. You have an incentive change occupations and do what you have really wanted to do for a living.
  5. You can now take those classes you have been talking about taking or getting that elusive degree.
  6. Exercise. You no longer have an excuse not to exercise. (Perhaps this should be listed under bad parts.)
  7. You can find creative ways to live on less income.
  8. You have time to hang out at Walmart and take pictures of the amazing outfits people wear there.
  9. You can go downtown and pose as a homeless person and see if you can make more money panhandling than working a real job.

I am not saying losing a job is a good thing. I never enjoyed the experience. But, if you look at it the right way, it can open your life to new and even exciting possibilities.

It all depends on how you look at it.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

8 Reasons Failing Churches Are Failing to Change

The closing of churches in America is a daily occurrence. Even with as much emphasis denominations are making on planting and developing new churches, the rate of decline and death is far outdistancing the growth seen in the new church initiatives. My question is, “Why, if it is possible, don’t these churches pull out all stops to reverse the decline?” In my many conversations with leaders of dying or plateaued churches, I have discovered there are many reasons. Some of those are:

  1. In denial. As has been often said, denial is not just a river in Africa. It is difficult to see and accept that someone or something we love is not doing well and may be moving toward death. Our minds deal with these painful situations by denying their existence. Sometimes it is easy to be in denial because there is still a rather large attendance in morning worship. We fail to realize that those in attendance are aging rapidly and natural attrition will quickly decrease our attendance and membership. Since I have difficulty is seeing my own aging, it is difficult to grasp the aging of my friends and family.
  2. Keeping our heads down. Denial is burying one’s head in the sand. Sometimes we don’t do that, but, instead, fail to look up and look around to notice what is going on. From my perspective in my little world, I don’t notice that the church is wasting away. I’m still here and my little circle of friends is still here. What more could I ask for? It is not until my circle starts to disappear that I realize the church is losing members.
  3. Afraid of the truth. Many times church leaders are afraid, if everyone realizes that the church is declining, that their leadership will be questioned. We preachers are well known for having double vision when it comes time to count attendance. A recent blog by a fellow Disciples minister (Evan Dolive) suggested perhaps we would do well to stop taking attendance. Maybe we should, instead, concentrated on being a healthy church that is producing disciples and impacting our communities for Christ. I sense the attendance issue would take care of itself.
  4. Change haters. It is the rare bird who likes and embraces change. For most of us, the call to change runs contrary to our nature. Beginning as small children we find comfort in repetition. There are a couple of books that, at his request, his mother and I read to our oldest son several thousand times. Like most men, I am challenged at the thought of throwing away a favorite piece of clothing. It just about can’t get too ragged for me to quit wearing it. I tend to drive to work and home again the same way day after day. (Sometimes I arrive in my driveway and wonder how I got there.) I have followed the same system of sermon preparation for years. Many of us say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The problem with the church is that it is broken. We say things like, “If it was good enough for our parents it should be good enough for the latest generation.” For many of us that makes sense. Unfortunately, it is wrong.
  5. No longer motivated to do evangelism. We have lost the vision for evangelism. As a seminary professor said several years ago, “We haven’t been nearly as good at evangelism since we canceled hell.” In our multicultural, pluralistic society, we are confronted by ever increasing populations of people adhering to other religions. As we attempt to adapt to our new world, we have become fearful of appearing narrow minded, spiritually arrogant or religiously intolerant. No evangelism no church growth. It is a simple but powerful formula for decline. Sooner or later our passing disenchanted members back and forth can no longer disguise our lack of real growth. We have, somehow, lost sight of the fact that Christianity is unique in world religions.
  6. Too frightened or lazy to do what needs to be done. Changing a church – what many of us call Church Transformation – is difficult work. It takes much study, thought, prayer, teaching and trial and error. There are few models of church transformation to follow. It is emotionally draining, calls for long hours on the job, produces very little positive feedback (especially in the early stages) and takes many years to do. Frankly, it is easier to ride out what you have and pray it lasts until you are ready to retire.
  7. Don’t know another way. The way we are doing church is how we have always done church. We mistakenly believe that the 20th Century way of doing church is the way church has always been done and is the only way it can be done. We are just doing church like we have always seen it done; we don’t know another way. For some odd reason we seem convinced that if we keep doing what we are doing it will, somehow, begin to produce different and better results. To make the necessary changes that will make the church healthy, viable, and growing takes learning a whole new way of doing church. It is not that we must change everything we do; but we must come to the point we are willing to change everything we do.
  8. Work from the misconception that doing church like we do it is sacred. Along with only knowing one way to do church, we often mistakenly believe that what we have inherited from our parents is the God ordained, sacred way of doing church. To do differently would be sacrilegious. This is an amazingly egocentric way of looking at things but it is very common. It helps a lot to get out of your tiny denomination box and visit churches of a different flavor. This must be done with an open mind and heart. The self-righteousness that fosters the idea that our way is God’s chosen way generally closes one to learning from others. It is easy to discount and look down on how others do church differently and rationalize that their “success” is not real. But if what we are doing is not reaching people, perhaps we would do well to be more open.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. He can be contacted @

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Awaiting the Savior – Five Reasons a New Pastor Won’t Save Your Church

Throughout the history of the church true believers have been awaiting the return of Jesus – the Savior.

The early disciples and many members of the first century church were just sure Jesus’ return was imminent. They talked about it. They looked forward to it. They made plans banking on it. It seems they were disappointed. They were the first expectant ones, but not the only ones nor the last ones. Believers through the centuries have expected the return of Jesus. During my lifetime many books touting the impending return of Jesus have regularly hit the best seller list. Back in the 1970’s, when I was new at this Christian thing, Hal Lindsey made sacks of money from his bestselling book, The Late Great Planet Earth. It was certainly an attention grabber and sold about a zillion copies.

Groups have left family and friends, sold their earthly possessions, gathered on hillsides and watched the skies expectantly. All for naught as they found themselves still standing on that same hillside the next day. Most leaders of these movements have had the audacity to recalculate their calendars and announce a new return date. That is not nearly as weird as the fact that they again gather a gaggle of followers who perch themselves expectantly on another hillside and eagerly await the big happening. Some of the real joiner types even go for it a third time. But on that third attempt it is pretty difficult to attract much of a crowd.

But those hopeful for the immediate return of Jesus are not the only ones who are expectantly awaiting a savoir. Many of our congregations are. A significant number of the members of the one I am serving as an interim minister are awaiting the first (Or second or third) coming of their messiah. Unfortunately this messiah is the yet to be named choice of the Senior Pastor Search Committee. Yes, my friends, the answer to all of the church’s problems is getting a new pastor. With the coming of (as my friend Rev. Mark Garrett says) Pastor Wonderful, giving will increase, worship attendance will grow, new people will join the church and all of our problems will dissipate like a late morning fog. All will be well and we will move into the Promised Land.

There are several reasons why such thinking is irrational and untenable.

  1. The history of this church and all others we know of has proven this to be untrue. If such a pastor sees the sought after results, it is usually for a very short time. We ministers call this the “Honeymoon Period.” It usually lasts six to eighteen months. Then things start to come unraveled and the criticisms and complaints begin. Soon there is a grassroots movement to fire this loser we have and start seeking the “messiah.” Many, if not most, pastorates fail to survive this period.
  2. If the last pastor was not the savior of the church, what makes you think the next one will be?
  3. Most churches are denial about the fact that the pastor is often not the problem that is causing the church to decline, but, instead, the unhealthy systems of how the church does financial, spiritual and relational business are killing the church.
  4. A vast majority of mainline denomination churches are plateaued or declining. Does that mean that a vast majority of these churches just need a new pastor? If so, where exactly are they going to find that pastor? If the pastor we are seeking to hire is “failing” at his or her present church, what makes us believe the results will be different at our church?
  5. Are our seminaries all producing class after class of inept ministers to serve our churches and thus causing the epidemic decline of church attendance and participation? If this is correct, why has the basic curriculum of our seminaries remained unchanged for over a quarter of a century? Yes, the curriculum does need to change. It would help the problem but not solve the problem. Such needed change is slow in coming to our divinity schools as change is slow in coming to our churches for the same basic reason – Institutionalism. Our schools, like our churches, have an almost fatal case of “But we have always done it this way.” Until we are willing to face the truth that what we are doing is not working and we need to do something else, we are doomed.

It is easy and comforting to believe that all our ills, problems and short comings can be blamed on one person; and that person isn’t me. It is the pastor’s fault. It is comforting but incorrect. I will be the first to admit that the pastor can be a detriment to the health and wellbeing of a church. We pastors can be so profoundly emotionally, morally and spiritually dysfunctional that what we say and do can cause great harm to the church. Our personalities can be so corrosive, negative and irritating that we run members and possible members off in droves. Our preaching can be so impractical, cerebral or boring that people can’t stand to sit through our sermons. But most churches, who describe themselves as a “family” are, in fact, a family. A dysfunctional family.

When we understanding that healthy living things grow, then it makes sense when we say that a plateaued or dying church (a non-growing church) is not a healthy church. In every dying church there are several unhealthy things going on: how we do our business; how we do relationships; what inappropriate behaviors we tolerate; attempting to follow a Christ-less mission and vision; failing to pursue the mission of the church; giving to individual ministries and interests in the church instead of giving to the church and to support the basic mission of the church; members failing to be actively engaged in the ministries of the church; a majority of members believing the only “obligation” of membership is Sunday morning attendance; individual spiritual growth is not an expectation; and the list goes on.

Hiring a new minister will not fix this. It is the church’s responsibility to get well so a pastor can lead that church where God is calling it. So, churches, unfortunately, the savior is not coming.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved