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.
- 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.
- If the last pastor was not the savior of the church, what makes you think the next one will be?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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