Why Church Leaders Need To Stop Hanging Out With Each Other

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It is pure invention that popes, bishops, priests, and monks are to be called the ‘spiritual estate’; princes, lords, artisans and farmers the ‘temporal estate’. That is a fine bit of lying and hypocrisy.
-Martin Luther (1483-1546)

I love my friends who work in churches (pastors, directors, etc.,) but  I have come to realize that the friendships and relationships I have with those not in formal church ministry are far more important and for good reason. I will break down three reasons, and the reason I bother to note this at all is not to dis those of us who work in churches (God knows we need all the encouragement we can get as days can be dark), but because I want to encourage all of you who work hard at your normal, everyday, 9-5, shift work jobs who never get the air time you deserve. After all it is your work that supports and allows those in church gigs to have their jobs! This is for the teacher, the stay-at-home mom, and the dentist. I want you to know the crucial role you play in my life. The reasons I feel compelled to write this are mostly unknown to me except that I sense that: (1) There are some of you out there needing the encouragement right now, (2) The record has to be set straight: formal ‘ministry’ jobs (pastoring, etc.) are not necessarily the ‘toughest jobs in the world’, which is often what people working in ministry say and (3) I think vocational ministry people need to encourage you as much as you affirm us.

First, you teach me how to be a good pastor. Of course, I have a ton to learn from other pastors and church leaders in my life as I read, talk to them and get advice. In many ways, though, you have far more to teach me than they do. When I am out with people, I am always asking questions: “What would you do if this or that happened?” and “What is your opinion about X, Y or Z?” Recently, I was out with a business owner and instead of posturing myself as, “I am going to teach you things now as your pastor”, I asked him for his advice. He began his answer with, “Thanks for asking”, likely because no one working in a church had ever asked him for advice! Now, let me be honest. I don’t say this to brag or make you think I am ultra caring. In fact, it is somewhat the opposite. I think, at times, my litany of questions are self-serving. I am a student of YOU. I want to understand you on a deeper level, so I can be better at my job as a pastor, a leader, a communicator. I want to know how you–the custodian or the CEO – processes tragedy in your life, or quits smoking, or stays married. Once I understand you better, I can better explain the Bible to you and lead where I think God wants us to go.

Second, you teach me how to be a good Christian. You teach me about following Jesus in the real world versus following Him in the world of church meetings, conferences and exegesis classes. Just when I think leading a church is the hardest job on the planet, I remind myself of the cops and the small business owners and the recovering addicts who make up our church. I realize again that the real world is hard. It’s hard to show up at a person’s home and be the first to tell them their loved one has died in a car accident. It’s hard to run a business in a world full of sharks. It’s hard to stay clean and work at your sobriety in a society of accessibility. Add on these jobs to being a follower of Jesus and things get interesting and difficult and, at times, grey and complicated. As a Christian, I need to lean into learning these everyday realities. Decisions between one bad thing over another. Confusion over what God is calling us to do when there is no clear choice. God is humbling me every time I put myself in your shoes.

Lastly, you teach me how to be a good leader. In church settings, there is often a lot of theological discussion about methodology with Bible verses attached to each. There is little priority given to things essential in your workplaces and much needed in the church, especially as we try to reach post-Christian Canada, not first century Palestine. Things like: leveraging technology, ensuring we keep our staff lean and goal-oriented, executing ministry effectively, doing things with excellence and working diligently, like the men and women who we serve every day. Which is why in 2 Timothy 2:3-13, Paul called pastors to work like athletes, farmers and soldiers. Up early. Working hard. Heavy lifting.

500 years ago, Martin Luther popularized the idea of ‘the priesthood of all believers’, speaking of the average person’s work (blacksmiths, shoemakers, etc.) versus the clergy, arguing that all work is sacred work. There is no ‘Christian work’ and ‘secular work’. If a person is a musician, or a plumber, or a teacher, their work is just as important as the job of the priest or pastor to the unfolding story God is telling in the world. I believe with all my heart in the priesthood of all believers. When you are out there being a soccer mom, or running a publicly traded company, or trying to make it in show business, know that your work is fundamental to God’s will being done in the world. So, I just want to say thank you. For all you do. Waiting tables, running companies, being nurses. What you do matters, and it is not in vain. And while I hope I can teach you a thing or two as your pastor, know that you are teaching me everyday.