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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Book Entry #2

Continuing in my commitment to leak some of the info I am considering for my book, here is my second entry. Please give me your feedback. I have appreciated your emails.

Today's entry is part one of a list of things I am proactive in to promote authenticity with people in my church and break down perceptions about Little House on the Prarie pastors.

P.S. I recommend reading previous book entries before proceeding. It may help you with the context.

How I Help to Let Them Let Me Be Me
A Non-Extensive List of How I Break Down the Myth of the Super-Human Pastor Perception

(Part One)

I know. It sounds confusing. Let me say it another way. I believe there are things we can do as pastors to help alleviate some of the unfair expectations. Am I taking the blame off of the accusers? No. Certainly not. However, in ministry, perceptions count. I know it’s unfair. It’s just the way it is. It has always been this way. It’s part of what we signed up for (though we may have not realized the depth and intensity of the reality).

My Pastor Friends

My good friend Brad is a pastor, mentor, and friend. We used to work together. Brad started a church in California when he was 27. I was 19 at the time. My wife and I were newlyweds when we jumped on the church planting bandwagon with him. 19 years later, the little church Brad planted has grown to nearly 3000 people. I am proud to say I have worked at Brad’s side for 9 of those 19 years and he has been my wingman for all 19. I know a lot of Brad’s secrets and he knows mine. We could probably destroy the other guy’s career if we wanted to. But, we understand the value of confidence and accountability among pastors.

Our secrets don’t scare one another. Brad could not tell me anything that would surprise me or make me love him any less. Have I ever been disappointed in him? Yes. And, he certainly has had occasion to be disappointed with me and has kicked my butt from time to time.

The greatest value in this kind of pastoral accountability relationship is that we understand the other guy is human. We don’t hold the other to any higher standard than God does.

Brad will also tell it to me straight. No beating around the bush. If I am blowing it, he tells me. He tells me because he wants the best for me. He tells me because he knows I don’t want to disappoint my family or my church or my God. He tells me because he loves me and he would want me to do the same for him. He is not motivated by how I make him look or how he feels when he is around me. He doesn’t get great satisfaction out of knowing my failures. He wants me to succeed—for my sake, for the kingdom’s sake, for God’s sake.

The strange thing is Brad has been my boss for years. He has been my senior pastor. He has signed my paycheck. Never once have I felt like the door was going to hit me in the butt if I confessed something to Brad. He is a good sounding board and keeps me from saying really stupid things in public. He has my back.

Many of my pastor friends tell me they envy this kind of relationship with their boss. Some have tried this kind of vulnerability only to find themselves on a job hunt soon after the disclosure. And, I might add, for really dumb things. Attention all Senior Pastors and pastors who oversee other pastors: decide which battles are worth fighting. Decide if you really want to enforce a stronger standard than Jesus. Ask yourself what you are more concerned about—your reputation or your comrades in ministry becoming more like Jesus.

If it seems impossible that you could be honest with your Senior Pastor, you may be right. Shame on them but you may be right. Now, not everyone is going to have a reciprocal relationship with their boss like I have experienced with Brad, but every pastor/overseer/manager type should dig deep within their souls and ask why they may not be able to accept the true confessions of a wounded soldier.

One of the most beautiful stories of redemption, forgiveness, and healing I have ever heard occurred about 5 years ago. I was hosting a mini-conference at our church—more of a think-tank and resource pool than a conference—and I had Brad come in to the group and talk about our relationship. One of our attendees—a friend of a friend—heard our story of camaraderie and it stirred something deep within him. He was hiding something that was eating him up inside. He left the conference thinking that—though it was a long-shot—he may be able to come clean and find forgiveness.

He prayed all the way home after the conference. The following day, our friend—our pastor friend—confessed to his Senior Pastor his struggle with homosexuality and pornography. Though he wasn’t in any physical relationship with another man, his mental fantasies were slowly killing him and distancing him from his wife and children—let alone his congregation. The depth of his sin was far too much for him to bear alone any longer. He risked it all and spilled his guts.

Both he and his Senior Pastor agreed he was unfit to continue ministering in his role at the church while battling this problem. But, with a commitment to healing and a commitment to this man and his family as children of God, the Senior Pastor did something very risky. He did the right thing. Standing by this brother’s side, the Senior Pastor supported this man as he confessed his sin to the church. Then he made a commitment that day before the congregation to support this man and walk the road of restoration. This road included paying this man’s salary while he sought counsel. This road included telling his large congregation to never speak in an accusing manner nor probe this man or his family about the problem. This road included holding this family’s hands and surrounding them with prayer and a shoulder to cry on.

I am convinced that our people’s expectations of their pastors can be greatly influenced by what we model to them in the way of forgiveness, acceptance, restoration, healing, and our own expectations of others—professional minister or otherwise.

The Beer Test

At our church, we decided long ago that we would never die on mountains where the bible gives freedom. We remind our church body of this frequently. Because of this stance, we have attracted the t-shirt-jeans-and flip-flop wearing, beer drinking, cigar smoking, loud music listening, tattooed counter-culture crowd. I absolutely love it. (Before you hurl stones, let me just say that yes, we do have a standard. God wrote it. We stick with that one). Now of course, we also believe people should have the freedom to not participate in any of these kinds of things. But nearly everyone on our staff enjoys a good pint (except for the one guy on staff who is allergic to brewer’s yeast). That’s who we are.

From time to time, our sermons are peppered with stories of how we “were having a beer with so-and-so the other day” or “smoked a new cigar that our neighbor got us as a gift.” We are not afraid to talk about The Davinci Code (or any other book or movie that might be stirring controversy in the church world) or how we are enjoying the new Radiohead album. Where God gives freedom, we enjoy it and celebrate it.

If you are ever going to be part of our congregation for long, you will understand this soon enough. If you ever apply for a position on our staff, you will know it even sooner. So, we have an unwritten “test” we give anyone who applies for a position on our staff. It didn’t start out as a test; it started as a few guys and gals being themselves when taking a candidate out to dinner. We call it the beer test.

It goes like this. We take you out to a restaurant to talk about your interest in the position. As we look over the menus and decide what we are going to eat, we discuss out loud what kind of beer we are having. “I love Killians! Didn’t I turn you on to that beer?” “No, I have always been a fan but, I owe my Guinness love to you!” Applicants don’t have to order a beer to pass the test. They simply have to not disagree with it. If they bring it up at all it better be to say how thankful they are to be in place where it is not a problem. “We are so glad we get a chance to talk with you tonight. Cheers!”

Our people need to hear from our mouths that these things are not a problem. The degree to which our congregations are accepting of the gray areas and the areas of freedom in scripture is directly proportional to the degree we are accepting of them.

Some people will not like this. Some will leave. You can talk about how you miss them over a barbeque with homemade martinis. I have a great recipe for pomegranate martinis that I got from Oprah.

2 shots of citrus vodka
1 shot of Cointreau
1 splash of lime juice
5 ice cubes

Fill the rest of the martini shaker with pomegranate juice. Shake and serve in a martini glass with a few pomegranate seeds in the bottom.

Some of my friends in ministry have chosen another route. They believe it is much easier to not have to fight little battles like the freedom to drink or not to drink. That’s fine. I certainly don’t think anyone should drink. And, I certainly believe in the “weaker brother” concept that Paul speaks of. If someone has a problem with drinking alcohol in excess or if someone used to have a problem, then put the martini shaker away. However, if you are one of those pastors who is drinking in private, grabbing a cigar only on vacation, and dancing outside the city limits in order to keep up appearances, I hope someone catches you and you have to explain yourself.