Another Sunday — Flint River Baptist Church II

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

This past Sunday took me back to Flint River Baptist Church with Heather and the boys. For the second time in a row, there was a musical program instead of a sermon, which included a couple of songs with a children’s choir that included Finn, which was cool. But, as a result, I don’t have a lot of content notes, just a few random thoughts.

• I like corporate music. A lot. And I like the freedom to truly enjoy it. I forget this. If I’m not in a Sunday morning service in a couple of weeks, or if I’m in one where the music doesn’t engage me, then when I go into a service with good music again for the first time in a while, I’m consistently surprised by how much I like it. And I like to be able to lift my hands if I feel moved to, and don’t like being in a situation where I feel constrained to not. Sunday, for example, was wonderful. The music was good, the congregation was singing, and I wasn’t the only one lifting my hands. I talk a lot about having a small group or home church be my primary congregation, which has basically been the case this past year with my Sojourn Journey Group, and then I’m reminded of how much I would miss good worship through music.

• I don’t care much for spectator music. To be fair, this is a big part of why I am interested in having a small group or home church be my primary congregation — I don’t care much for spectator anything. I don’t like having “church” were a large number of people are sitting quietly and still watching other people perform the service. No wonder we have so many Christians who leave the church on Sunday morning and are unengaged in their beliefs the rest of the week — that’s what they’re trained to do on Sunday morning. What is the point in having the congregation NOT sing? Why would you have a choir or worship team singing, and not let the congregation lift up their voices to the Lord also? The funny thing is, I’ve never enjoyed this part of the service; I just never knew why before.

• I like being in a church where people read “For God so loved the world…” and actually believe it. I’m a little overwhelmed with the idea that what John really meant to say was that “God so loved Himself …” I try to respect people’s beliefs, but it just seems sad to me.

• OK, a standard gripe, along the lines of the second point. The preacher, at the end of the service, gives the prayer of decision, inviting people to pray to accept Christ, and asks people to raise their hands if they prayed the prayer. And he says, “I won’t call out your names; I don’t even know your names, probably.” Now, granted, some of these may be people that were there for the first time, and it’s a little more understandable that he wouldn’t know their names. But it’s not uncommon for people to visit a church more than once before making a decision like that. More importantly, in a small group or house church congregation, even if its your first visit, people are going to know your name. Your pastor should know you. To be a pastor to you, someone should know you, be accessible to you, know what you’re dealing with, be there for you, support you. If a preacher can’t do that for his flock, he’s not really their pastor. It’s sad to me how many Christians are trying to make their spiritual life work without having a pastor, and who don’t know that they don’t have one and don’t know that they should.

• That said, those are kind of universal gripes that I wanted to get out of my system. I do like Flint River. A lot. And the pastor did, in fact, come shake my hand and introduce himself to me before the service. I look forward to hearing him preach again, and I imagine my opinion of the church would also evolve if I become involved in a small group there.

Livin’ On A Prayer

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Leaders of Your Church.”

You want to know what’s wrong with the church today? Pastors.

Well, not pastors, really. Pastors are great. We need more of them. It’s the preachers you’ve got to watch out for.

Of course, the actual preaching is only part of the problem. It’s what those preachers do when they’re not preaching that causes problems.

And it’s not their fault. I don’t really blame the preachers, per se. They and the church are both victims of a system centuries in the making.

First, I’m not entirely sure there should be a preacher. A preacher is basically just someone with the gift of teaching, of which there should be more than one in a body of any size. Paul tells us in Corinthians that when the church assembles, everyone should bring something to the service. The church should have room for all of those with the gift of teaching to teach. Instead, we pick one teacher, call him the “preacher” and disenfranchise the rest of the members of the body from participants into spectators.

Second, I’m not entirely sure why the preacher should be, effectively, the Chief Executive Officer of the church. Generally speaking, the person who delivers the messages on Sunday morning is the one with the greatest single responsibility and authority for setting the direction of the church. We assume that because someone has the gift of teaching, we should give them responsibility for leadership and administration as well. Granted, there are people who have all three gifts, but it’s a heavy burden.

Third, and to me most importantly, neither a preacher nor a CEO is the same as a pastor. A pastor should serve as shepherd to the members of the body, and that can’t be done effectively without a personal relationship. Unfortunately, most people never get that. We talk about THE pastor of a church, as if its a unique position. Instead, just like teachers, there should be several in a body with that gifting, enough to interact directly with all of the members. Instead, we take the one teacher we call the preacher and place in charge of the church’s direction, and we give him the title of pastor as well, robbing the members of actually having a true, personal pastor. And that’s extremely unfortunate.

Fourth, this is unfair to the preachers. You take someone with the gift of teaching. And you give him the burden of carrying a huge part of the teaching in the church. And then, on top of that, you give him the responsibility of also being the church’s CEO. And then you call him pastor, giving him a burden that there is no way he can bear. Most try, responding to the needs of their parishioners as best they can without the time or relationship to really help. Preachers today are set up to fail. They’re given a job too big for any person to hold. That’s probably why the first-century church was so much less top-heavy than today’s. The preachers suffer. It’s more the rule than the exception that their families suffer. Their congregations suffer. And the system continues.

That said, while I believe very firmly the church should be much less top-heavy, clearly there is a Biblical call for church leaders — bishops, overseers, deacons, elders, whatever terms your translation uses. And I’ll admit that it’s an area that I need to study more. I tend to believe that those are the people who are recognized as the go-to people. If you need someone to talk to, if you need something explained, if you need a dispute settled, then that’s who you talk to. But I’m open to being wrong about that.

But leadership isn’t about being a pastor or preacher. Let those who can teach, teach. Let those gifted to be a pastor, be a pastor.

“When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”