What To Do When Your Leaders Are Wrong: Part One

Several years ago, I read the book Toxic Faith. It sounded like the organizational handbook of the para-church ministry from which I had just resigned. While I wish my situation were unique, it was not and books are written because bad leadership does exist. Having said that, truly ‘toxic’ situations are not the norm, so this first blog is meant to address the more normal situational conflicts that arise when ‘your leaders are wrong’.

It’s important to define terms. Someone is “wrong” when their actions are contrary to that which is moral, ethical, and biblical.  There’s a myriad of things your leaders can do that are not, in your opinion, good judgement, but they are not “wrong”. It not morally wrong to be outdated, disorganized, inexperienced, non-intuitive or culturally naïve. Being any of those things will hinder the effectiveness of a ministry but it’s not morally wrong to be ineffective. This is not to raise inefficiency to a virtue but suffice to say it is not a moral vice.

Most of the time, if you have a conflict with a leader there is a difference of opinion, personality or generation, that is of no moral consequence.  I know that I make decisions that appear as though I am shooting from my aging hips when in fact I am making a decision based on more factors than I can reasonably articulate. Leaders should expect to answer reasonable questions, asked at a reasonable place and time. If you see your leader make a significant choice with which you don’t agree, make note of it and ask him or her about it, privately, at an appropriate time. Pick your topics wisely. If you don’t like the color scheme of the church nursery, get over it. If you lead youth group and don’t understand why certain activities are not permitted, ask those in authority in a private context. Questions asked publicly are often perceived (and subliminally intended) as a challenge to leadership. If you are asking in an appropriate way but get a response that is demeaning, and such responses are the norm, you have a real problem. (Be sure to read the next blog.)

But what do we do when leaders we love make poor choices?  How do you respond when your pastor is discouraged that people don’t participate in worship but you realize that having a music team that consists of a tambourine and zither player has made congregational participation difficult?

Step One: Talk to your leader.  In a healthy situation, you can probably talk most things out with your leader.  Maybe your pastor does not realize there are affordable alternatives to a live worship band. Maybe he secretly has nightmares about the zither, too. Most leaders are approachable if you are respectful. Be nice. Buy his/her coffee. Listen to your leader as much as you want him or her to listen to you. Maybe your pastor will be thrilled if you take ownership of the solution.  Give it a shot.

Step Two: Ask yourself why you are serving where you are. If you know the Lord called you to a certain ministry, stay where you are and wait until the Lord tells you to go. If your leaders are making poor choices that are not “wrong” perhaps your faithful service will win the right to be heard so there will be a change. Renting an inflatable castle for VBS is not an issue of right or wrong. The decision may not go your way, but if you are not the final authority for the church, remember that Christians in the world suffer fates worse than outdated VBS choices.

The bottom line is most issues are not issues of right or wrong.  Sadly, some issues are, when your leaders are truly wrong you will be on track for a very difficult road. That is why this is a two-part blog.

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The Great “Who Is”

Sundays come and go. We sing to the Nameless “You”. We sing of being ravished by love, wanting to shout it out, jump, freedom (x7), and other nice things that happen to us. We don’t sing using the Name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor of the Son of God who shed His blood to ransom us back, nor the Holy Spirit who indwells us. We do not sing of the sin from which we are blood-washed, the joy of salvation by the grace of God Incarnate. Often I think we should just rename it “we-ship” since we focus on our feelings, thoughts, reactions and how well it is going for us. Today, a pastor friend expressed her feelings after a morning of service saying, “I was singing like Jesus is my boyfriend”.

I laughed but with a heavy heart. Neither of us were raised with any Bible knowledge but as the Bible says, through the “foolishness of preaching” and the proclamation of Christ in song, we were changed. I’m a 10 years + older than my friend and hymns were not our chosen genre (think Crosby, Stills and Nash for me and she’s so young I don’t know) but as much as we joked about tunes in 9/8 time, we sensed God’s Spirit’s present when the church sang about Jesus, the Lord Almighty, the Maker of the Universe, the Son of God Incarnate who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Yes, music has modernized and we are glad for it. But we did not need to stop singing truth. Our God has a Name and His Name still makes my heart soar. We actually can sing “This I Believe” and we should.

NEWSFLASH: WE ARE NOT UNITARIANS

Unitarians have no name for God. They are lovely people who believe that it is possible but not mandatory that there exists a Nameless Great Gender Neutral Someone/thing/force who can’t really be known except as we/you/me/they/he/she/ze/e* perceives said Being. Unitarian optimists hope, in the wishful sense, that when someone dies they go to a better place. Unitarian pessimists just let people live on forever in their hearts. There is no assurance of anything since nothing can be known. They normally meet in very nice landmark churches with rainbow flags out front. They are not more welcoming than we are, but the one thing they firmly believe is that should A Great Who-Is exist then He/She/It welcomes you to that house of faith (or doubt) depending on your faith or faithless orientation.

Their music is as pallid as their belief: God has no name.

Our God Has a Name

Our God has a Name. We should sing it. We should proclaim it. We should shout it from the roof tops. We live in a post-Christian era when people simply cannot be expected to guess their way into the gospel. They don’t need to guess if we spend our services proclaiming Jesus Christ the Son of God. We are called to ascribe worth to Him. It is not a 45 minute sing-a-long led by a coach who tells us how to act like we are blessed. We don’t need to pretend if God is really there. We need to sing the truth and proclaim it clearly and with the joy that truth still resonates within my heart 40 years after I first heard it.

As my friend shared, she spoke of a teen, for whom time on earth would seem quite limited. He came to church for hope. When she asked him the subject of the songs, he replied that he presumed the songs were about God but had no clear idea they were about Jesus. Forty-five minutes of what might have been joyous song-filled proclamation of Christ, gave way to “singing like it was to a boyfriend” and this young man still had no clear hope.

Young People Change This

Each of us is called to reach our generation and train the next. I can’t sing or write like I am 20-something. Someone 20-something can and must create music that sings the unashamed, unabashed truth that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and if He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. If He is not lifted up we and all who hear us will be bored to numbness. Don’t blame your pastor or worship leader. Fix it. Write songs worthy of the Son of God. Stop rolling the dice with visitors. Stop rolling the dice outside the church with other people’s souls. We are saved by One who deserves that we sing with beauty and power and promise. When a lost person meets you he or she should not leave without hope. May we always be ready to share the only name given among men by which we might be saved: The Name of Jesus.

*ze/e are new alternatives that a famous university is providing so students can choose their own pronouns

(Yes, I will pick up on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit tomorrow. I just had to get this out of my system).