Last night I got a call from a friend whose church has decided that, as a staff member, he might not have the spiritual gifts that they’ve decided they need for his particular position. Actually, the senior pastor has decided this.
I’m constantly saddened by how much a church turns into a company when, among other things, it comes to their staff. Rather than working with and allowing for growth in the life of a staff member, many churches see their staff as hired guns (and, to be fair…) who were hired to do a job and, if they are unable to do that job in a manner that is acceptable to that particular church, the church has little hesitation in moving on to the next hired gun. To be fair, clergy often see themselves as hired guns. I know I did. So it shouldn’t be surprising that congregations have learned to see them like that as well. Still, there doesn’t seem to be much about our current outlook on the church and clergy that sounds very much like the kind of church that Jesus intended the disciples to plant.
I have to admit that, as a young youth minister, I was terrible at actually becoming a part of the fellowship. I had been mentored by a guy who saw himself as a hired gun (and, to be fair…) and whose goal it was to go into a place, build an impressive ministry, add another gold star to his résumé and then move on to the next rung of the ministry latter. In light of that, I took an almost identical path. I look back on the churches that I served in as a young youth minister and realize that I’m only in contact with one of them. Out of the other three churches I served in in my twenties, I’m only in touch with one staff member from one of those churches. The one church that I am in touch with almost doesn’t count as it was my wife’s college church before I was ever a staff member there. In addition, this particular church is one of those anomalies that almost wouldn’t allow people to come in and not be drawn into their fellowship. Still, I would have to admit that I have a lot more meaningful relationships at that church now, fourteen years later, than I did when I was actually a member of staff.
The bulk of that is certainly my fault. As I said, I simply never learned anything different. And, in looking back on that time, I definitely have to acknowledge that I truly missed out. I’d also have to admit that that lack of fellowship probably contributed to what became a pretty cynical outlook on the church as a whole. But, almost ten years beyond the last church where I served on staff, I think it’s also important to point out how bad churches can be at this. So let me share this encouragement…
I know that youth ministers (in particular) can be absolute punks. Too often they think they know it all and that you are lucky to have them as staff members. I realize that they often close themselves off in the youth room and make it very difficult to ever get to know them. And I also know that youth ministers often make the mistake of making the parents the enemy. I know that one too well. But please, if you can, remember that they are (often) still young people themselves and, while they may not know it, they also need mentors and people who are willing to disciple them.
I experienced this in the first church I ever served in. The worship minister there was a former youth minister who, in his God given wisdom, recognized that I was a nineteen year old kid who, though cocky as I could be, knew nothing and needed an advocate. While he could have taken the angle of having much to teach me, he instead took the angle of sticking up for me. When a parent or deacon would come in, guns a blazin’, Mel would stand in the gap, pound his fists on the table (quite literally on one occasion) and remind people that I was a young Christian. To be sure, I didn’t deserve that. But I have to tell you that he may be the only reason I ever survived that time and am still in the ministry, eighteen years later.
To any young youth minister (or staff member, for that matter) who might be reading this I would simply challenge you to find a mentor in your local church. You’ll not only find yourself growing through that relationship, and find yourself an advocate, but you’d be surprised how much that one act can endear you to a church.
The problems in this area are no one person or group’s fault. Ministers become frustrated with congregations that are unwilling to bend or move forward, and likewise, congregations sometimes become frustrated with ministers for the same reason. Sometimes ministers are visionaries or great administrators, but terrible at building relationships. Likewise, congregations sometimes treat staff members as nothing more than CEO’s or employees. It really is a matter of putting others before ourselves and doing everything we can to make it work. The church – an idea that is broken but full of world and life changing possibilities.