I have a heart for unchurched people and am always trying to find a way to build bridges and tear down barriers. But I feel like telling people I’ve served as a pastor or founder of a church almost automatically creates a barrier—a barrier that seems to grow with every passing year.
Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel there’s a funk associated with the idea of being a pastor that might be a combination of
Confusion…I’ve never actually met anyone who works at a church (that’s especially true in an unchurched country like Canada, where I live).
Suspicion…So what’s the deal with all those church scandals and are you in any way related to them?
Irrelevance…So what exactly would you do all day or why on earth would your organization exist?
Pity…You really couldn’t do anything else with your life?
It’s easy to point your finger at high-profile pastors who fell or who have given the church a bad name, but that lets the rest of us off the hook too easily.
Sure, we can use the negative association to vision cast and correct assumptions (and I try to do that), but what if pastors had a good name in most communities?
So let me ask a pointed question: Is there anything you or I do–as regular, average pastors–that hurts rather than helps the cause of the local church?
I think so. This matters because the more we become aware of them and address them, the better we’ll become at fulfilling our mission.
Please hear that I love the local church. And I love local church pastors.
The vast majority are hard-working, mostly underpaid, sincere people who really love Jesus and want to make a difference.
But our blind spots can be our worst enemies. Identify them, and suddenly you can be more effective.
So here are 5 traps I try to avoid as a local pastor who loves the church and loves the people we’re trying to reach.
1. Speaking weird
I started to fall into this trap early in my ministry and realized I had to correct it right away.
If you speak in code, you’ll have a hard time connecting with unchurched people.
If you find yourself saying brother, sister, amen, fellowship, tribulation, and the like, it tends to bring less credibility to what you do.
Sure, that might work in your church circles, but if you’re trying to reach your community, it’s a barrier.
I also think the more titles you have, the weirder it gets. People ask all the time what to call me. I say Carey. I don’t even list my degrees anywhere (although I have three of them). I realize traditions differ, but I’m trying to connect with people who don’t go to church.
Here’s my rule. If you can’t talk to someone on the street the way you talk in church, you have a problem with the way you talk.
So don’t speak weird.
2. Pretending to be something we’re not
Unchurched people are tired of the hypocrisy. And, honestly, church people are weary of thinking of their pastor as someone who has it all together.
A pastor’s prayers don’t go directly to heaven. You struggle as a pastor spiritually. So do I. Sometimes we feel close to God. Sometimes we don’t.
Few of us have perfect marriages. And we need to say sorry as often as the next person.
What would happen if pastors were simply more authentic? Not as in super-raw authentic, but appropriately transparent. (I wrote about my personal rules about what to share and what not to share publicly in this post.)
Churches spent the ’90s and 2000s trying to be relevant.
Authenticity is the new relevance. Cool church isn’t nearly as powerful as authentic church.
So be honest. Talk about your struggles (appropriately).
3. Being known for what we’re against, not what we’re for
Many pastors—famous and not famous— have become known for ranting against the world.
Yes, there’s much to wring our hands over.
But I believe the general thrust of the Gospel is that Jesus loves the world and died for the world as an outpouring of that love.
You can think through that theologically, but also practically (most theology is practical in the end anyway).
Who would you rather hang out with? Someone who hates you, or someone who loves you, (even if they disagree with you)?
That’s a no-brainer for all of us.
People gravitate toward love. You do. I do.
So…what if instead of being known for what we’re against, the local church was known for what we’re for?
I am tremendously inspired by what Jeff Henderson and the people of Gwinnett Church have done with their #ForGwinnett campaign.
They want to make significant inroads into their community, and they want to be known for what they’re for as a local church, not what they’re against.
You can check out their Facebook page to see the highlights of their #ForGwinnett campaign.
4. Being Experts on Things We’re Not Experts On
Local pastors are always being asked, “What’s your opinion on [fill in the blank]?”
Many of us are scared to say “I’m not sure”. So we’re tempted to offer an ill-considered viewpoint on something we don’t fully understand. Even worse, some of us can gain social media traction through those ill-considered opinions.
I may have spent thousands of hours reading the scripture and studying theology, but that doesn’t make me an expert on everything except maybe coming to faith and growing in faith. I think I can speak into that.
I’ve also spent lots of personal time studying leadership, change, and parenting. While I’ve got a lot left to learn, I can speak with a bit of expertise in those areas.
But I’m not an expert on the vast majority of issues. Do I have opinions? Sure.
But I’m not sure those opinions are helpful to the average person.
Increasingly before speaking into any issue, I ask myself “Will this help move a person closer to Jesus or further away from Jesus?”
Many of our half-thought-through and even deeply held ‘opinions’ in all likelihood move Christians and non-Christians further away from Jesus.
So why offer them at all if they’re not core to the scripture or the Gospel?
Instead, why don’t we all get comfortable saying “I’m not sure” or even better, “What do you think?”
Then just listen.
You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how your listening might actually help move someone closer to Jesus.
5. Claiming Privilege
Sometimes there’s a really good reason you need a reserved parking spot. But often there’s not.
You just want it.
Or worse, you think you deserve it.
In the new facility we built, I had an office but it wasn’t the biggest one.
Jesus came to serve, not to be served. The more I claim privilege, the less I’m like Jesus.
The challenge, of course, is that many of us are privileged economically or socially. So it will be a daily struggle.
But sharing what you have with others, taking the low place and serving alongside others can make a big difference, even if after it’s over, you retreat to an office to write your message in silence.