Going to Seminary can be an academically invigorating experience. Many of the churches I attended as a young man were focused on the “ins” and “outs” of church legislation, doctrine, and the everyday lay person’s understanding of the Biblical Text. I will forever be grateful for the time I spent doing the Seminary Work I did at Denver Seminary. They helped me see the Bible through the lens of professional academic work. But I’m finding out what I missed was the ability to understand what it means to lead others through practical issues. And after working with several other youth pastors around the country, I now know I’m not Alone.
Religion versus Relationship
Many churches work diligently to establish this mantra they speak of from the pulpit. To follow Jesus is about a relationship with the Creator, not necessarily a list of do’s and don’ts where we all get caught up in the legalism plaguing former generations. They talk about the importance of searching God in your own heart without lacing your life with important things like Church Attendance, Behavioral Modifications, and Giving; but in reality where the rubber meets the proverbial road is in their actions.
I’ve been a part of a wonderful group of men working on Leadership by Design. They call themselves the Leadership by Design Group. The difference in the LDG group and what I learned from this “Religion vs. Relationship” talk is that Leadership focuses on the good of each individual. They have developed a new way of thinking about people. Instead of running our churches and groups by running people through the faith gauntlet meetings, they’ve established a systematic way of finding out someone’s belief system and then appropriating materials to help them become all they want to be.
Instead of leading from the front, they actually come alongside people and help them live life with one another, instead of at each other. It’s quite a different model to see people who are caring for others in such a deep thoughtful way outside of the traditional leadership model those of us in ministry have become accustomed to.
The Business of Ministry
Much has been written about the business of the church today. Many congregations have become more like executive fortune 500 companies than the original faithful few who go and seek a relationship with God. Book Stores, Coffee Shops, and Events have become the epicenter of attraction instead of working with life on life individuals. A group may have 5-10 thousand people in attendance, but when they look around the large meeting auditoriums they find themselves worshipping all alone.
I’ve seen this in student ministry up close and personal. Many youth leaders spend the majority of their time developing Xcell spreadsheets for executive pastors. They’re forced to quantify their product, instead of trying to get to know the students in their group. And if I can be candid here for a moment, students smell this out immediately. They know when someone is using them for their own gain or benefit, instead of really settling into getting to know them as people.
Somewhere leadership in the church has been reduced to quantity instead of quality. And by quantity, I’m referring to things you can test on a P&L, a Cash Flow report, or a Bank Balance. Those who’ve found this model to be sufficient are missing out on the reality of knowing and being known in the context of communities. Obviously this is stereotypical, and not all big churches fall into this category, but it’s tough not to.
When the bills have to be paid it’s tough to fight for relationships. Relationships take time, energy, and are often not financially productive, at least in the short term.
Again, no one will say this as the reality from a pulpit, but you can sniff it out when you start seeing how different faith groups perform their programming. If the goal of a certain organization is to get a large synergy of people, I get it. But if it’s truly connecting to one another in the successes and failures of life, we have an obligation to fight for honest relationships.
Differentiating goals is something I’m learning quickly to understand. If I don’t set goals out of the core of what I want to accomplish, it’s easy to allow my definition of success to be influenced by other organizations around me. Numbers can be glamorized into success without really helping people understand the commands of Jesus. In fact when Jesus says, “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments” it seems as though it’s more important to gauge our goals as to how well we know and are following Jesus.
If my goal is to have a large number of people, that’s fine; but all my work should be focused on numbers and marketing. I know the quality of what I offer must be well-tended to as I attempt to gain ground centered within the heart of my goals and mission.
If my goal is deep long-term relationships, the program should look drastically different. All of the sudden the latest event coupled by the attendance doesn’t seem to be the finish line. But rather; the intimate goals of knowing and being known become the MOST IMPORTANT.
Here at KIVU, we are working to develop a relationship training center where people can interact with faith principles, but more importantly; they can leave our program with long-lasting friendships. We want people to know what it means to walk though life working on their faith together, instead of trying to be individual spiritual journeyman.
I realize many of my friends disagree with my approach. They feel as though I leave out the importance of hammering theology into the minds and hearts of the students who come here. And in response I ask, “What would you rather? Someone who knows the good news of the gospel from an academic sense, OR; someone who can live it out and test it in the real world?”
I choose the latter.
I’ve seen too many manipulative religious organizations who try to pat themselves on the back with numbers while leaving so many people in the wake of doubt, guilt, shame, and mis-understanding. Let’s live this thing out together, and find a place where success can be celebrated Together and pain in life can be adequately recognized and mourned Together!
That’s the test of real leadership. When you can couple the need of synergy with the reality of living life with each other.