Monday, March 10, 2008

Seven habits of highly ineffective churches--Part 1.

Saturday’s edition (March 8) of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (PI for short) carried an article by Anthony B. Robinson titled, “Seven habits of highly ineffective churches.” Robinson’s article is witty, thought provoking and TRUE! It was written for his denomination, the United Church of Christ. Robinson’s thoughts are so good that I am going to dedicate the next few blog postings to the points he makes. Remember… we need to be able to laugh at ourselves and the church we lead or attend; we also need to recognize when we exhibit the very traits that Robinson talks about.

Habit #1: “Elevate mediocrity to a spiritual discipline.”

Evergreen Presbyterian Church (the church I serve as pastor) has traditionally had a large cadre of folks who serve as “lay leader” during Sunday morning worship. When I came to Evergreen almost twelve years ago the lay leader began the worship service with a welcome and announcements, led the Call to Worship, Confession of Sin (we call it Admission of Failure) and Assurance of Pardon (we call it Assurance of God’s Constant Love). These are wonderful people; however, there was a problem. The problem was that at least half of these people were not good communicators in front of a group of people. The opening of worship was boring at best and embarrassing at its worst. At times it was painful to watch people struggle so much in front of the congregation. Once a person was on the lay leader list it would take an act of God to remove them from the list. Some influential people on the worship committee loved the “folksy” feel that it brought to the church. Within a few months I began leading the opening of worship. In the interest of not wanting to offend anyone we have continued to have almost anyone serve as a lay leader. We had elevated the lay leader position to a position of mediocrity. That has now changed.

My dad worked for the Federal government until his retirement many years ago. Over and over again I heard him say, “People get promoted to their highest level of incompetence.” We have all seen it happen—a person is good at one job so they get “promoted” to a new job that they are not equipped to fill. The problem is even greater in churches. The average church has lots of positions that need to be “staffed” by volunteers: Sunday school teachers, elders, deacons, Bible study leaders, ushers, greeters, kitchen help, committee leaders and members, maintenance and upkeep of the building and grounds—to name a few. Wonderful people are willing to volunteer to help out—even when they are not gifted in that area. “It is better to have someone, rather than no one,” is often the way a church feels. Once again mediocrity gets elevated to a spiritual discipline.

I remember an event that happened many years ago. I met with another pastor every week for prayer and accountability. One day he asked me to pray for him because he needed to have a talk with a person who was in their choir. You see there was a problem, the person couldn’t carry a tune or sing on key. The choir tried to cover up the voice that was always off key but their best efforts failed miserably. The choir sounded horrible because of the person who sang off key. The choir director didn’t want to “talk” with the person. The pastor told me that he believed in spiritual gifts and this person was gifted in many ways—just not in singing. John had a conversation with the choir member, and it was not an easy conversation. In the end, the person left the choir and continued to work in other ministries in the church.

Through the years I have shared this story with many pastors. Not a single pastor I have talked to would have had the conversation with such a choir member. Not one! Mediocrity again gets elevated.

Please do not think that I am being tough on the laity. There are many incompetent pastors! Too many pastors think that their M. Div. or D. Min. signals their arrival at being a competent pastor. I know several lay pastors that are significantly more skilled than most of their ordained counterparts. I am a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is almost impossible to fire an ordained pastor. My heart goes out to those churches that have a pastor that is unskilled and strives for mediocrity. Most of those pastors are “nice” people, they just aren’t gifted to be a pastor.

It is very easy for mediocrity to creep into the church. When a church (or pastor) aims for excellence there is the possibility that the church (or pastor) will fail. We can set our sights on being mediocre and achieve that goal almost every time. No one has to fail. No one has to get their feelings hurt.

But wait… I thought that we are suppose to give the very best we have to God. Mediocre just isn’t good enough when it comes to the Kingdom of God.


At 9:14 PM , Blogger Red_Cleric said...

“People get promoted to their highest level of incompetence.” It comes from a book in 1968 truism written by Dr. Laurence Peter.

But you are right. In most "smaller" congregations this happens because the desire to be "family" outweighs the desire to do thing well.

Been at this for a couple of decades now and not sure if that's good, bad or just is. I have people NOT return to worship because things weren't as good as they expected. I've had people stay and become involved because we were honest and "just out there".

I'm looking forward to your review of the article and will probably gather all of this together and use it to train my Session. Thanks for the help. LOL


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