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Putting up Barriers to Ministry

I empathize with Alan Knox’s post today, Help or Get Out of the Way. He relates two experiences of church leadership standing in the way because they required people to go through existing church programs. This is not the way to go about Christian ministry. Come to think of it, it’s not even the way to go about secular business.

How about this as a rule of thumb: If you find yourself telling people that they cannot serve people because of program X, then program X needs to get out of the way. If you can say, “Yes, we can help you with program X, then maybe, just maybe, program X is something useful.

Let me illustrate. When I first came to a United Methodist congregation, I had been out of the church–any church–for nearly 12 years. I had a strong work background and my education and experience–an MA degree in Biblical and Cognate Languages. It didn’t take long after I joined the church for them to put me to work. I was soon teaching Sunday School classes and various events for the youth. Now I don’t have a problem with a church being careful about who they have teaching. They should, and they did. I talked with various people in leadership about my experience, my beliefs, and what I would be teaching.

Then the pastor invited me to preach one Sunday. An individual in the church, heavily involved in our United Methodist lay speaking program, was quite irate. I had not gone through the lay speaker training program, and thus shouldn’t be speaking in the church. The pastor ignored him.

After this event I did go attend the lay speaker training, and while I have any number of problems with the content, I was glad to have the experience. I didn’t really learn new theology, and some of what I did hear was incorrect (John Wesley influenced by the writings of Karl Marx?), but I did get to know other United Methodists and how they worked, and that was helpful.

My point here is that the program–lay speaking–can be a tremendous help, but when it becomes a means whereby “leaders” control the church members it can be a hindrance. To carry forward that thought, after I had become a Certified Lay Speaker, I was again approached because I was speaking at various places without coordinating with the lay speaker program. This individual thought that now that I was a lay speaker, any time I spoke anywhere I needed permission from the church’s coordinator and needed to report to him after I did, even when those events had nothing to do with the United Methodist Church at all. Again, something potentially helpful was being used as a barrier.

What I’ve noticed in Methodist churches is a strong tendency to multiply programs. This results in overlapping and redundant people managing the programs, and often in a great deal of discouragement because people with good ideas find that there are nearly dead programs in the way. In one church people were tracked by three different programs with pastoral care looking at church attendance, Sunday School classes tracking one’s presence, and then a lay pastoral care ministry. About this time someone wanted to start a Stephen’s ministry. Each of these things would demand weekend training events (or longer), social events so that everyone could get together, statistics reported to the appropriate leadership or committee, and so forth. And you know what? People would still fall through the cracks while others were exhausted trying to get to all the events that allowed boxes to be checked off.

Well, this is a longer rant than I intended. Head on over to Alan’s blog and check out the discussion.

(HT: Dave Black Online)

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  1. Henry,

    You and I are kindred spirits on this one. I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that we United Methodists quite often do an excellent job of getting in the way. We’ve never met an organizational plan that we can’t out organize.

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