Tuesday, April 06, 2010

the cutting room floor

hemmingway once said that in order for a book to be perfect, you usually have to take out your favorite part.

i don't know that i'll achieve hemmingway-status, but i bounced my favorite part out of bleached tonight at exactly 2:31am.

here it is:

Some time ago I was at a gathering of pastors, informally, and found myself (as usual) playing the malcontent, going against the grain like I loved the ride. In this instance, I was getting pretty heated over a common leadership failing among ministers: friendship.

Pastors, as a rule, don’t have many friends. Usually this is because the friends we’ve had in the past have turned on us because of some situation or decision involving our leadership. We’re not perfect, and everyone gets that, but it becomes harder to overlook that when we find ourselves in specific situations where we have the power to do things others don’t like and we do them anyway. It costs you friends.

And we don’t usually do a good job of making new friends, because there’s always some little sin-sponsored voice in the back of our heads saying: Sure, make a friend. Jesus would have had another Judas if he’d stuck around longer…I’m sure this guy will be awesome.


So we get scared,

stay guarded,

and live alone.

Anyway, I’m often bolsheviked by the way senior pastors treat their staff members. We treat them like employees. Which, I get it, we have to to a certain degree – certainly our employees cannot help but think of us as their employers (especially at the beginning) – but I actually think it’s wrong for the church to run like a business. I mean it, I think running a church like a corporation is unethical. Corporations, after all, are hardly the paragon of morality and goodness in the world; so why are so many churches intent on adopting their model of government and hierarchy?

Beats me.

I serve King Jesus, who told his disciples I no longer call you servants, but friends.

Servant leadership is what every does

when they’re trying to imitate Jesus.

I want something more.

I want to incarnate Christ,

not copy him.

I want to do ministry with my friends – and if they’re not my friends at the beginning, I really want to become their friend over time. And this can’t always happen, but it’s always what I want.

Did I mention friends cost you something?

Right. Back to the pastor’s gathering…a bunch of my peers were talking about how hard it is to fire your friends. I sympathize. I once had to “downsize” several of my friends because of budgetary constraints. I cried like Shirley Temple. It was necessary, but awful. I’ve also had to terminate the employment of someone I thought was my friend, because he was acting immorally and refused accountability. That made me mad. He was my friend, and our friendship deserved better than what he gave it.

But I’ve never fired a friend because they weren’t corporate enough, or educated enough, or from the right demographic, or the right socio-economic status, or because they weren’t doing things in the precise way I wanted all of the time. I’ve never fired someone just because they weren’t “it.” But that’s what my peers were discussion – firing someone who just couldn’t cut it.

No option to retrain them.

No opportunity to hire over them.

No alternative but to sever them.

Who severs their friends?

Who can live with themselves when they do that,

in Jesus’ church,

in Christ’s kingdom in microcosm,

where the last shall be first,

where we no longer have servants

but friends?

It is hard, granted, to fire someone – to sit in judgment over them and decide their fate with the scepter of good management acumen –

but it’s far harder,

far more sacrificial to grow with them,

to walk alongside them,

and to love them as Christ has loved us.

And – just as an FYI – you’re going to get way more productivity, energy, and visionary leadership out of your employees when they know you’ll take a bullet for them.

We overstep our Christian ethic when we play judge and call it leadership. There are standards for employees, and they should be held to those standards, but if we want to lead the Jesus way we’ve got to leave them room to grow.

So as we grow, we’ve got someone to be there for us to.

So we don’t die alone.

So we’re not crying in our communion one empty Christmas Eve when our wife has left and we have no one to call, no one to comfort, and no one to speak hope.

There is a deep connection between the way we work and the way we live, but we miss that interconnectedness when we elevate ourselves above others, play God, and look down to pronounce judgment.

Don’t do that anymore.

God may be One, but we need one another.

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