I sat there waiting for the Executive Pastor to show up. He was twenty-five minutes late. I had been asked to interview for the newly created Campus Pastor position at this well known and highly effective Orange County megachurch.
The lobby was bustling and the waiting easy. There were plenty flat-screens on the walls pumping out the latest worship gigs, a Keurig station offering dark bold Sumatran, free wifi, leather couches and interior decor that coagulated the best of surf hipster, New York chic and rustic farm house. Stunning. Unfortunately, the few people hustling by did not seem to notice.
As I sat there in opulent comfort, my mind flashed back to a church meeting I had attended in Thailand a decade earlier. The coffee was instant, the floor seating hard and the only decor a faded picture of a brown eyed Jesus hanging on the cross. The spirit of peace in that place was tangible. It was as if no one was trying. I mean that in the best of lights.
The executive pastor arrived with lavish apologies for his tardiness. A radio interview had gone long. He was likable, focused and obviously loved Jesus. Under his arm was a copy of Fast Company magazine. He told me to wait another five minutes and that his assistant would come out and collect me for the meeting. I was offered another coffee. For me, the interview had already ended. I knew we were headed to the same destination, but on different paths.
If there is one thing I have learned in twenty-plus years of leading in churches is that you can buy church. Check that. You can buy or create a church experience for your community that will offer them the temptation to think that this church has it all together. It’s also a great growth strategy, as it allows people to check the box of being part of something that is effective and meaningful.
As a pastor of a small local church and having just come out of 10 years ministering in a mega church setting, I feel the pressure to create a “Fast Church”, one with all the modern bells and whistles, singing the latest anthems and offering clean efficient systems to organize people around legitimate spiritual causes.
The problem that I face, is that if I went after that, it would not be long before I was the wizard behind the curtain offering up an illusion of spiritual perfection that would not only be soul killing for me, but also for those I lead.
It’s one thing to talk about messy churches and lives from the pulpit, but it’s quite another to actually allow that messiness to be part of your church staff, volunteer base or even organizational systems.
What I often see are churches that preach and sing about brokenness and authenticity, but then go out and try to create a church image and culture that presents modern ideals of perfectionism. Here is what I mean. Would you allow a seriously obese person to be your door greeters? Can we allow someone to stay on staff who is not reaching their targets and goals for one reason or another believing that sometimes God cares more about your staff as individuals then what they can produce. Can someone be on the worship team that occasionally sings flat and do heads roll if the sound or PowerPoint is not run with Spielberg perfection?
I believe that when we present authenticity and imperfection from the stage but don’t allow that to play itself out in the ebb and flow of our church matrix’s and social systems, we are actually creating a culture that never let’s people truly be free. In fact it heaps unseen heavy burdens on their heads.
No, I am not advocating a sloppy church. Being an A Type control junkie, it pains me to be patient as God grows those I lead. I see every perceived misstep, off note and occasional unedited promotional piece. The thing is that deep down, my desire to present the perfect church has more to do with how I want people to perceive me then trying to offer them a savior who brought a casual perfection, but never demanded it in return.