Is the Church a Hobby for Christians and a Sandbox for Pastors? Part 1

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Planting this church for the last three years has shown me one thing for sure: it's easy for church planters, leaders, pastors, ministers, etc. to treat the church like it is their personal sandbox.

It has happened to me personally, and my first church plant has shown me that it could happen all the time if the Spirit wasn't making me sensitive to it. Here's how it seems to happen. Our personalities, likes and dislikes seem to become the driving force behind our leadership in the local church. Do any of you pastors or church leaders find any of the following to be true of you?

  • Perhaps you're wired to passive. You're comfortable with just letting things happen and deal with them when they the name of God's sovereign providence, of course. You enjoy watching it all unfold like a movie...or a UFC match (if you pastor that kind of church). But you feel pressure or stress when action must be taken or direction given.

  • Or perhaps you're a control freak. You're more comfortable with micro-managing all the details. Deep down inside, a strange sense of glee smolders as details in the church are like pieces on a chess board to you. But you feel pressure or stress when rest must be taken or patience had in the midst of God's sovereign providence.

  • Perhaps you're a theology nerd. You LOVE studying doctrine, theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, homiletics, and reading really good books. You'd confess openly (if there was a reward involved) that if you had nothing else to do, you'd rather be reading or studying. And when it comes to the administration and management aspects of a church, you stress out and avoid it at all costs.

  • Or perhaps you're the management-consultant who would love nothing more than to just create systems, structures, and forms, hold meetings, teach workshops, and run attendance and giving numbers on the computer most of the day. You get stressed out and pressured when prayer, fasting, and the study of the Word are on your radar, because you feel they're not your strengths.

  • Perhaps you're technologically awesome. You LOVE downloading and installing software, Facebooking, networking computers, doing graphic design, setting up audio/video equipment, etc. You'd honestly confess at the judgment seat that if there were a Chief Technology Minister position in existence you'd be the first in line to apply. And when other ministry needs surface that are not challenging enough, you avoid them, hand them off to someone else, or ignore them all together. You get stressed out when people want to talk and need counsel because your mind is filled with technological to do's that seem to attract your attention. I've known a pastor or two who has regularly spent 8-10 hours a day on the computer...just...doing stuff. The local church is a sandbox where they get to play with their computers and technology.
I could go on and on, but I trust my point is clear. Here it is in short: it's easy to let your personality, likes and dislikes, and wiring control how you lead a church. The effect can be that what YOU like to do is what YOU end up doing most if not all the time. This has the effect of making the local church your personal sandbox, where you get to test ideas, preach messages, study your favorite topics, read your favorite books, have coffee with people...and basically, just play. What you like to do becomes playtime. People and their needs become annoying distractions.

Playtime in the sandbox for a church leader occurs mostly when a leader avoids the things they either don't know how to do or don't want to do. Instead of buckling down and learning how to do it and when to do it, avoiding it and "praying about it" becomes an escape that allows a little more time to indulge in personal desires. And it's all too easy and common for church leaders to write it all off by thinking and saying, "This is just the way God made me."

No. It's not. It's not JUST the way God made you. God created you and regenerated you to be MORE than JUST the things you like to do or are good at. Don't limit yourself! That's limiting God! He's living inside of you in the person of the Holy Spirit! That's the divine you. He's conforming you to Christ's image (Romans 8:28-30). He's causing you to will and do good things for the kingdom (Phil. 2:13). He's doing so much more than JUST what you're good at or like to do.

Limiting your activities and behavior to just what YOU like to do or feel you're good at limits your mind in what God WANTS to do in you and with you. And it has the ultimate effect of limiting your people's growth and maturity. YOU are their human leader, the undershepherd, the overseer given by the Holy Spirit to lead them to walk with God. But your ability to lead them there will be severely hampered and hindered if you believe you should only do the things you like to do. And that in turn severely hampers and hinders the people you lead.

Pastors. Church Leaders. Ministers. The local church is NOT your personal sandbox where you get to play each day, doing what you "love" to do. PEOPLE are the object here.

  • NOT tasks lists.
  • NOT the next passage to be exegeted.
  • NOT the next sermon to be prepared.
  • NOT the next awesome book to read.
  • NOT the next management structure that must be erected.
  • NOT that system that you would enjoy building.
  • NOT the next software you feel you MUST download and test.
  • NOT the next coffee break at Starbucks.
If these are the things we pursue more than people,
I'm afraid the things we enjoy are just toys,
people are just distractions,
and we're just in our personal sandbox.

All of these things we enjoy doing are given by God for one purpose: to admonish every man, and to teach every man with all wisdom and understanding in order to make every man mature in Christ (Col. 1:28-29).
Don't love the means and the methods, the tools and the talents, the power and the plans, more than people.

Otherwise, your church is all about your playtime in your local church sandbox.

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