I used to coach high school football. I loved it. I loved the practices, the preparations, and the Friday night performances.
I remember once when a parent got upset because we had credited his son with 12 tackles and not more. I can still hear him screaming at me, “You know it was more than that!” In case you don’t know… twelve tackles in a high school football game is an incredible achievement.
We used to say, “Coaching would be an amazing job if it wasn’t for the parents.”
Why? As coaches and athletes, we were on the same team, and often a parent is on a different team: their kid’s team. They see everything through the lens of their child. How does this affect my kid? Will my kid be better because of this? They do not see things through the lens of the team.
I pastor a young, growing church I feel a similar tension again. I’ve heard other Pastors say, “Pastoring would be an amazing job if it wasn’t for ‘church people’.” In many ways, people who’ve grown up in church present some of the greatest challenges to leading a congregation.
People who are new to Jesus, fresh to the Christian experience, and new to church present a different kind of challenge when leading. They’re often excited and motivated to make a difference, and they usually jump right in to put their gifts to work. But… They can come with a mess. Their sin is going to become a challenge as we start to lead them.
“Church people” come with a different challenge, and that challenge is simply that they’ve been to church, been involved in leading a church, or served a church before.
Why is that a challenge?
It’s a challenge because our prior experience creates present expectations.
Why do “church people” get mad when they feel like decisions are being made that they disagree with in a local church? Perhaps in their prior experience at church (or life), they’ve been given a voice to affect the trajectory of decisions, the churches they’ve been a part of were led with an (unbiblical) democratic governance, or the leaders they worked with gave them a platform to share their opinions. It’s reasonable to understand that they come with an expectation that they will be heard, and their request will be responded to.
Why do “church people” get upset when there is change with in a local church? Perhaps the churches they’ve been a part of held to a consistent tradition from which they found a source of peace and strength. They were given a chance in other incidences to affect the change or squash the change or simply disagree with the church’s leadership or direction. There are expectations that the local church will either stay consistent in it’s practice or only change when it’s agreed upon.
If you’re a “church person”, let me give you three expectations to guard to help you have a life-giving relationship with the local church:
1 – Guard your expectations for how the church responds to you.
The church doesn’t exist to serve your purposes. The church exists to serve Jesus’ purposes. We all have expectations when it comes to personal interactions, and, in many ways in the church, that’s been informed by our prior experience in the local church. A church that’s serving 500 people will not interact with you in the same way that a church that’s serving 50 people can. If you’re in a smaller church, it’s easier for those serving you to infer your needs. The more people that a church is serving and the less connected you are in that community of faith, the more the burden is on you to communicate your needs to the local church. Even then, it’s important to know that every church interacts and responds differently. Give grace and don’t measure your current situation by past experiences (both good and bad).
2 – Guard your expectations for change and decision-making.
Many churches are run by a local board made of up of well-meaning, good-intentioned people who have no formal training to lead an organization or a church. In the past pandemic, I’ve read a lot about COVID-19. I can earnestly speak to the data that I’ve read and the research that is emerging. But… I’m not a doctor, a nurse, or a respiratory therapist. There’s a background of work and knowledge that leverages expertise to those individuals who have been called and trained for those jobs. Similarly, churches need to be piloted by the ones who God has called and equipped for the role of leading that congregation. Don’t view change as an enemy. Instead, let the change take it’s a course and invest yourself in making it as good as possible. Don’t argue about decisions that aren’t yours to make. Instead, invest yourself in making the application of those decisions as life-giving as possible. Change isn’t always for the best, but it’s evident in our culture that a refusal to change is a death sentence on any church. Work through these tensions with honor, humility, and submission.
3 – Guard your expectations of your Pastor.
Let me openly say that I’ve failed this job and this calling many, many times. I’ve cried and mourned when I’ve done so. Your Pastor isn’t perfect, and they never will be. We’re not superhuman. We come to the job with a calling, our gifts, and, unfortunately, our weaknesses, too. I’ve heard “church people” say, “The people in the world treat me so much better than the people in the church.” I once heard John Bevere address this. He said, “You expect so little from the world that when they do anything good it’s a blessing, but you expect so much from other Christians that when they misstep in the slightest, it becomes an offense.” Honoring a Pastor isn’t thinking that they’re a superhero that’s incredibly gifted, strong, and never in error. Instead, honoring them is more about living in awe of what God is doing through a fellow believer who is just as flawed as you are. If you’re looking for the perfect Pastor, you’ll be looking for a long time looking at human beings. God’s called us all to be led by imperfect people, and through them to see the perfect God who is actively redeeming us all.
I’m thankful to lead many “church people”, and I’m grateful that we can shape this next generation together.
Let’s guard our expectations and lean into what God has for us.