The Church of the Redundant


MC knows the scoreNo one wants to think about a pastor dying unexpectedly, but what if yours did?

The church I attend had their 46-year-old pastor die of cancer a few years ago. It wasn’t completely unexpected, but he’d appeared to make a full recovery—only to succumb shortly after returning to the pulpit. People were shocked.

Now the elders in my church held the church together for a year or so while they sought a new pastor. My wife and I came on-board right as the new pastor was called. We feel blessed by this timing.

Some churches don’t recover, though, when a pastor dies or simply leaves for greener pastures. Or the children’s ministry director steps down and no one wants to step up. Or the worship pastor follows that dream to stardom in Nashville and the worship band sort of “goes to seed” in the aftermath of that departure.

It seems to me that a good many churches out there are cults. Not like Jehovah’s Witnesses, but cults of personality. They revolve around a few dynamic individuals. Should something happen to those dynamic individuals…well, you can see the handwriting forming on the wall.

It should never be that way.

Blame it on something in the drinking water in America, but we don’t do a very good job seeing ourselves as replaceable. Worse, people in leadership positions in churches take this to the extreme and find ways to keep from grooming successors. That dog-eat-dog, business world, CEO model permeates too much of our thinking, making us resistant to doing what’s best for the church, even if that best may not be the best for us personally.

The Bible has this to say,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
—John 12:24-25

The church that makes a difference is the one that understands that nothing good from anything that hasn’t died first. In this case, the truth is that I, along with you, must die to any preconceptions I have about “my ministry.” It’s not my ministry anymore than it is yours. It’s the Lord’s. And He only works wonders when the people trust Him enough to do it His way.

When we build our churches on a handful of talented individuals, we only set ourselves up for failure. Our goal instead should be to build a church where each person is replaceable, no matter how much a person might give to the ministry of the church in terms of time, effort, and money.

You see, when we’re dead, none of that worldly striving for position matters. It no longer becomes “my ministry.” The goal isn’t to play out my ministry, but to ensure that Christ plays out His, even if it means I wind up martyred for it. Because I’m replaceable.

Viewed that way, our entire perspective on how we disciple and raise up leaders must change. It forces us to see every person in the seats as a leader on some level or other. It means that anyone should be able to step up into any position within a church at a moments notice. And that’s because God often taps people for ministry on a moment’s notice.

Instead, we’ve created a model where a few of the dynamic people carry those who are all too willing to take up space. And this is what passes for church in far too many congregations out there.

Or we have the reverse where the leadership doesn’t resemble the boardroom of Procter & Gamble, so a handful of self-appointed leaders in the pews clamor to do it their way. Talk about toxic! So much for dying to self and putting the needs of others first.

When you look around the world at places where the Church is growing exponentially, it’s largely in those places where the Christians understand that everyone should be replaceable. The leaders realize they may not be around tomorrow, so redundancy is key. The Enemy can’t cut off the heads of leadership because, like a hydra, more will just grow out of the stumps.

But we’re not at that place in the U.S. Our own history of self-made men and pioneers makes that kind of selflessness impossible without a serious overhaul of our own identity as Americans. But our identity is found in Christ, not the Founding Fathers. And even they were pretty selfless when it came to founding this country.

I suspect that Darwinistic survival of the fittest concepts drive too many of us for us to see ourselves as redundant. But I also think that’s the only way we’re going to weather the storms that come our way as a Body of Believers in America.

Should it be so difficult, really? I don’t think it needs to be. It just means putting down “me” and taking up the cross. It means not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought and esteeming others better. It means working to ensure that no one in our churches is irreplaceable. It means making disciples that conform, each and every one, to the image of Christ and not our own image.

I started out 2008 writing that this needs to be a year where we listen to the Holy Spirit like we’ve never listened before. I also think that 2008 is the year where the Church in America gets serious about laying down self. If it’s about maximizing the 401k plan, then we’re not going to work to make ourselves redundant. If it’s about maintaining a pretty Evangelical kingdom of our own making, then we’re never going  to be humble enough to say, “Lord, here I am. Use me up.” We’ll never make ourselves expendable for the only Kingdom that counts.

Aren’t we all tired of living for ourselves? Aren’t we all a little bit burned out of rushing to and fro to keep the world’s plates spinning?

So where do we go from here, army of the redundant?

10 thoughts on “The Church of the Redundant

  1. Dan, it’s so good to “meet” you. I found your blog through Victoria Gaines and I’ve added you to my list of blog favorites so I can visit often. I really appreciate what you have to say. Thanks for the glass of cool, clean, refreshing “Water”.

  2. The church I have been at for the past twleve years was pastored by one man for forty five years. When he retired and his assistant was promoted in his place a number of people left because the new pastor was “too young”. This madn has had all kinds of problems because some see the former pastor as “their pastor” rather than the one who is there now. Their biggest problem is that ______________ is not Pastor _____________, and he does things differently.

    I think this mindset is going to eventually cause the church to close its doors.

    • Fred,

      David Wayne of Jollyblogger once featured an interview with a pastor from one of the satellite countries that once comprised the old Soviet Union. That pastor was absolutely astonished that Americans would pick up and leave a church for another.

      In some parts of the world, Christians see their church as their only option. It’s not that other churches don’t have truth, but the individuals that comprise that church are committed to each other, not to some non-spiritual ideal.

      We lose something in the American Church when we leave one church for another so easily. We never are forced to wrestle through forgiving someone who has wronged us—we just leave. We don’t tax ourselves to correct problems—we just quit and go elsewhere. That quitter mentality only lessens our character, though. Perhaps the will of God is to stay and tough it out. Yet how many times do folks do that?

      Perhaps we are molly-coddled here. I’d like to see people tough it out more. At my church, probably half the people left after the pastor died. And that may be better than most churches would have responded for all I know.

      • Ben

        Good point, Dan. Having left my church recently, this is a perspective that I hadn’t really considered. Perhaps our decisions to leave churches is reflective of the cultural value of “disposability”/obsession with novelty — if something isn’t working, get rid of it/leave it and get something new — a value that the church (inevitably?) is reflecting, and us, as members of the church are reflecting also. So it seems like it’d definitely be an upstream battle, a counter-cultural attitude, even to a majority of Christians, perhaps?
        While a decision to stay and try and work things out could certainly be taxing, it may not lessen character if it seems like there’s a particularly bad church situation or even just a situation where someone’s growth is stagnating perhaps and that leaving to go to a place of greater opportunity for maturity would be a good decision, no? I suppose it depends on the reasons for leaving — spiritual or non-spiritual. However, the distinction between the two is likely difficult to make, particularly for different people.

  3. The image of two hands writing in the post exactly reflects what you said in the post.
    If one pastor went away to god and the new pastor on to the Church and I think its cycle in this life.
    And I thank for this beautiful review of your church.

  4. “So where do we go from here, army of the redundant?”

    Away from the dedicated buildings and job titles, and toward a more village-like mindset. 🙂

    Village elders are respected because of the wisdom they’ve demonstrated over the years (well, okay, fine–sometimes it’s because they killed the biggest lion). Anyway, those elders are not sought out for advice, counsel and instruction because they “own the keys,” but because they’ve shown over the years that they know what they’re talking about.

    There’s two ways this shift from “Church, Inc.” to “the church as village” can happen: either the current leaders (with a vested interest in the status quo) will change, or the rest of the body will just ignore the professionals and seek out the true elders. The one is unlikely, the other is uncomfortable.

    So, um… prayer. Yup, that’s my answer: prayer. 😉

  5. Amy Heague

    same thing happened with us a few years back – senior pastors retired more than half the congregation left, & with out going into the underlying politics, I think it was the best thing to ever happen to us as a people & a congregation.
    A harsh prune it was, but what is left is stronger & healthier than it ever was.
    And I now find myself in the position of Assistant & I wonder….
    My thought is; my role as a leader, is to help the people I am entrusted with become all that God created them to be, by discipling, sharing my faith & life with them etc.
    If they are better than me at something then let them do it & we continue to work together – well, okay, I’m working on that one!
    As leaders we can think that we are indispensable, but sometimes we are really just in the way of God moving more fully in His people. I’d like to think I can do myself out of a job, so to speak! 😉

  6. Pingback: Is your church redundant? | Think Christian

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