If there’s one thing I do on this blog consistently, it’s start blog series with reckless abandon and then never come back to them. However, I intend to pick back up the book reviewing one, as well as the seminary one. I don’t think there’s any more recently orphaned ones (besides an on-going story about a trip to California that now has a Part 2), and so another a new one doesn’t complicate things too much.
This one has been rummaging around in my mind since at least this time last year. When I was younger, I listened to a tape series called Adventures in Odyssey (cue nostalgia for some of you). This series is something like “adventures in ecclesiology.” Probably lamer to be honest. But, I couldn’t think of a better title.
Everything kind of started when I left for college (not surprising right?). Up to that point, I had been at the same church since 3rd grade. That I can remember, I had only been part of one other church before that. During the two years I was at Word of Life, you really couldn’t regularly attend a church. Well, you could, but it took more effort than I was willing to put in. I did enjoy two churches in Florida, and exactly zero in New York.
My first, how you might say, “awkward” experience with a church was at one of those Florida churches. It wasn’t actually even during my time at school in Florida, but on a trip back through to see friends and go to a concert in Ybor. That Sunday, I went to the one church because that’s where the guy I was staying with went. I had gone several times while I was in school because my buddy Steven and I had recorded an album for the current (at the time) worship pastor.
This particular Sunday involved me being a bystander while a pastor broke up with his church. While I don’t know the history of the church, I think the guy had planted it, and at the very least had been the pastor of the church plant for several years at that point. His message, and I’m using that word loosely, was basically, it’s not you, it’s me. He explained why he was leaving, and then from what I understood, moved to North Carolina and started working at Barnes & Noble.
Had I been a member of this church, it might have been more devastating than awkward. I think everyone had been blindsided. Luckily, that worship pastor I mentioned was able to step up and start preaching and now he’s the lead pastor (and has been for over 10 years, longer than the previous guy). While that is a good thing, I am guessing the original pastor peacing out wounded quite a few people and it took the church some time to heal. I am also guessing that he was experiencing pretty significant burnout, and so hopefully he has healed as well.
This story, while relatively minor in my own personal history, opened up a new perspective on the local church. Up to the time I left for college, I had a pretty bland Bible belt Baptist church experience. I have no complaints, because I think I went to a pretty healthy church. It probably had its issues, but I wasn’t necessarily in the know. The church is different from when I left it, but, the pastor I grew up with is still the pastor of the church. Other staff have shuffled in and out, but he’s still going strong.
This particular experience at the church in Florida was perhaps a firsthand entrance into church drama. It was the first time I saw a pastor lose pastoral credibility right in front of my eyes. Much of what happened that day might have been solved by better accountability. At the same time, I’m sure it wouldn’t have fixed everything and I’m not privy to all the underlying details. I know what he publicly presented to his church, but I don’t know the back-end workings.
In the end, it may have been what helped develop my conviction that pastors who haven’t been vetted by a really solid seminary probably shouldn’t be planting churches. A corollary to this is that pastors who couldn’t get hired by a local church didn’t need to strike off and form their own. I certainly left Dallas with those convictions, in part after seeing everything you have to go through to get a ministerial seal of approval from a serious seminary. But, as I have also seen firsthand, just because someone has a seminary degree and seal of approval, it doesn’t mean they will be a good pastor.
These things are tricky aren’t they?
All of this serves as a kind of introduction to my way of processing my personal history with the local church, which has certainly had ups and downs. I’ve witnessed church issues and no doubt caused a few myself (we’ll get to that). My sample size is admittedly small, but I’ve read widely in both the history of the church and the recent history of evangelicalism. I’ve also never been on staff at church and I’m going on staff with a parachurch ministry. That obviously skews my perspective a bit.
I’m not here to trash the church, in general or particular. I’m just trying to think through a healthy relationship with the local church in general (especially as it pertains to young adults) and in particular (as it pertains to our recent church search that was set in motion this time last year). I’m also trying to think through what activities the local church should be spending more time on, and what parachurch ministries (especially college campus ones) can and should focus on doing. I’d also like to touch on how something like the Benedict Option fits into all of this, but it might take a while to get there. But, if you’re along for the ride, we’ll get there eventually.