Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sermon: Which Pastor Do You Want?

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In case you haven’t figured it out, you are stuck with me for another year as your pastor. That means you are stuck with my limitations and my strengths for another year. Some of you are probably happy with that, others would like a person with different strengths and weaknesses. That’s okay. People have different needs, different wants, and different ideas of what religious leadership should look like.

Actually, today’s bible passage is exactly a discussion of that. Imagine that Jesus is sitting down with a group of people and talking about what they expect the Messiah to be like. And the fact is that some people preferred the serious style of John the Baptist – they liked that he didn’t eat much, that he didn’t drink alcohol. He approached life like a funeral, expecting people to be solemn and respectful. Some people thought the Messiah should be like that. But others thought there had to be something wrong with him to act like that – some even said he had a demon.

Other people liked the style of Jesus who ate with sinners, drank with tax collectors and socialized with all sorts of people. He approached life like a dance, and invited others to dance along. Some people thought the Messiah should reach out the outcasts. But others saw his actions as irreligious, not serious enough, too much like the sinners themselves. So they called him a drunk and a glutton.

So here is Jesus having this discussion with people and they are giving their feedback about what the Messiah should be like, as Jesus reminds them, that some people would complain about the Messiah no matter what he was like – they would point out all the flaws and never be happy. If invited to the funeral, they wouldn’t be serious and respectful; and when invited to dance, they would sit there like lumps on a log. Jesus is trying to challenge them to open their minds and see that he really is the one sent from God.

As I was reading it, I began to reflect upon pastoral leadership and honestly about the kinds of people we put into other leadership positions like lay leader and Ad Board chair.

What if we take Jesus’ discussion here as the beginning of a discussion about all of the leadership in church?

For example, you have two choices in a pastor. One is a pastor who is like John the Baptist, strict in his religious observances – fasts, never laughs, doesn’t dance, and comes at life and religion with a very serious approach. The other is one who is like the Human One who eats and drinks with sinners, who visits the bars, who dances to music, and likes to laugh. Life and religion are a source of joy to be shared with everyone.

Which would you pick? What would you complain about with each? Turn to your neighbor and tell them which one you would pick! [wait]

Of course all of know that that really isn’t enough information is it? Could you really pick a pastor just based on that? Well, you could but it might not work out very well.

When Jesus tells this story he is really inviting us to a discussion about what really matters. Is it the outward signs or is it something different? Is it something deeper?

So a couple of months ago I went to two training seminars that talked about demographics and one of the things that people study is what different types of people look for in their religious leaders. In fact, the studies are so detailed that they can tell based upon what block you live in what you probably look for in a pastor and in other church leaders. I know, that is a little frightening – in the information age, people know so much about us. But my goal isn’t to scare you. Actually I want to look at the top six major demographic groups in Buchanan and tell you what they are looking for in church leadership.

So for example, I can tell you that the largest demographic group in Buchanan likes pastors who graduated from a well-established school of theology and from the “School of hard knocks”.

They want a person who has expertise and commonsense. They want someone who works closely with the church board but does not take over. They want a pastor who listens carefully to all points of view, and seeks advice of the lay leaders. They expect the pastor to be on call 24/7 and to be a good caregiver of the people.

Similarly, our third largest demographic group in Buchanan likes pastors who are ordained by an established denomination and are primarily approachable and friendly.

They want a pastor who not only visits in homes and hospitals, but is also an excellent administrator, who is more like a CEO and can run a business or a non-profit agency.

Our fifth largest demographic group has a little different perspective. They are pretty open to different kinds of leadership styles.

They prefer a pastor who preserves harmony, who is sensitive to different generations and acts as friend, counselor and facilitator. They are capable preachers and administrators but don’t have to be the best.

Do you hear the differences start to emerge? This group doesn’t care so much about the CEO approach, of even how they work with the board. This group wants the pastor to be their friend.

Where things really get different is our six largest group. This group wants a pastor who has a live and let live attitude and has let go of all the sacred cows of churchy institutions. 

The pastor has to be laser focused on servant evangelism and helping disciple young adults. The pastor works with the people individually and in small groups to help people shape a do-able and portable spiritual life for themselves and their families.[1]

So this last group really doesn’t care about administration at all, they want a person who disciples them and teaches them how to live a spiritual life. And all the traditions respected by the first few groups can go out the window.

Turn to your neighbor and tell them which of these groups you most agree with. [wait]

As you can see, no one person can be all of these things. So what has to happen is that churches either will never attract certain types of people, no matter how hard they try, because they leadership style just isn’t right, Or – the church lay people, you all, fill in the leadership gaps and become the bridgebuilders who reach to those other groups.

So we need lay people who meet the needs of the first group that have expertise and common sense, who listen carefully to everyone’s point of view. We need lay people who are approachable and friendly, who are excellent visitors in homes and could run a company. We need people who are concerned about the church’s harmony and are sensitive to different generations, who can be a person’s friend and counselor. We need people who question tradition and are willing to toss it aside, and we need people who are willing to meet with people individually and in small groups and help them figure out a spirituality that fits their busy lifestyle.

So the next time you complain about your pastor, or about one of the other church leaders, think about that. While you might not like it, it may be exactly what another person is looking for in a leader.

Also, before you complain remember that all of that is outward stuff. Kind of like Jesus says, all of that is about the personality of the leader. Are they more like a funeral or a dance?

But what we really need in our church leadership is people who first and foremost love God. People who look to Jesus as their ultimate leader, as their messiah. You can have the right personality all day long, but if you don’t have that, then there is a problem.

Of course since I am not perfect, I will fail you. Since our other church leaders are not perfect, they will fail you too. The delight here is that Jesus is ultimately our leader – and he tells us some very specific things about his style of leadership. “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me (he doesn’t say we won’t have work to do). I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

So when I fail, when the church leadership fails, look to Jesus. After all our religion really is about following him, not following me, or our board, or anyone else.

[1] All Demographic Summaries are from Mission Impact Guides, V2.0 From MissionInsite, LLC available through www.missioninsite.com

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