Seafood is always better when you can see the water, isn't it?
I enjoyed a delightful seafood dinner on the water in Georgetown, SC recently. Wayne Ellis, my host for the meal, commented that he enjoyed these emails. I told him I needed a great idea for my next one. I had done four back-to-back meetings in South Carolina and hadn't come up with anything yet. Three minutes later, I had the idea for this article.
"I love this church," he told me. "We just click. My last church was all white-collar types. I just couldn't relate to those people. These people--we understand each other. I say, 'Let's go,' and we go. Life is too short to live any other way. "
Not too long ago, I heard an opposite story. (I have been waiting a few months to write this lest the church in question would feel talked about.) A pastor came to a church, and right away he started rubbing people the wrong way. He had a spotless track record of growth at various churches. Attendance was down at this church by 200. Every little thing he did irritated them. I suspect it was pretty irritating for him as well. Life is too short for this.
I want to go out on a limb here and contradict some common wisdom about finding a pastor. People often speak of the process as if it were infallible. "I just know we will find God's man in God's time." or "I know God sent him to us; I just don't understand." or "I know God called me here; I guess maybe he called me here to suffer and learn."
Maybe. But, maybe not. Only the Bible is infallible. The process of calling a pastor is not. What I mean is that sometimes good, sincere, praying people make mistakes. Sometimes pastors and staff end up in the wrong place. It is a bad match. And when it is bad, sometimes it is really bad. Life is too short to stay. Not good for you; not good for them. And, I am guessing your spouse is not too fired up either. You know the saying: when momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. (When daddy ain't happy, ain't nobody who cares!) My advice? Move on.
Rick Warren points out that maximum church growth happens when the culture and mindset of the people in the church, the people in the community and the pastor all line up. Unless you have a gift for working cross-culturally, this is where you will be most effective. Life is too short to live any other way. This is why, if you grew up in the city, you tend to do well in the city. If you grew up in the mid-west, you tend to do well in the mid-west. Do a little mental check and see how many well-known pastors minister in the part of the country they grew up.
It is an age old church growth principle. It was one of the first and most controversial principles that Donald McGavran discovered in his studies of growing churches. It is called the homogeneous unit principle. It says that people tend to like to go to church with people like them. Blue collar people tend to like to go where blue collar people go. Geeks like geek churches. Home schooling moms like churches with other home schooling moms. This is one of the reasons, by the way, that age grading tends to work well in Sunday School, but that is another article. An extension of this principle is this: people like to go to church with people like themselves and the pastor is like them as well. Don't go to silicon valley unless you carry a Palm®. Don't go to Texas unless you can learn to love boots. Don't go to Colorado if you don't like camping.
I actually told a church this once. I had a church call me from Colorado and ask me about being their pastor. I told them they needed a guy with camping gear in the truck. I don't have a truck or camping gear. The only camping I do is at Camp Marriott. It would not have been a match made in heaven. Life is too short for that.
One more story. My parent's church. Far, far, away. Long long ago. (I don't want to get too specific.) A man came to be their pastor with a fantastic record of fruitfulness. He has gone on to another church and had an incredible ministry. But, as my parents pastor, they liked him fine, but he just didn't jive too well at that church. They were polite enough to throw a party when he left. You got the feeling some celebrated a little too gladly. And it is not like it is just a grumpy church. They got another pastor in and everyone loved him. Attendance is up. Giving is up. The spirit of the church is up. They have a match. Life is too short to live any other way.
Someone is reading this who has been really frustrated with your church. Truth is, the church has been frustrated with you. It is just not a good match. Perhaps God would use this article to give you a nudge to start sending out resumes. This is the age of the Internet. See if you can send out 50 by lunch. Here are a couple of sites to get you started.
Life is too short to stay where you are not a match. It is very difficult to double a church where the people just don't like you. Love covers a multiple of sins. The opposite is also true. If people just don't like you, nothing you do is right. Life is too short to stay. Or, put another way, life is too long to stay!