Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Second Bananas

I guess our pastor got in hot water with the church council last night.

He's spent several Sundays shepherding various assortments of church kids at various church camps. This Sunday he'd been scheduled to guest-pastor at some special event elsewhere in the state, but when the council got wind of it they got upset, and told him he needed to be at our place on Sundays. So he cancelled his special event.

The bottom line is...well...the bottom line. When the pastor isn't at church, attendance drops and the collection goes down.

While I understand this -- and to be honest, in the past I've been an all-too-willing participant in this trend -- since I've become a lay minister, it hurts me on some level to think that people in our congregation are reading the church calendar, seeing my name (and that of our other three lay ministers) as presider, and concluding, "Whoo-hoo! We can sleep in that Sunday!"

No matter what we tell people about the priesthood of all believers, the fact of the matter is that lay-led worship services simply don't "count" in many laypeople's minds. And I've had other lay ministers who help in their parish's hospital and shut-in visitations share the same thing -- that when they show up on some doorsteps they're considered second-string ministers.

I don't really think there's a remedy for this perception either. In my darker moments, it makes me wonder whether all the effort of going through lay ministry training had any meaning other than my own intellectual and spiritual stimulation. Don't get me wrong; sometimes I need to be stimulated in those areas. But it begs the question of what sort of "service" one is rendering if one's fellow laypeople don't perceive it as a service at all, but rather sloppy seconds that aren't worth their time or donations to the church.


Verdugo said...

Many years ago, there was a group of fundie types in my church who would stay home as some whiney protest whenever the female associate pastor (one of the best preachers I've ever heard) was preaching. The senior pastor settled this by making a policy he's stuck to for over a decade-- we never announce who's preaching on a given Sunday. Ever. Even if you see the senior pastor in church before the service, doesn't mean he's preaching, since he often comes when he's not "at bat".

Seems to have solved a lot of problems, as well as emphasize the notion that we're a community, not a single individual.

LutheranChik said...

Now, that's an idea worth trying. I'm wondering how that'd work at our place.

The basic gist of the pastor's knuckle slap was, "What do we pay you for?" Evidently teenagers' spiritual formation and maintaining/enhancing good relations with our synod aren't included in that...

Auntie Knickers said...

I don't think it's only about lay ministers -- when I was a church secretary (responsible for logging attendance) I noticed that any visiting pastor got the same treatment. I don't think we ever had the bishop but probably the same would have occurred. However it does seem a little worse to me when it's lay people who are scorned, since normally they aren't even getting paid and have fitted their prep in around their regular jobs. The idea in the earlier comment sounds great, I wonder how it would work? -- Also -- the sr. pastor at the church where my daughter interned (BIG church) had a piece of advice, almost a policy, that was the senior pastor (or solo) shouldn't preach more than three times a month.

Beth said...

Yep. We've got the same policy that verdugo posted. The only person who has advance notice that I'm going on vacation is the secretary--and she's not a member. I've learned not even to tell the council, or else attendance drops. And we're a weekly Communion congregation, which means that we've always got ordained supply pastors so it's not a lay versus clergy issue here. Still, it smacks of heresy, doesn't it?

And I've gotten negative feedback whenever I travel with our teens on weekends. Funny thing is, if I don't go, the kids won't get to go because no one else is willing to chaperone. I just can't win!

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

If the pastor hadn't communicated beforehand with the council, I think that they have a reason to at least complain. I didn't want to use the word complain, but I couldn't think of a better word.

The pastor is both "in charge" but also an employee. There has to be give and take; there has to be mutual consultation. He isn't a one man show or running his own business.

That said, I would agree that there is value in what he was doing. I haven't heard of a council complaining when the pastor isn't there because there isn't enough jingle in the plate, but maybe our church doesn't announce in the published calendar who will be in the pulpit. The pastor isn't secretive when she will be on vacation, however, because they worship committee and council have to fill the slots. [That isn't up to the pastor.] We have our largest attendance in summer with the pews just about filled, so probably many people expect a good worship and sermon.

Tom in Ontario said...

I hear you about attendance going down when I'm away. Sometimes I'll get a pastor to supply for me in the pulpit and behind the table, other times we'll have a lay led Service of the Word. Either way attendance is down. I don't quite get it because I don't think I'm such hot stuff.

We do announce when I'll be away just because we announce who's on call to cover for me in the event of any pastoral care emergencies.

I WISH that some of the lay people in our congregation would share the visiting with me but then I wonder if the people being visited would feel like they're getting the second string.

Crimson Rambler said...

I remember when I began as a curate...the Rector and I both served communion at the rail, and we could look out and see the congregation solemnly lining up on HIS side of the church; we would wait until they committed themselves, and then he'd wink at me and we'd switch sides. We didn't have to do it too often before they "got it."
But we never announced preacher/presider either, because of the Know-Nothing Rump that wouldn't come if they had a woman officiating.
It IS a hard situation.

-C said...

I don't know - I guess at a very basic level it's probably wrong for the council and congregation to get their undies in a bunch when the pastor's away, especially if he's doing ministry somewhere.

On the other hand, the pastor's primary call is to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments - i think this presumes an expectation on the part of the parish that these things are to be done within the context of the parish he's called to serve.

Not sure how often he's away, but it might be good if he considers limiting his "sharing of his gifts" elsewhere a little. A congregation does have a right to expect their pastor to be at church on Sundays if he expects them to be there, no?

James Hilden-Minton said...

This is very thought provoking. There are two things going on here. One is the dependency the church has on its pastor, and the second is the status of lay ministers.

I believe we need a new--or renewed--theology of the church and ministry to fully recognize and celebrate the ministry of the baptized. I've become convinced that discipleship is highest call of any of us have. We all have a calling to holy, priestly and prophetic ministry. But here's the catch for me. This is a calling for the whole body. We need to think in terms of congregational discipleship. Those who stay away when the pastor is gone have not responding to this call. From a discipleship viewpoint, we do not go to church for our own edification, but for the building up of the whole body of Christ. Our ministry is to bear the burdens of one another. How can I be a part of that if I am slack in my attendance or giving. Brother Roger used to tell the Taize brothers, "There will come a time when you won't want to come to prayer, but that is when your brother will need you to come and pray with him."

Our churches have become far too consumer-oriented and our spirituality too self-centered. How do we resist these trends in our culture? Congregational discipleship is both prophetic and priestly. The living out of law and gospel is our ministry in the midst of our generation. Until we internalize our role as the gathered body of Christ we will fall short of our calling in Christ.

Thanks again for a thought-provoking peice. Peace.