If you know me, you know I love irony. Why? For the most part, because irony reveals a place of disconnect. If you find irony, you have found a place where, though we don’t realize it (which is what makes it ironic), our words don’t match our actions. That is, we aren’t being consistent. Who we say we are, and who we really are, just isn’t adding up.
If I realize the disconnect but do it anyway, I am guilty of hypocrisy. But if I do not realize the disconnect, I am a victim of irony.
And I think church leadership says some things that are pretty ironic. Their actions reveal that they don’t actually believe what they are saying. And what makes it ironic is that I’m not sure they even realize it.
Here is my list of the top three:
Ironic Saying #1: “Every Member is a Minister.”
How you know they don’t mean it: They get paid & you don’t.
When we begin to actually live out “every member is a minister” we quickly realize that many pastors only want us to exercise our “minister”-ness in areas they are both comfortable with and in areas that do not threaten their authority or position.
Because, if every member really was a minister, then why are we paying them so much money to do something we are all supposed to be doing? To protect their roles (and paychecks) there is created a “first among equals” mentality, which can be very confusing for people who are told that “every member is a minister.” In what ways? And why don’t we get paid for it but you do?
So, if pastors actually acted on what they said, their own positions might be in question.
Ironic Saying #2: “Worship happens 7 days a week.”
How you know they don’t mean it: They aren’t okay with you not coming to their building on Sundays.
When we begin to actually live out “worship is every day,” and thus skip church on Sundays because we are getting it Monday-Saturday, we are told “Well, that’s not what we meant.” But then we are left with vacuous statements that “don’t really” mean anything. Again, we end up with a “first among equals” situation, which is very confusing. If Monday is just as important as Sunday, why do I get judged for not coming on Sunday but no one holds me accountable for what I do on Monday?
At least for me, I took “worship happens 7 days a week” very seriously. So then I wondered what made showing up to a building once a week unique.
Ironic Saying #3: “We welcome everyone.”
How you know they don’t mean it: They have statements of belief & requirements for membership.
We’ve already talked about this but here is a recap. When we say “everyone is welcome” we mean “you can come in the door just as you are,” but the expectation will always be that you soon adopt our particular set of beliefs. Why? Well, since the Church is defined by its beliefs, every person who doesn’t adhere to our beliefs dilutes our identity. So, for the health of the whole, you need to be absorbed as quickly as possible (through being taught or rebuked) or you risk being asked to leave altogether.
What’s my point in discussing these three sayings? There are two points.
First, as usual, I’m not saying these phrases are wrong. Nor am I saying these behaviors are wrong. I’m simply pointing out an inconsistency between the two. And far too often I’ve seen these inconsistencies lead to a lack of communication between a pastor and a person in the congregation, which leads to many people getting hurt by church leadership.
It’s not because pastors are evil. And it’s not because those people are sinful. Perhaps it’s because we aren’t being honest about what we believe and living those beliefs out in a consistent way, often because we don’t want to admit to ourselves the implications of our beliefs, whichever way they fall. Let’s work on that.
Second, we have to work on better communication. Yes, a lot of pastors aren’t aware of these inconsistencies. But many are. They have recognized them but have spent years justifying them. For instance, they know exactly why “ever member is a minister” but why they alone should they get a paycheck. They have found Bible verses to support their position and a stockpile of Bible experts to back them up.
Maybe they have good reasons. Or maybe they make up reasons because they need there to be a reason, to keep their jobs and to support their families. But either way, communicate those reasons to your congregation! They deserve to know why what you are saying seems incompatible with your behavior.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”