WORDS FROM W.W. February 22, 2013
My good friend, Tom Bayes, responded to my blog posting about having a passion for good sportsmanship by pointing me to an article written by Dr. Charles Chandler about the rise in “incivility.” His article points at an epidemic of incivility towards ministers. At first glance I was wondering about the connections between good sportsmanship and the treatment of pastors, and then I got it!
You see, a lack of sportsmanship, especially among adults, is linked to this idea of entitlement. A grown man in the bleachers believes he is entitled to say anything and act any way he wants because he has bought a ticket. He blurs “freedom of speech” with the verbal abuse of others.
In Chandler’s article he refers to Dr. G. Lloyd Rediger, author of Clergy Killers, who gives four reasons for the epidemic of incivility in the church. They are very revealing.
First of all, Rediger says that the church now mirrors society rather than leading it. A society that has become increasingly polarized and unwilling to respect the opinions on each side is spilling over into the church. Now a congregation that includes people with differing music tastes more often than not has heated differences over such things as organs, drums, hymnals, projected words on a screen, and volume level. Incivility filters into a congregation as comfort zones are squeezed, no matter whether it is about such things as “is it okay to bring coffee into the sanctuary” to “what to do about a crying infant in worship” to “a change in the time of the worship service.” My comfort zone is different than the next person’s, and the next person’s different from the person behind him…which leads to the second reason for incivility.
Rediger says that America was once viewed as a “land of opportunity.” Now it tends to be a land filled with people who feel entitled. Comfort levels are viewed as sacred, and thus demanded. Rediger says that some people who aren’t as comfortable as they have been in the church become even vengeful. As entitlement becomes part of the environment, grace gets shoved out the door. Forgiveness goes shortly after since it is linked with grace. Entitled congregants often begin staking out their areas, or programs, or hot button issues and construct “invisible fences” with “No Trespassing” indicators.
The church, which has its roots in personal transformation and discipleship, instead becomes more like a Walmart at 5 a.m. on Black Friday!
The third reason mentioned is that the church too often has adopted the business model for operating instead of a mission model. A sense of mission gets replaced with an atmosphere of management. The pastor presides over the weekly schedule of meetings instead of leading the congregation in the celebration of communion. “Administrate” becomes the buzz word instead of “sacred”. Operations becomes more of the focus instead of mission.
And finally, the fourth reason for the rise in incivility is the loss of respect for the role of the minister. The expectation of pleasing people becomes more important then being their spiritual leader and mentor. I wrestle with this one. Whereas the congregation I pastor treats me with respect, I sometimes wonder if the length of my pastorate has a tendency, so to speak, to make me part of the furniture. Coming up on 14 years this summer I have that uneasiness within me that I am sometimes more honored and respected than heard. Such inner feelings are linked to something written a number of years ago by Loren Mead about the most effective years of a pastorate being between years five and nine. After that, he wrote, the pastor’s ability to lead significant change diminishes. He wrote that about twenty-five years ago. In our culture I’m not sure if it is still true. Because of rapid change it could be that the most effective years are now between three and five.
Bottom line, the Body of Christ, that has its roots in hope, peace, faith, forgiveness, and love, must take a look in the mirror and wash the anger, selfishness, and apathy off.