In an interview recorded by Bill and Imbi Kinnon, Gary Nelson (president of Tyndale University College Toronto) and I discuss some of the psycho social hurdles that pastors must get past to lead missionally. When I say lead missionally, I am assuming a distinction between leading a church that is internally focused versus a church that is externally focused. The former’s focus is on already existing Christians. The latter’s focus is on those yet to come into full relationship with God in Christ. Of course we must as church leaders nurture the community’s life in Christ. This should lead into (and be part and parcel of) engaging what God is doing in the surrounding places we inhabit in everyday life. I strongly argue that the external is not possible without the internal. Nonetheless, within the confines of Christendom (Christian culture), there is always the dynamic that can take over a church which sucks its entire focus into nurturing Christians. This is where immediate success is visible, accolades abound, and the temptation to brand and compete plays on some of our most common (American) impulses. The pastor must struggle against these dynamics to lead missionally, to lead the church into the neighborhoods. There are psycho social hurdles here that play on the pastor’s own sense of self, identity and security.
To summarize here’s the three psycho-social hurdles:
a.) It’s hard to give up the safety of the top down finely tuned organization that has a steady stream of Christians (customers) who are habitualized into coming to church to receive certain goods and services. This works. It is safe. The task is to keep every body happy and satisfied. There is a subtle inertia here that keeps the pastor from asking questions, upsetting the applecart, leading the church into risky ventures which demand a different kind of commitment and imagination. This inhibits the congregation from developing an imagination beyond the four walls of the church.
b.) It’s hard to give up the sense of self-identity we get as pastor of a successful church. We are ever tempted to do things to increase numbers and (to put it prejoratively) acquire the customer loyalty of more already existing Christians The pastor must overcome the subtle inertia there that keeps our attention focused on things that will be visibly more successful and enhance our personal identity in the process. This inhibits the congregation from being pushed out into the neighborhhoods doing things which do not produce the immediate numbers!
c.) It’s hard to give up the authority that comes in the top down organizations. There is a subtle inertia here that tempts us pastors to live in this authority because it gets things done quickly and gives us a sense of accomplishment and power. Yet this dynamic passivizes the congregation into a disposition where they always look to the pastor for the “ok.” This inhibits the congregation from dispersing in to the neighborhoods with multiple leaders carrying authority into the various contexts of mission.
If you are a pastor, have you experienced these psycho-social hurdles? How? If are a Christian, how have you noticed these social dynamics at play in your church gathering? What other psycho-social hurdles have you experienced, seen at work in local churches?