(Our Church) Belonging to a Network

(this is part two. part one is HERE.)

What do I think my local church needs from belonging to a Network? For me this has to be an inseparable “part two” to the question, “What kind of Network would you like to be a part of?” Here is a list of things I think about when I think about our local church belonging to a network of churches. My wish list. This isn’t exhaustive, there could be a lot more added. As you read this, see what’s missing and let me know what you would add.

When I think about the relationship between our local church and the Network we might be a part of, the first thing I would like to see is participation and engagement. We’re in “post branding” days or “micro branding” days – people are fleeing denominational labels even while their church may still be firmly embedded in a denomination or network. There’s very little prestige in a church brand (if any) but often a whole lot of baggage. So I would like to see it mean something significant for our local church to live with a label. If we contribute financially to a network, our local church should have a voice at the table when our network forms plans and begins coalescing around ideologies.

It’s not hard to work already established systems in order to make this a reality.

Second, I think of church health. As a local church pastor I know I can easily miss the forest for the trees sometimes. I would like to be part of a network that has a clear sense of what church health looks like and does not base health on a “scoreboard” metric of baptisms, converts, small group numbers and attendance. Those are things that can figure in to assessing the overall health of a church but experience has proven they can all be “off the chart” in the midst of a heavily toxic culture.

I want to be part of a network that looks out for the well-being of pastors but holds and practices that same value for local churches.

Now, here’s the deal, this is scary territory for a lot of pastors and the people who are in leadership roles in a network who are or used to be pastors. Our tendency is to protect each other’s backs – which can be admirable but it can also be toxic and detrimental to the well-being of the church. The kind of work I am thinking of does not involve popularity contests or Monday morning quarterbacking by people who think they know pastoring better than those who have trained for it. It’s not based on anonymous surveys or “on a scale of one to ten” metrics that we all know could rate a “one” this week and just as easily a “ten” next week depending on the week a person has and the experience of a particularly good (or bad) Sunday morning.

I would like to be part of a network that forms church health caretakers that meet with pastors and congregations using proven assessment tools and (of equal importance) conversation. This would involve in person visits and/or zoom meetings with key people to get a feel for how a pastor and congregation are doing together in living out the kingdom dream. This would involve listening to online messages for content and approach. Visiting for a worship service or catching some on-line if available. Getting the vibe. After this, the caretakers would write up some insights, considerations and recommendations for the pastor and leadership team to go over together. In some cases this could lead to some very direct intervention that went beyond “recommendations” and into straight talk about desperately needed changes. However it comes down, the caretaking team should spend a fair amount of time talking up all the great, healthy and beautiful things happening by pastors, staff and congregation.

In conjunction with the above caretakers, I would like to be part of a network that offered an ombudsperson who would receive non-anonymous emails and or phone calls from elders, staff or other leaders who find themselves in toxic situations created by their senior pastor. These contacts would always be investigated, notes taken and issues addressed based on findings and not based on being a network that “always supports the senior pastor in situations like this.” Recent church history has made us very aware that while the majority of pastors are good hearted and Jesus natured, some are wolves or at least very broken people, and we need network leadership to protect the rest of the sheep.

I also want to be part of a network that reflects us. So I’d like a network that is made up of people of all colors, people of all ages and people who represent the spectrum of the human experience the same way our local church does. This takes work and intentionality but I see this as a critical aspect of our life together. I don’t want to be part of a movement that is devoted to or led by one generation but rather one that demonstrates the kingdom – not by Gen X or Millenial leadership but by the Spirit’s ability to blend generations to show what kingdom leadership looks like. Fresh ideas are great, wisdom is better.

I want to be part of a network of churches that invites us to the table to talk through hard things. A network that isn’t afraid of fierce conversations. A network that doesn’t withhold information, spin information or obscure information in order to have power over or cover ourselves. Relationships can flourish where there is honest and open communication but they will wither and die in the spin zone and when we find out we’ve been lied to or mislead. I want to be part of a network where we aren’t afraid of each other.

Finally, in this non-exhaustive list, I’d like to be part of a network of churches that knows who we are and doesn’t try to be non-offensive or who morphs ourselves in whatever direction we think people want us to go. I want to be part of a network of churches who will have leadership at a national level that clearly and unequivocally denounces Christian Nationalism. Who speaks up and denounces the murder of black and brown bodies, especially by law enforcement officers. Who is clear we stand with the oppressed, the marginalized, the abused and the forsaken. I want to be part of a network that doesn’t cover up things we got wrong but practices confession, repentance and receiving forgiveness. I want to be part of a network that condemns any political party or personality that demonstrates clear and unmistakable anti-christ words and actions. I want to be part of a network that values integrity and character over numbers.

These are some ideas I have about the kind of network I would like our local church to be a part of. How about you? What ideas do you have about the kind of network you’d like your local church to be a part of?

Published by APastor'sStory

Trying to squeeze this life for all the juice I can get out of it.

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