wired

Hard-wiring and conviction–my internet input dilemma!

Because of the way God has wired me personally and as a result of my understanding of what I believe He has revealed as the responsibilities for one of His under-shepherds, my interaction with all things internet related, including this blog, leaves me self-conflicted on a regular basis.  When I couple those two realities with the fact that I’m also a techno-lamer, I give myself enough ammunition to beat back the frustration I feel with myself about not being more active on this incredibly interesting and relevant blog.

Clearly, this blog serves an important purpose for those called to pastor and/or plant churches and is highly relevant to pastors and church leaders.  I absolutely love the way these things are discussed with honesty and vulnerability and I’m convinced that this blog is “scratching an itch”.   Since I believe this is true, my prayer is that what I’m about to share will be of some help to others who may be experiencing a dilemma similar to mine.  What dilemma?

Keeping the proper balance between the time it takes to love, serve, and lead the people in the church God has called me to pastor, and the time it takes to read, comment on, and contribute to this blog.  I find enjoyment and encouragement in both endeavors and therein lies the rub.

As is fairly obvious to those of you who know me personally and anyone else who reads this blog regularly, if given an opportunity to either spend a portion of time with a member of my church or spend that same time in front of my computer, I almost always choose the time with another person.  Here’s why:

FIRST:  My personal hard-wiring

I LOVE face to face interaction and relationship with people.  I genuinely love hearing a person’s “story” and their description of their current life, struggles and all.  But I always prefer hearing these things in the context of a face to face encounter.  Especially if they are convinced God has called them to be a part of the local body that He has called me to pastor.  If I can’t see the tilt of their head, the lifting of their eyebrows at key moments when they tell me about how surprised they were about something, what they’re doing with their hands as they describe crucial events that have happened to them–in a nutshell,  if I don’t see firsthand those mannerisms that are a part of making them uniquely who they are, then I’m not sure how effective I can really be in helping them progress into Christ-likeness.

I’ve been described as a “people-person” by the majority of the people who know me at almost any level.  That probably is an accurate description of me. But if I truly am that kind of person, it’s obviously because God hard-wired me to be that way.  And I’ve discovered that when I operate in the realm I’m hard-wired for, I find joy and fulfillment.  And, those I know and serve relationally feel love and find encouragement as they progress in their walk with Jesus and God is glorified.

Of course, being hard-wired by God as a “people-person” doesn’t qualify someone to serve as a pastor.  But I do believe that it is one of the key components of the inventory God gives a man He calls to shepherd His people.  It’s similar to the idea that every pastor must be gifted with the ability to teach but not everyone with the ability to teach is gifted or called to pastor.  Pastors must have people skills but not every believer with people skills is called to be a pastor.

My conviction about the role of a pastor based on my understanding of God’s Word:

The Word has much to say about those who shepherd God’s people.  Much can be learned from Jesus and His interaction with the apostles, the larger group of disciples, and of course, the multitudes.  In His brief discussion with Peter in John 21:15-17, He made clear that regardless of the level of love Peter had for Him, Peter is commanded to feed, (2x) and to TEND His sheep.  The remainder of the New Testament gives many examples of what shepherding God’s flock looks like and there are even 3 specific books in the New Testament devoted to helping young pastors to do that.

But personally, the text that really encapsulates what God expects of those He calls to shepherd His people is found in Ezekial 34:1-6.  When I look at the things He accuses the shepherd’s of NOT doing, I don’t believe I’m going astray by inferring those are the exact things He expects the shepherds of His people to be doing.  I admit that in the context in which this was written the word “shepherd” was probably referring to more than just the priests, (perhaps prophets and civil leaders too).  But clearly, the primary targets of this rebuke through Ezekial are those responsible for the spiritual care of His people.  There are 6 key areas that God holds the shepherds of His people responsible for:

Vs. 2,3  (1) Feeding the flock, not using the flock to feed themselves and their egos and lifestyles.  This is mentioned first and I believe is the number one responsibility of the shepherd, just like Jesus told Peter.

The remainder of what God expects His shepherds to be doing for His flock is the fleshing out of what Jesus meant when He told Peter to TEND His sheep.  In other words, this is what “tending” the sheep looks like:

Vs. 4 (2) Strengthening the weak

(3) Healing those who are sick

(4) Binding up those who are broken

(5) Bringing back those who have been driven away

(6) Seeking those that get lost

What the above descriptions look like in the context of a local church, even a local church today, isn’t difficult to unpack.  I trust that God is able to show a pastor of a local church how these principles are put into practice in the context in which he and the people God has called him to shepherd reside.

But what I can’t escape….what provokes me personally to pastor the way that I do, is that the only way I can truly know which of the sheep are weak, sick, broken, have been driven away, or wandered away and are now lost, is if I spend some significant time face to face with them on a regular basis.  As they live life day to day in the crazy but real world of our community, I’ve been given the privilege and the time to build deep, meaningful, and real relationship with them so that I can know them and be known by them.  This is what makes it possible for me to tend to them at the level that God clearly expects me to.

I learned an interesting lesson connected with what I’ve just written when I planted a church the first time.  I’ve passed it on to other young men feeling called to church plant and/or pastor over the years.  Here’s what I tell them:

“Your first and primary responsibility as a pastor is to feed, (teach), the flock, no question about that.  But it won’t be your great teaching ability that will keep the people in your church, (since very few people are actually good teachers when they first begin pastoring).  No, what will keep them with you is your genuine love for them that you express by spending time with them as individuals and as families, getting to know them and letting yourself be known in their homes and your home, not the church building.   And when your teaching gift really does develop and the church grows, don’t fall into the trap of being so busy using your teaching gift for the crowds that you no longer have time to tend to the flock in the same way you did at the beginning.  If the church grows to the point where you can no longer tend to them, then train and tend to the leaders who will tend to the flock.  But tend to the leaders the same way you used to tend to the flock–individually and with families in their homes and you own”.

When I pile the reality of being a techno-lamer on top of this conviction I have about God’s expectation for those who shepherd His people which is already piled on the way He’s hard-wired me as a person, I come face to face with the dilemma that I pray I’ve made understandable.

As stoked as I am about the interaction, fellowship, and encouragement I find on this blog with all of you, I must keep my face to computer time limited so that my face to face time with my flock is not diminished.  I know that my interaction with all of you through this blog is minimal, and I sincerely regret that.  But please know that it isn’t the result of a lack of desire, it’s primarily because of my hard-wiring and my conviction about being a shepherd of God’s people.

11 replies
  1. Miles DeBenedictis
    Miles DeBenedictis says:

    Jeff,

    As usual, good, challenging post. I recognize I may need to wait a couple weeks to receive your thoughts on my question[s], I’m good with that.

    What do you think the realities of your own hard wiring and the need of a shepherd to be close and interactive with the people, has to say about church size. If as a pastor develops as a teacher and the church grows beyond a ‘manageable’ size (whatever that might be), is it an issue of merely adding shepherding pastors to the staff, or does that just disconnect the pastor from the people?

    As you know very well, having been apart of the process, I inherited a larger church. The largeness of the fellowship has always made it difficult to develop closeness with a larger group of the body. When I was regularly teaching in our School of Discipleship it gave me a better opportunity to get to know smaller groups a bit more intimately, but that was still in a fairly heavy teaching capacity. Is that just a reality of a larger church? Should a pastor focus on a smaller group of leaders and elders as the church grows?

    I apologize for giving you more things that keep you from FaceTime ;)

    Reply
    • Jeff Jackson
      Jeff Jackson says:

      Hi Miles,

      You know me too well brother…you face time thief! :)

      It’s probably no surprise based on what you know about me and what I summarized in the post that I do have some fairly solid convictions about church size. My convictions on this subject are not only the result of the things I mentioned, they are also the result of a “mission-field” perspective and time spent living and serving in relationship-oriented cultures in contrast with the hyper task-oriented, low-relational priority of U.S. culture.

      So, regarding my take on church size, I’ll start by saying that churches larger than about 150 are the logical outgrowth of a culture that places a higher value on information/truth declaration and reception then it does on meaningful relationships. When the pinnacle virtue of the pastoral culture in a country is the number of people who listen to a pastor teach the Word of God, (spoken or not, this has been the measurement of success and everything else is subjugated to this pinnacle virtue…think multi-site churches), it’s completely understandable that church size matters and the larger the church the better.

      In that kind of cultural context, which is still predominant in the U.S. bigger churches will continue to be the goal most pastors are aiming for, and there will be those who hit that target. Given that situation, but recognizing that real sheep need real shepherding, (and many of the throngs on Sunday morning only appear to be real sheep) there must be intentionality in developing others that can cover those TENDING sheep requirements which can really only be provided outside the 4 walls of the church building.

      But as you mention in your post, there is still a disconnection from the members of the church. You basically end up pastoring your staff and leaders, who then actually pastor the members. Again, within U.S. culture this set-up is still acceptable, but I believe that’s changing among the younger generation. Personally, I think churches of hundreds and thousands will be a thing of the past in a few years and there will be a ton of empty, large church buildings, similar to the cathedrals of Europe.

      So, here’s my philosophy as a church planter: Instill in your members from the day you meet them that this local church will not be permitted to grow into a single body larger than about 120. That in the process of that growth through relational discipleship and the teaching of God’s Word, the vision is to birth another church in this town which will provide double the opportunities for service, gift-discovery and use, and especially an outlet for the others that God calls to pastor and can then use their teaching gifts regularly on Sunday morning just like I do.

      With this type of philosophy the dilemma of going to two services or getting a bigger building is done away with. You birth another church with the key people that you’ve trained and when they go, you begin training the next batch.

      One other thought about this. The internet has changed everything. It used to be that to hear great teaching you had to actually go to a church service. Not anymore. The motivation will change from going to church primarily for a message to going to church to have real community…but the way that community will be done will be changed too.

      I know I’m probably “out there” on some of these things, but I do know that real community and authentic relationships are what younger people are looking for, not large gatherings and information assimilation. Our younger folks are actually moving towards the relational/communal cultural traits that already exist throughout the majority of the rest of the world. As the church, we better re-think some things or the way we’ve done church will become irrelevant.

      Reply
      • Miles DeBenedictis
        Miles DeBenedictis says:

        I’m sure you recognize that I asked you the question on purpose, knowing that you had this exact answer ;)

        Sorry to steal your time. I’m hoping to come out and visit you in Phoenix [soon] for a good face time meeting.

        By the way… I agree wholly that the mega-church model is changing. It’s going to be a difficult change for many, but a good change for the church (i.e. Body of Christ).

        Reply
  2. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Jeff, Miles – how do you see the mega-church model changing? Are there fewer mega-churches today than say, five years ago? Are they trending downward? All I hear are success stories. Are you aware of data that tracks these dynamics? I’m sure you will mention the mindset of the younger generation is toward community, yet I am sure there is no shortage of younger men w/ a mega-mentality. Is there ‘hard’ data or is this just what you sense to be so?

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Well… you’ve already anticipated my answer. I do think that if you look at the cultural shift taking place as a result of a different cultural mindset of the younger generation, then yes, 20 years from now the number of mega-churches will be smaller.

      You’ve got to recognize that the generation I’m talking about is just now beginning to graduate from college and move out into society. The bulk of “Millennials” are still in Jr. High and High School. When they move out into society, the mega-church culture will likely change more quickly. Most Mega-Churches are filled more with baby-boomers [primarily] and early gen-X’ers.

      Hard data… Pew Forum’s 2008 U.S.Religious Landscape Survey is a view of things to come. One of the clear data points from the survey showed that 18-29 year-old’s had disassociated with the church. These are late gen-X’ers and early Millennials. Strike up a conversation with a few of them at a Starbucks and you’ll see that they’re looking for the smaller community oriented gathering, just like Jeff spoke of. This is the same group that put a Community Organizer in office through a fairly (although large) grassroots campaign, the same year the survey came out.

      I’ll be quick to confess that I could be way off on my view. I certainly do not think I am, but time will tell.

      This is an interesting video to consider…

      Reply
  3. Van Schipper
    Van Schipper says:

    As a sheep in Pastor Jeff’s flock I want to share a “view from the pasture”. I have been in mega churches, and remnant size also, so I have seen both sides. It is very easy to get caught up in the energy and resources of the larger church while the smaller churches demands are draining at times. You can not hide in a smaller congregation, the places to serve are blatant. Yes there are places to serve in larger bodies but they seem magnified in the smaller. It is my experience that I am stretched and grow better in a smaller flock. This is not a “dig” at the larger body, I have loved my years at the “Mothership” churches who need to get their communion elements at Costco. Even Jesus needed to go out of the city to teach the multitude. But His disciples were few and the “Facetime” was abundant. Baaa Baaa

    Reply
  4. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Neither trends or generations are monolithic in their mindset/perspective/direction.

    This is from the Hartford Institute on Religion – 2005 report:
    There are 1210 Protestant churches w/ attendance of 2000+. This is twice the number as five years previously.

    This is the 2008 Hartford Report:
    Megachurches – Protestant congregations that draw 2,000 or more adults and children in a typical weekend (attendance not membership) – show considerable consistency over the past eight years.
    They continue to:

    • Grow in size,
    • Lead the way as America’s most multi-ethnic class of church,
    • Show a strong bias toward contemporary worship, and
    • Remain minimally involved in politics.

    However, they also are institutions in transition. They are now:

    • Offering more worship services and expanding to multiple-locations,
    • Shifting to playing a greater role in community service,
    • Decreasing their use of radio and television, and
    • Putting greater emphasis on the role of small groups.

    The hard data indicates that the number of mega-churches and, while doing so, seek to incorporate some of the dynamics that you and Jeff were highlighting. Who knows, if they can create a sense of mini-community within mega-church, their star will continue to rise. I see no decrease in size, strength, or demand for the mega-church.

    What do you think?

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      In one sense I agree… But what you have with multi-site (which a video is scheduled to post on the topic tomorrow) is just the repackaging of mega-church to tech-savy Gen-X’ers and early adopter Millennials. We’ll have to take a wait and see approach as to how the multi-site format shakes out; I’m still a bit skeptical.

      A lot of the people filling the younger oriented multi-site churches (Mars Hill and other A29 plants) are individuals who came out of an evangelical upbringing. Surely these churches are gathering non-believers, but I’d be willing to bet money that the larger demographic came from a church upbringing. Many have a negative view of mega-churches and yet don’t seem to mind they’re apart of a mega-church cause it “feels” different in multi-site.

      Reply
  5. Kellen Criswell
    Kellen Criswell says:

    This seems like a bit of a false dichotomy to me. I think it’s possible to have large gatherings on Sunday that focus on things like preaching, while still facilitating opportunities for deeper fellowship, accountability, and pastoral shepherding in smaller contexts. We’ve seen this work well at Refuge. There’s a truth in all this that one man can’t do it all when it comes to shepherding. But I would contend that while one solution might be to intentionally make your sunday group smaller, another legitimate solution would be to simply spend lots of time on spreading out the large group into smaller contexts in which OTHER qualified men with shepherds hearts can take care of the people as well. This would seem to be supported by Acts 2 where they (100s and 1000s) met in the temple AND house to house. Both the corporate gatherings AND the smaller gatherings were valued. It’s the same with Paul in Acts 20 who taught “publically AND house to house.”

    The general leadership multiplication passages in the entire Bible seem to lend credibility to this as well. Exodus 18 has the empowering of more leaders model, not the downsizing of the nation. Acts 6 shows the empowering of more leaders, not the downsizing of the church so one guy could manage them. 2 Timothy 2:2 encourages empowering more men who can teach and counsel, not keeping things down to manageable sizes.

    So again, I’m not arguing that it’s not legitimate to downsize sundays for the sake of conection and shepherding. That’s one option. But I think the Bible gives warrant to gathering the church into two contexts as another solotion, namely, large AND small. It also encourages us to stay out of the “one man to shepherd them all” mentality. Just some thoughts. Don’t hate me; correct me. :)

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Kellen,

      I don’t think that Jeff or me would disagree much. It’s just a reality that the sole leader mega-church model doesn’t always have what you are describing. That said, what you are speaking of is exactly where I think we’re headed… talked about it in Part 3 of my Cultural Shift post… (shameless plug)

      Reply
  6. Kellen Criswell
    Kellen Criswell says:

    I’m pretty sure we’re all on the same page, just approaching it a bit differently. Thanks, Miles. I totally agree that the “bigger, flashier,faster,” focus is ridiculous and unhelpful. I just don’t think that the answer isn’t to fight for only being large OR small. It seems like there is a place for both kinds of gatherings, with different purposes for each.

    Reply

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