None of you probably think you own your church.
My dad has been a pastor for most of my life. When I was a teenager, my dad planted the second church of his career. I also put in a lot of effort over the years to make things happen. I was easily among the top two hardest working laypeople in the church.
When I was in college, I started working as a youth pastor, and I decided I should go to seminary. Now I’m a pastor, with a real big-boy college degree! Now, my dad and I cooperate as pastors, though his ministry and my ministry are on very divergent paths. I never minded being a pastor’s kid, and I still don’t mind having my old man around at church. He taught me what it means to be a pastor.
But I will tell you the one thing I have absolutely detested about being a layperson, and a pastor working with another pastor. A few weeks ago, I posted about the church owning your pastor. But maybe the opposite is true at your church…
“How are things at Pastor So-And-So’s Church?”
If I had a nickel every time someone asked me this…I’d have a lot of nickels to throw at people. Since I was a teenager, dozens of friends, relatives and other people asked me, “How are things at your dad’s church?” Seems innocent enough. But they’d always pose the question the same way. They’d never refer to the church by its name. And they’d never just say, “How are things at your church?” It was always “Dad’s” church. Silly as it may sound, that one question, repeated hundreds of times, became one of the biggest thorns in my side.
That subtlety never let up when I became a youth pastor. And even though I get the question a lot less now, I still got asked recently if I’m still “helping out” at my Dad’s church. As I gritted my teeth and firmly resolved to not punch this old lady in the face, all I could think was, “I’m practically running the whole damn thing! When does it become my church?”
Just to be clear, my dad has done nothing to cultivate this idea. He’s a generous, humble, compassionate pastor. He’d never claim he “owns” the church. So why did everyone else assume that was the case?
Who Owns Your Church?
I guess it’s just ingrained in us. This is America, and everything has to have an owner. And in an age of rockstar pastors, it’s easier to say “Rick Warren’s church,” or “Joel Osteen’s church,” rather than “Saddleback” or “Lakewood.”
Even though neither I nor my dad have that kind of name recognition, the attitude that one of us “owns” the church seems to trickle down even to our humble church, and probably yours too. I think everyone who asked me about “Dad’s” church probably felt the same about their pastors. Their pastors own their churches.
You may have never been a pastor’s kid. But maybe your pastor is somewhat well known. Maybe you told someone where you go to church, and they said, “Oh that’s Pastor Handsome-Face’s church, isn’t it?” Has anyone ever answered, “No, it’s my church.”
Even if you’ve never been asked that question, the thought is probably still there, somewhere deep down. Because no matter how many chairs you set up, floors you sweep, Sunday school classes you teach, or toilets you scrub in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, your church will never put your name on the sign. The sign is where the pastor’s name goes. It’s just one thing that reinforces, “This is the Pastor’s church.”
So what’s the big deal that we unconsciously think of our pastors as the “owners” of the church?
It’s just not healthy, for you, your church, or your pastor. Your church never becomes your church! If you don’t “own” your church, then its purpose is distorted. It’s not about lives being transformed, or becoming the body of Christ. It’s just a stage for one really religious over-achiever.
Does the principal at your children’s school own the school? No. You say, “This is my children’s school,” not, “This is Principal What’s-Her-Face’s school.” But the principal makes all the decisions, and is far more mature, educated and “important” than any single student. So why don’t we think of principals and schools the way we think of pastors and churches?
I know I’m griping over a little thing. But your church doesn’t belong to your pastor. It belongs to you! And you have just as important a job to do as your pastor does, because we’re all just stewards of the whole dang thing.
What do you think? Do we assume, even subconsciously that the church “belongs” to the pastor? Does your pastor actually own your church? How can church leadership help you feel ownership over the church?