Things Most Church Replanters Don’t Talk About
I had favorite book when I was a child. It was old even when I was young— probably dating back to the 1920s or so. Something about it appealed to me. I brought it home from the library countless times. It was a book on etiquette. The rules of etiquette were taught with stories about children living in Good Habit Land and their brushes with Children from Bad Habit Land. Never the two should meet. Everything was black and white. No confusing grey areas.
That view of the world appealed to me as a 9-year-old. But time teaches that things aren’t always so clear.
This is the problem for theologians jumping on the Church Replanting bandwagon. They theorize with a similar simplistic world view. In fact, they go a step further. They attempt to create a simplistic Church with themselves in charge.
Church Replanters think they are creating one new Good Church. But their tactics are divisive. They are creating Good Church and Bad Church—but they call it New Church and Old Church. Old Church is inhabited by Bad Laity. New Church is inhabited by Good Laity.
- Bad Laity have been around for a while. Long enough to know church rules. Long enough to have attended Sunday School and Confirmation Class. Long enough to pick up the pieces after a few less than stellar pastorates. They are not theologians as Church Replanters will point out, but they are acquainted with the Bible. Church Replanters will stress their need for guidance to truly understand and implement biblical teachings.
- Bad Laity are in church for the long haul. They have roots that predate them. Their Church is their heritage. They care in a very deep way. They want their children to be part of what has been important to them. Failure to succeed at this is failure indeed.
- Bad Laity have experience. Although not trained as theologians they probably attended classes and taught many courses written by theologians. Something might have rubbed off! They know pastors aren’t perfect and that any pastor won’t do. They know that there is always more work in a congregation than one pastor can do. They’ve done a lot of it! They look for pastors that complement the laity rather than manage the laity. They look for qualities in a pastor they can trust and they know from experience will resonate with others in their community. They are suspicious of leaders who are willing to divide a congregation to make progress that is defined by one leader.
- Bad laity have baggage. Personal baggage. Church baggage. Some problems are of their own making. Some not!
One approach would be to trust the teachings of the Bible and work with Bad Laity to avoid hurtful and lasting labels and to look for their strengths while treating hurts and fostering understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. But these teachings may have been neglected for so long that they are now more difficult to apply—even for theologians who truly understand them. Best to unload the problems—for the sake of the Church, of course.
- Good Laity in the eyes of Church Replanters are ideally new to Church. They are less familiar with church procedure and will accept ideas without question. Their inexperience is gold. Their trust has yet to be challenged. Some Good Laity might be replanted, following the Replanter from a previous parish. Their loyalty to the preacher is already proven. Bad Laity will be suspicious of their motives—one reason Bad Laity must go!
- Good Laity used to be called seekers—people without a church home who are looking to satisfy spiritual yearning. They are likely to believe leaders with faith like a child’s belief in Santa. That faith must be protected from people who might let it slip that Santa does not fly through the sky and scale rooftops and chimneys. Another reason Bad Laity must go!
- Good Laity surely have baggage. It’s part of the human condition. Baggage prompts people to look for answers in the Church. They are a clean slate for church leaders—eager to please and confident that leadership has their interests at heart.
- Their baggage is likely to be personal—divorce, sickness, drug or alcohol abuse, employment, depression. They are not likely to have been involved in church leadership, so they won’t come with expectations.
- Despite problems, Good Laity are lower maintenance from the Church Replanter’s point of view. They are eager, willing, and trusting. A quick ascent in the world of church will validate them. That’s all good. It helps if they are willing to part with a tithe or two! If not, they can always find help for their problems in secular programs.
The Gospel Doesn’t Take This Point of View
Jesus starts his ministry among family and friends at the wedding in Cana. Then, after he clears the temple of money seekers, he addresses the concerns of Nicodemus — an established church leader. He doesn’t lock him out! He works with him, one on one, in the dark of night. Nicodemus—despite his baggage, confusion, and doubts—sticks with Jesus to the bitter end! He provides the embalming spices for the crucified Christ.
Church Replanters are about appearances. They want to side-step problems to create the illusion of quick and early success. If things don’t work out — well, it isn’t the Replanter’s fault. How can anyone be expected to fix all the problems created by decades of Bad Laity?
Replanters are willing to bypass what Church is supposed to be about in order to create illusions of peace and harmony. There is a temptation to promote a cult of personality with little attention to what will happen when the charismatic leader moves on and the congregation is once again working with the best they can afford, but now with inexperienced lay members on their own.
Jesus didn’t seem to care so much about illusions of peace. He used conflict as a teaching tool. He sometimes created conflict to make his point!
Church replanters see the expulsion of Bad Laity as opening a level highway to success. Good Laity are expected to follow this easy road in abundance.
The problem: If Good Laity stick around for a few years, they are bound to become Bad Laity. The moment the Church Replanter moves on, they are left to provide leadership with little experience. When they find their own way, they will have to be kicked out to repave the road for another set of pliable Good Laity. Replanters have this covered with rhetoric — Every church has a life cycle. It used to be hundreds of years. Now it is the span of one life—if that.
The search for easy success ignores the long-term challenges Church Replanters create.
What problems? Isn’t everything wonderful in Church Replanting Land?
No, the problems are likely to be growing. Replanters have swept them from the church doorstep like dry leaves — until the next breeze blows them back.
Church Replanters want total control of ministry. By expelling the people they have labeled as Bad Laity, they think they are creating control, but they have lost it.
You see, the Bad Laity that have been strategically eliminated from the Church still live in the community. They may be related to the new Good Laity in intricate ways that only the people in the neighborhood understand. They may even be their employers or leaders in community government. Their kids are likely to attend the same schools and play on the same sport teams. The Bad Laity Ladies will meet the Good Laity Ladies at the hair dresser. Just because you aren’t talking to the Bad Laity doesn’t mean there isn’t talk. This was always true, but now there is the internet. Talk about creating bad spin!
Expelling people from church hurts deeply. Failing to recognize that hurts deeply. Pride in this tactic hurts deeply. There may have been a time when hurt people could be easily dismissed—out of sight, out of mind. But that day is over. There will be talk. There will be social media chatter. People will be watching and making their own decisions about who might be right in the disputes. What chance do you think the outsider has?
If you treat the most skilled, loyal and knowledgeable members badly, you are creating obstacles that will come back to bite you.
We at Redeemer have experienced these tactics. We know what to watch for.