Quietly, the American church has become infested with models of the American business world, and this is a threat not only to our churches, but to our Christian hearts. No longer can we trust that our pastor or pastors have a heart for the work that they doing; rather, we must constantly be concerned that he or she has eyes on something else.
See, this is what's happened: a lot of churches have moved to a model that fills ministry positions from within other ministry positions. No longer is it admirable to say, "I am a preaching minister. I have studied preaching; I have a passion for preaching; I have the gift of preaching." Far more often, it is better in the eyes of many churches to say, "I am a youth pastor, but I've always wanted to preach."
In other words, what's happening is that churches are turning to their "farm teams" to fill ministry roles higher and higher up the pastoral ladder. Youth ministers become worship ministers become associate ministers become senior ministers. Children's ministers become counseling ministers become preaching ministers.
If you want to be a minister in today's church, it's far too often the case that you have to be willing to come in at a certain "level" of ministry and work your way up through years of dedicated service and proving yourself.
This is also one of the reasons that ministers often switch congregations. They've been a youth minister here for ten years, but someone over there is looking for someone to do what they really want to do or someone a bit further down the road is offering another step up the ministry ladder.
One of the greatest gifts of attending seminary, particularly of the path that I was able to trace through seminary by choosing some of my core courses, was that I experienced first-hand how invested, how passionate, how gifted, and how called, individuals are to the ministries for which they are studying.
I got to worship with worship ministry students who could do things with music and experience that an aspiring youth pastor could never dream of. I got to learn with youth pastors who wanted nothing more than to stay in youth ministry their whole career; they had no eyes for a senior pastorate. I got to write sermons with aspiring senior pastors who have tremendous gifts of leadership and of pulling together a lesson. I sat with scholars who aim to go into theological study, shaping the course of future seminarians who are pursuing just as wholeheartedly their passions. I wrote curriculum with teaching pastors whose gifts and callings are in education and small groups and Sunday school. I engaged matters of the soul and spirit with counseling pastors whose tender truthfulness is just what the wounded soul needs.
And in all of this, I realized how seldom these persons will be able to find, let alone keep, the positions in the church that God has called them to.
Some will have trouble finding them because they haven't worked their way up through not-their-ministry. Some will have trouble keeping them because they will be under constant pressure to move up, to move on. Some will be so discouraged by the politics of the church ministry ladder and by the business model of the community that they will leave the church altogether and go on to other things.
It's absolutely heartbreaking to think of the number of young servants of God whose dreams will never get off the ground because they don't want to be part of the "farm team;" they just want to do what God has called and gifted them to do.
It's absolutely heartbreaking to think of the number of pastors who are right now serving in ministries that God has not called them to, for no other reason than because that is what the church affords them or requires of them.
It's absolutely heartbreaking to think of the number of churches who are right now being served by ministers who are not serving out of their gifting.
Oh, how I wish that you could see the eyes of these seminarians dance when they talk about their ministries, when they set pen to paper and start planning it out, when they let their imaginations run away with all that God is going to do with them and through them in His Kingdom because of their passions and callings.
Oh, how I wish all of our ministers could speak like them.
But in order for that to happen, we have to stop pretending the church is a business with a ladder to climb, a professional league that needs a farm team. There is no farm team in God; only passionate players for every position on the field.
Think about how it would revolutionize our churches to recognize that.