Several years ago, I was in negotiations to become the ‘worship pastor’ of a local denominational church. I had served there previously in several capacities (choir director, worship leader, and more) in two previous spans.
The situation seemed really good; The church,suffering numerically and financially, was seeing dwindling numbers especially in the key 25-40, and 40-59 demographics, (Key of course since these are the two groups who normally bring both energy and steady income to the church) and was looking for a way to turn the situation around…
Per the negotiations that I had with the pastor, I would work directly with him on worship planning, service structure, and have responsibility over the music and arts ministries. In that capacity, I was to:
1) Implement training (Biblical, Musical, Theological) for both the adults and children, re: Worship, the use of music, etc.
2) Create/develop a band and choir from among existing membership so that the church would not have to hire outside musicians, (especially those of a different faith as they were doing, which is another post in itself).
Additionally, the pastor told me that he was looking to build what amounted to a ‘two-winged’ system (aka the cell-celebration model) where leaders were trained and empowered, and the cells met and sought to experience/manifest their faith in a much more intimate way, and that he needed my help to do it. I was hooked…
I even agreed to commit to the work for less than one half of what I knew the work was worth in terms of time, effort and value.
Keep in mind that I was going to take this on in addition to my other duties, including pastoring/teaching the Repairer’s Fellowship. (What was I thinking? In retrospect, I’m not sure)
As we went into the process however, things began to change subtly. After a while it became clear that the pastor’s aims/goals and mine were not in alignment.
He wanted Immediate results, performance and pomp, (especially since he was aware of my prior work with a very large ministry of which he is enamored), while I was looking for steady growth, community development, and long-term success.
Additionally, I began to see during meetings that what we had discussed privately was clearly not being communicated to the board members of the church, in particular those whose support would be key, if the endeavor would be successful.
Most importantly however, I began to see (in these same meetings) that the Theological positions which we seemed to share on key issues must have been figments of my imagination. In short, we were at an impasse.
The last straw was a meeting which I was invited to, which took place a mere 3 days before my scheduled ‘official’ start date. I had been attending events, getting familiar with the people with whom I’d be working closely, some of whom were new to me, some were not. Several things took place at the meeting which did nothing to assuage my growing discomfort with the formerly idyllic enterprise, in fact it was looking more and more like an elaborate gimmick-filled program designed to bolster/rally support for the pastor, at the expense of the people… Then, the coup de grace. I was asked to stay behind after the meeting, and I was told by the pastor and a key board member, that they then wanted me to come in and work for the first couple of months gratis, and then at the beginning of the third month, they would ‘by faith’ be able to pay me…
I told them that I would pray and think about it, and what emerged was the following (edited for names etc.)
To: Rev. ——, and committee
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am writing to you because there is much that needs to be said, and it is my desire to be thorough and concise, neither do I wish to be misunderstood, therefore, I ask that you read completely what follows, and then if you’d like to discuss any part of it, I will be happy to at a time that is mutually convenient.
I came out of the meeting that I attended on March xxth, conflicted and concerned for several reasons which I will, if you will indulge me, make clear below. I will first lay out the various situations as I see them, followed by a conclusion…
The liturgical situation:
Clearly we are on different trajectories in terms or our understanding of what it means to be, and function as the church. As we are all aware, I am not (denomination), and there are many reasons for that. I thought however, that we could surmount those differences and try to come to a middle ground, but I am now no longer so sure that this can happen successfully.
By nature, due to experience and years of study, I am antagonistic towards doctrines and practices foisted on the church (the people of God) that I do not see Biblical support for. Things that are in my view, destructive to the simple clarity of the Gospel and what it means to be the Ekklesia. Things like Paedo-Baptism, tithing, and consubstantiation to name a few.
I realize also that we have very different ideas about, and definitions of, words like ‘Worship’,’ church’, and ‘service’. I was in error because I thought that we could find a place of agreement, especially when in conversation with Rev. —, I was told that he envisioned eventually the (cell groups) functioning almost like individual house churches. As a house church Pastor, trainer and planter, this appealed to me greatly. But this, like a few other things that we have discussed during this process, I heard (I realize now) through the filter of my definitions and therefore did not hear what was really being said. Again, this is my error.
That said, I am very concerned about the shape that the (leadership training unit) is taking. I see now that I did not understand the purpose as it has been defined. I thought, (better yet, I assumed) from our discussions that you (church name) were seeking to develop a group of servant leaders, who would, as the Aposle Peter commanded, shepherd the flock which is ‘among them’ (1 Peter 5:2). What I saw the other night instead, was the institution of another level of religious bureaucracy and separation. Another level set in place between the congregation and God, and I am not in agreement with this at all.
Using Exodus 28, Rev. — set up the premise of a level of priests among priests. While this is clearly the way that Israel functioned, it is clear that we are not Israel, we are the body of Christ, a body fitly joined together, where everyone is equally important, with differing gifts which edify the whole. As I say to our group consistently, Pastor is my gift, not my rank.
The spiritual situation:
The essential message of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees was that they had put so many things (practices, systems, dogmas, doctrines) in between the people and the Lord that the people’s vision of the true God was obscured, and they were being destroyed because of it.
The ultimate end of what I teach regarding Worship is paradoxical:
- The truth that the blood bought believer is a slave. Completely captive to Christ, His will and desire. This understanding shapes everything else in life.
- That there is freedom in Christ of the individual, who having come to a place of true liberty can function freely, fully and passionately in the community of believers.
In short, in Christ we are both slave and free simultaneously.
That is what I see in the New Testament, people being set free, as they come into the knowledge of the truth. Simply and sincerely. And those same people becoming willing slaves to the will and purpose of their Master. Utterly and completely…
Instead, in churches all over, we add pomp and circumstance, extra-biblical rituals and forms, and the clever plans of men, which now as then, obscure God from the people, this is why members that I have spoken to recently, identify themselves as (denomination) before they are Christian, if they identify in a meaningful way as Christian at all.
The solution to most all of the issues in the body of Christ (including factionalism, church growth struggles, marital issues, the so-called ‘worship wars’, etc) is quite simple. “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus”. Not on our terms but on His. It is not about professional presentation, more complexity in our rituals, new levels of hierarchical structure or worship planning that focuses on entertainment or experience. Rather it is about education and edification.
In John 4, Jesus makes clear that true worship is accomplished not in location, ritual, or tradition, but rather in spirit and truth. Teaching before practice, and holiness unto the Lord which comes from within…
Regarding my ‘rigidity’: I have been at various and sundry times been called that and much worse, because I regard the Worship and things of God as holy, and His people as precious. It is clear that the holiness of God is the primary focus of our Worship, it is clear that worship is for God’s glory and for our benefit. I regard Worship (and its associated events) the same why that you, brother (Rev—) , guard the pulpit.Why? Because God does.
This is the same God who killed his own priests, denied his own chosen man the promised land, killed people in the church gathering, and will deny many who profess belief, access to heaven and his throne. Why? Because He is Holy.
This is the same God who admonishes the shepherds to follow His example and lay down their lives for the sheep, the same one who says that a fate worse than death awaits those who Abuse his children, and promises a harsher judgment for those who claim this gift of Pastor/Teacher. Why? Because His people are precious.. His Bride is precious.
As Paul Washer says, ‘If I knew that someone had assaulted my wife, and that people had seen it but did not help, I would first hunt down and destroy the ones who had assaulted my Bride, but then I would hunt down the ones who saw and did nothing. How do you think that Jesus will deal with those who abuse His bride, and those who see and do nothing?’
I refuse to be on either list…
You see brothers and sisters, for us to think that it is ok to bring people in, or put people up to minister who are at best unregenerate, have doctrinal positions which are not Biblically supported, or at worse, do not follow Christ at all, is dangerously errant, and is ‘strange fire’ (see Leviticus 10) . For us to have ecumenical services with those who follow different gods or hold heretical beliefs about Christ, claiming that they are ‘brothers’ is ‘strange fire’.
This seems not to be an issue for the folks at (church name), and though I am concerned, I understand why. They have not been taught, and many do not have a clear understanding of the depth of it. Clear Biblical teaching will easily fix that, and those who are given grace to hear, will. That is your task, brother (Rev—), and I pray that you will be up to the challenge by God’s grace.
(discussion of the financial situation redacted)
As such, I hereby remove my name from consideration for the position or Worship Pastor/Director of Worship Arts at (Church name) . It is my prayer that in the coming months, the Lord will guide you towards the best candidate, even as He prepares you in every way to accommodate he or she at that time
In His Service, by His Grace,
Pastor CT. Jermin