The Pastor as Midwife
Every church I know has a strategic plan. It’s nicely bound and prominently displayed on the shelf of the pastor and/or executive pastor. The vision statement is printed on every document, but no one can really tell you if they’ve seen it, much less tell you what it is.
Everyone involved in the grueling twelve to eighteen-month process remembers the massaging of words to get the vision statement just right and from those words, pulling a mission statement. This will, of course, be followed with days of debate trying to figure out the difference between a “vision” statement and a “mission” statement. Cascading down from the vision and mission statements will flow the strategies, tactics and goals. From the church goals, staff members and lay teams will craft their own goals. There will be numerous statements that begin with, “By 2Q of next year, we will…” “Design and implement”, “Enable”, “Engage.”
All of this data will be typed up, presented to the congregation and supported by multi-colored PowerPoint presentations. The congregation will vote unanimously to accept the new vision statement. The pastor will declare the future is exciting, and the notebook with all of the information in it will be closed and put on the shelf.
And nothing will change.
There are a couple of reasons these processes rarely work in a local church. One of those reasons is that most of the time we try to transpose good corporate strategies onto the local church. Whatever trend is hot in the business world, someone will baptize it and bring into the church. This rarely works. Why? First of all, it rarely works in the corporate world. The reason we celebrate great CEOs and great companies is they are so rare.
The second reason is that there’s a basic difference between a corporation and the church. Corporations are organizations. Churches are ORGANISMS – living, breathing, things. Churches don’t have cultures as much as they have personalities. Churches don’t make plans as much as they dream dreams. Churches have stories, heartaches and triumphs. They celebrate and laugh, they cry and they grieve. Being a pastor isn’t so much being a CEO as it is being a parent. A church has a life cycle, just like any human would. A church is born, becomes a toddler, then a teen-ager, and onto adulthood and maturity. With the blessing of God, the church can experience a “second childhood” and find a new purpose in their “old age” and be born again.
The traditional understanding of the pastor’s role in the vision process is to go up on the mountain and pray until God reveals the vision to the pastor. The pastor then brings the vision to the church. There are two key observations here. First, the vision is brought by an outsider. Usually the vision process is one of the first things a pastor will do upon arriving at a new church, yet that means the pastor wouldn’t have been there long enough to know the people or the church that well.Second, the vision comes from outside the church’s life. The words won’t be their words, and the strategies won’t have come from their passions.
I think there’s another way.
In the book of Exodus, we’re introduced to two midwives, Shiprah and Puah. These Hebrew midwives were tasked with Pharaoh’s genocidal command to kill the male children born to the Hebrew families. They refused. The women explained to Pharaoh the Hebrew women were stronger than the Egyptian women and had their babies before the midwives could get there. As you can imagine, Shiprah and Puah are celebrated as heroes in the biblical story. In some ways, they are greater than Moses. After all, they took on Pharaoh and didn’t need a burning bush to do it.
What I want us to notice is two things the midwives accomplished. First, they refused to let a pagan king define the future of God’s people. Believe it or not, one of the hardest and most frustrating tasks of a pastor is to protect the congregation from all the “experts” that want to “transform” the congregation. I know consultants have their place, but too many times these “experts” walk in with their brief case full of gimmicks and push the church through a series of exercises and processes that end up where the church would have ended up without the expert’s help. Now, however, the church is too tired to execute the strategy.
Second, the midwives created a safe place for the dream to be born. Here’s my firm conviction: pastors don’t bring the vision to the church. Pastors, as midwives, create a safe place and process for the vision to be born into the life of the congregation. Just like human beings, God places a dream in His congregations when they are born. The wise pastor will coach, encourage and patiently wait for the vision to be recognized and claimed by the congregation.
How is this done? By listening. Yes, listening to God but also listening to the stories of the congregation. When was the big moment the church saw God move and act? What was the dream of the original founders? What drew you to this church? When you dream about your church, what is your church doing?
What the pastor will hear will be stories strung together like dots on a line. As any math geek will tell you, a line is infinite. It goes from one end to the other and never stops. That means, if we can line up enough dots from our past, we may able to push that line into the future and see the vision to which God is calling the church.
All of this is in the hearts and souls of the members of the congregation. The role of the pastor is to coax that dream, hidden in the stories of God’s people, into the present moment. Like any birthing process, it’s messy and frustrating, but the vision child that is born will easily be recognized as our own.