by Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts
I remember well one of the first adult Sunday school classes I took at our former church. It was being touted as a fantastic opportunity to take a class that was being taught by the high school’s head football coach. Now, neither me nor my husband are big sports fans, but I was interested in learning as much as I could about walking in and living out my faith, so I signed up.
This particular town has a very successful football program (as well as most other sports in their school system), and so there is a great amount of “hero worship” when it comes to coaches. I was initially amazed at the number of people who attended the class the head football coach was teaching. But after only about three Sunday’s, the attendance began to fall off and by weeks four and five, less than a quarter of us were still attending.
Although this coach was also a high school math teacher, it was obvious that teaching in a classroom setting was not his gift. His class enrollment at the church was based solely on his fame as the high school football coach. Once people realized that he was sorely lacking as a teacher, they no longer wasted their time attending his class.
Over the years I noticed more and more that those who were declared “leadership material” were often sorley lacking in the skills (or gifts or talents, if you will) for their given “ministry.” What they had instead was either social, financial, or political status. The school superintendent’s wife became the office manager even though she had never worked a day in her life in an office. A young man with the right last name and a degree in physical therapy but couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket was hired as a full-time worship leader. Though elders and deacons were “elected,” rumor suggested strongly that they were hand-selected base on their giving potential and societal standing.
For a few years, the church promoted a spiritual gifts class. The promise was that through the class people would identify their spiritual gifts and the church would then know who would be appropriate or best suited to fill various ministry positions in the church. Interestingly enough, the results of those classes were never considered when filling positions. Once, when the women’s ministry was losing members in droves, I asked how the small group leaders were selected and I was told they simply invited women who they thought would be good leaders (meaning women with position, money, etc.). I asked if they had looked at the spiritual gifts of these women to see if they were a good fit. I was met with a blank stare. It was obvious that spiritual gifts were far down the line of requirements for ministry.
Nepotism became rampant with the senior pastor, his brother, his wife, and his children all on the church payroll. The business manager, his wife, and his son, too, were employed by the church. Several couples and their offspring have held various full and part-time positions over the years.
There were some who were shunned and forced out for getting divorced while others were welcomed, embraced, and given an elevated position after admittedly contributing to their marital break-up. People of lesser-than means would give inordinate amounts of time and barely get a nod while someone who simply graced the church with their presence on Sunday mornings was made over and celebrated. Often, the senior pastor made a bee-line to a local multi-millionaire family patriarch, while rushing past everyone else in the vicinity.
One morning, the senior pastor raced past an elderly gentlemen the, flippantly asking him, “How are you?” A few moments later, another gentleman approached the pastor and told him that he had ignored the man’s response. He had told the pastor that he wasn’t doing very well. The pastor hadn’t even heard him. He wasn’t important enough.
Wouldn’t it be something if there actually were a place where people were allowed to serve based on their God-given gifts and abilities rather than their name, where they live, what they look like, how much money they make, their position, etc.? I’ve never heard of a place like that.