Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Your Pastor and Public Messes

It’s not often the New York Times features a story about the inner turmoil of a church and its pastor on the front page.  Without going into the saga that is Mars Hill Church (you can follow the links below for details), let’s just say that it’s a mess.

And not just for Mars Hill.

It’s a mess for all churches as such things unfold before a watching world.  Every time something like this happens locally, or nationally, I groan.  Not simply because it grieves me, not simply because of the damage to our collective witness, but because it makes it so much harder for so many men and women in ministry who don’t create messes.

But, sadly, will get painted with the same brush.

And let’s be clear: we’re not supposed to be leading in a way that creates a public mess.

The Bible lays out certain qualifications for church leaders, most notably that they have demonstrated capable leadership of their own family (I Timothy 3:4-5, Titus 1:6).  The idea is that the church is a family, so how can someone lead the church if they can’t seem to handle their own home life?  There are other qualifications as well, including being self-controlled, not quarrelsome or greedy (I Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-9).

The heart of the matter is being “above reproach,” which points to an absence of behavior in public settings that would harm the reputation and ministry of the church.  As John Stott aptly noted, “This cannot mean ‘faultless,’ or no child of Adam would ever qualify.”  Instead, he argues, it means “blameless reputation” and has to do with “irreproachable observable conduct.”  In other words, above reproach in the most public aspects of daily life.

And this is where we must be even more clear: the idea is not what your particular fan base may or may not find acceptable, but what a watching world may or may not find acceptable.  And sadly, while that lesson may have been learned on such glaring matters as sexual fidelity, it seems to be increasingly lost regarding such issues as pride, ego and greed.

But let’s return to the countless numbers of leaders who aren’t creating a mess, and remember four very important things:

1.   Don’t lump them in with whomever is creating the latest negative headline, or become suspicious without warrant.    

2.   Don’t confuse the normal, everyday sin you can see in any of their lives with the kind of sin that disqualifies them from leadership. 

3.   Don’t penalize them when others get taken to task for taking good things too far. What I’ve noticed with many recent church leaders in the news is a pattern of taking something many leaders do with integrity, but taking it over integrity’s edge.

For example, there is nothing wrong with a nice house, 
      ...but not million-dollar mansions.

There is nothing wrong with writing a book,
      …but not using church money/resources for its promotion.

There is nothing wrong with strong leadership,
      …but not becoming autocratic and dictatorial.

There is nothing wrong with a church structure that frees up the leadership gift,
      ...but not creating structures devoid of internal accountability.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

4.   Don’t forget to pray for them.  Most are working hard - faithfully, sacrificially and selflessly.  And they are probably praying for you, too.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“A Brash Style That Filled Pews, Until Followers Had Their Fill,” by Michael Paulson, The New York Times, August 22, 2014, read online.

“Mark Driscoll to step down while Mars Hill reviews charges,” by Sarah Putnam Bailey, Religion News Service, August 24, 2014, read online.

“Mark Driscoll Steps Down While Mars Hill Investigates Charges,” by Morgan Lee, Christianity Today, August 24, 2014, read online.

John Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of I Timothy and Titus (InterVarsity Press).

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Meet Generation Z

I’d like to introduce you to Generation Z. 

I know, some of you are still trying to catch up with Busters, or Generation X, or whatever we called whoever followed the Boomers.  Or maybe you leapfrogged over all that straight to Generation Y (Millennials), on whom marketers have been focused for at least a decade.

Let me save you some time.  Drop everything and start paying attention to Generation Z, who now constitute 25.9% of the U.S. population.  That’s more than Millennials (24.5%).  That’s more than Gen X (15.4%).  Yes, that’s even more than Baby Boomers (23.6%).

So who falls into Generation Z?  There’s still some debate on exact dates, but essentially those who were born after Generation Y.  So approximately 1995 to present.  At the time of this writing, it is the generation that is now under the age of 18.

Do the math, and you realize that they grew up in a post 9/11 world during a recession.  They’ve experienced radical changes in technology and understanding of family, sexuality and gender.  They live in multi-generational households, and the fastest growing demographic within their age-group is multi-racial.

And how has that molded them?  According to the marketing research of Sparks and Honey, here are some “Z” headlines:

  • they are eager to start working
  • they are mature and in control
  • they intend to change the world
  • they’ve learned that traditional choices don’t guarantee success
  • entrepreneurship is in their DNA
  • they seek education and knowledge, and they use social media as a research tool
  • they multi-task across five screens, and their attention spans are getting shorter
  • they think spatially and in 4-D, but lack situational awareness
  • they communicate with symbols, speed and with images
  • their social circles are global
  • they are hyper-aware and concerned about man’s impact on the planet
  • they are less active, and frequently obese
  • they live-stream and co-create

I’ll stop there, because the list goes on and on.  Bottom line:  they are not Millennials.  So how do you connect with the largest generation on the planet?  Marketers are way ahead of you. 

Here’s a top ten to consider:

1. Talk in images: emojis, symbols, pictures, videos.

2. Communicate more frequently in shorter bursts of “snackable content.”

3. Don’t talk down…talk to them as adults, even about global topics.

4. Make stuff – or help Gen Z make stuff (they’re industrious).

5. Tap into their entrepreneurial spirit.

6. Collaborate with them – and help them collaborate with others.

7. Tell your story across multiple screens.

8. Live stream with them – or give them live streaming access.

9. Optimize your search results (they do their internet research).

10. Include a social cause that they can fight for.

Do you see a theme?  I do.  It’s all about talking in a way they will understand.  Not watering down the communication of the message, just changing the method of communication. 

And with Generation Z?

It needs changing.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Here Comes Generation Z,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg View, June 18, 2014, read online.

“Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials,” Sparks and Honey, June 17, 2014, read online.

“Meet Generation Z: The second generation within the giant ‘Millennial’ cohort,” Bruce Tulgan and RainmakerThinking, Inc., read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

 

Where will Satan most likely attack your church?

That’s easy.

Your community.

It’s the primary way Satan attempts to attack churches and their leaders.  He will do all he can to stir up dissension, conflict and discord.  He will attempt to drive staff teams apart, and create animosity among volunteers. 

Why?

Because he knows that unity is the primary apologetic for a lost and watching world.

Jesus said it would be this unity, and this unity alone, which would arrest the world’s attention and confirm that He was from the Father (John 13-17).  We often marvel at the growth of the early church, the explosion of faith in Christ in such numbers and speed that, in only a blink of history, the Roman Empire had officially turned from paganism to Christianity.  The secret?  As Tertullian noted, the awed pagan reaction to the Christian communal life was, “See how they love one another.” 

Satan doesn’t want us doing that kind of loving.

Yet community is not something encountered; it is something constructed.  It’s built life-by-life, and the building is often very hard work.  Particularly because so much of the work involves people who are difficult to work with.

Even under the best of conditions, with staff and volunteers you genuinely enjoy great chemistry with, there’s no way to be in community with others without friction.  It just comes from rubbing shoulders with people.  And nowhere are more shoulders rubbed than in the context of ministry. 

So how do you get along with others, and have them get along with you?  How do you not only build community, but keep the peace?

Here’s four critical defense mechanisms against Satan’s schemes:

Do the 18:15 Thing
By far, the most important lesson I have ever learned about relational health is to practice Matthew 18:15.  Not just talk about it, or know about it, but do it.  The verse is elemental - if you have a problem with someone, go to them and them alone to work it out.

Sounds simple.

It’s not.

The temptation will be to go to six of our friends telling them our problem and painting the person as a jerk and us as the victim.  Or as John Ortberg once wrote, his tendency is to go to someone else and say:  “Let me tell you what’s going on here.  I just want to lay it out objectively and get some feedback from a neutral third party.  Don’t you share my concerns about this person, who is my brother in Christ and a deeply disturbed psychopath?”

When you do that, you’ll feel better for a little while because you’ve got it off your chest, but all you have done is practice and then cement your anger, resentment, or sense of offense and hurt.  Ever thought of it that way?  You’ve just practiced your feelings of conflict with this person, drilled it deeper, and put it in concrete.  And not only that, you’ve added to the overall breakdown in community by getting others to be in conflict with the person, to feel what you feel, to be offended like you’re offended, to be hurt like you’re hurt.  Why?  Because you’ve just vomited it all over them. 

It’s a smokescreen for gossip and slander and wider dissension.

Jesus said go to that person and that person alone.  It’s the only way to contain the conflict and bring it to resolution.  Which is why I’ve made Matthew 18:15 a verb.  I talk of needing to “do” Matthew 18:15, or to ask someone if they’ve “done” Matthew 18:15.  It also can, and should, become a leadership value.  Someone will go to a person and start talking about a third party – some way they got their feelings hurt, were offended, a decision they disagreed with, or some area where they were disappointed, and if the person they’ve been talking to has been around Meck for very long, they’ll stop them and say, “Hold on – I don’t need to hear this.  Have you gone to this person?”

Nine times out of ten they say, “No.”

Then they’ll say, “That’s step one.  And step two is for me not to hear about it.”

Be Quick
Have you noticed how big things get when they’re given time to grow?  All I have to do is take something home with me, and by the time I see the person in a day or two, its already gone through a few imaginary conversations in the shower, and been magnetized so that every negative thing in my memory – real or imagined – gets attached.  When the time comes to actually do Matthew 18:15, my RPMs are way higher than the situation deserves.

So I’ve learned to be quick, and as “on the spot” with things as I can be.  I’ll be offended by something, or bothered, and instead of waiting three days, I’ll ask the person for a moment immediately after the meeting where the words were spoken.  I’ll say, “Listen, I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but when you said that, it sounded very patronizing.”  They’ll say, “Really?  I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean anything like that.”

Then it’s done.

So be quick, and as on the spot with things as you can.  There’s a reason the Bible says to never let the sun go down on your anger. 

When the sun goes down, your emotions ramp up.

Watch the Ladder
One of our staff members talked about someone going “down the ladder” one day, when they should have been going “up.”  What she meant was that a team leader was griping about something to her team of volunteers, and it was totally inappropriate.  If the team leader had an issue with something, they should have taken it up with their leader, or a member of the staff.  And if a staff person has a problem, they should take it up with their supervisor. 

You take things up the ladder, not down.

It made me think about other ways to watch the ladder.  You don’t go sideways, either.  Meaning if you are a staff, going to another staff person, or if you are a volunteer, going to another volunteer.  You always go up with your concerns, otherwise you are not resolving issues, you are spreading them.

Community is often built not simply on talking things through, but talking in the right direction.

Believe the Best
Another mantra I have learned is to believe the best about those you are in community with, as opposed to assuming the worst.  This is not an original perspective, by any means, but its practice has taken greater intentionality than I could have possibly imagined.  Why?  Because my tendency is the opposite: to instantly question someone’s motives, to doubt their intentions, to be paranoid about their loyalty.

Tied to this is being fiercely loyal to your fellow staff and leaders.  You will hear others attempt to tear them down – it comes with the territory.  That’s when you not only insist that person practice Matthew 18:15, but you also refuse to give whatever it was they tried to plant in your spirit any room to take root.

The heart of believing the best is simply suspending judgment in favor of that person.

Stephen Covey writes of being on a subway in New York.  A man got on with two kids, who promptly began to run wild all over the train.  They were yelling, throwing things, pulling people's newspapers down; I mean they were acting horrible.

Covey asked the man if he wouldn't mind controlling his kids a little bit.

The man lifted his gaze as if in a fog, and said "Yeah, you're right.  We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either."

Suddenly, everything changed in Covey's spirit. 

And it should have.

But it should have been offered on the front end.

If it had, Satan would never have made it to first base.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary (Baker).

The Apology of Tertullian.

John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them.

Stephen R. Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Editor’s Note:  Dr. White was interviewed as part of an article that ran this past Sunday in The New York Times that was built off of a blog he wrote on the interplay of sports, faith and culture.  Instead of his usual blog posting, we thought you might enjoy reading it.

***************

When my daughters were young, they had a book we all loved called “Jump into January.” Every month was illustrated with a search-and-find painting filled with seasonal items. August’s was “Sail into August / come along with me / That sand is soft, the sea is warm / What can you see?” Items included a sailboat, shovel, crab, hammock, surfboard and sand castle.

Have a teenager these days? You’d be lucky to see a sand castle in August. Instead, you’re probably spending most of your month schlepping to tryouts, hauling to two-a-day practices, scheduling around mandatory workouts and letting yet another extracurricular activity encroach on once-sacred family time. The youth sports juggernaut, fueled by breathless cable networks, corporate sponsors and power-hungry leagues, is gradually colonizing more and more time: weeknights, weekends, religious holidays and now vacations.

Warning: Gatorade doesn’t go with s’mores.

Recently, I spoke with the patriarch of a large family who spent a year arranging a once-in-a-lifetime vacation with his children and grandchildren. The families coordinated schedules, booked plane tickets and paid for hotels, then my friend’s 15-year-old granddaughter was told there were mandatory soccer tryouts at her Manhattan school; if she didn’t show up she wouldn’t be eligible. She skipped the trip (and still didn’t make the team).

“I personally feel that the coaches don’t give a damn about what the alternative experience is,” my friend said. “All they care about is their team. It’s a school. They should be able to come up with alternatives, just like if a student gets sick and misses class, they get assignments to catch up.”

A New Jersey parent captured the frustration in a comment on a forum for the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district: “If your kid plays football, forget going anywhere in August. If your kid plays basketball, forget going anywhere during winter break. And if your kid plays baseball, forget spring break — and heaven help the family who has a kid that might play two or three sports during different seasons!! Does anyone else out there feel that the school should stay out of our time?”

We’ve gone from “Friday Night Lights” to Every Night Lights. But in a surprising turn, some parents are starting to fight back, saying to hegemonic sports leagues: “Stay on your side of the Google calendar. I’m taking back my family time!”

Team sports is the untamed behemoth of American childhood. It is the No. 1 out-of-school activity for ages 7 to 10, outstripping band/chorus, religious groups and individual sports. Figures from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association say that three out of four American teenagers play at least one team sport. The total number of children ages 6 to 17 playing sports has been put as high as 30 million.

One of those students last year was Ollie Costolloe, a member of the track and field team at Brookline High School in Massachusetts. The coach required attendance at practice six days a week, including holidays, his mother said. “It wasn’t just summer vacation, it was the complete inability to go away for a single weekend during the entire school year without significant consequences,” Deborah Costolloe said. She recalled the coach telling students, “If you need to go to the doctor, you need to plan that during class time, because if you miss practice you are off the team.” That even applied to family funerals.

“It was so draconian,” Ms. Costolloe said. “I’m taking my kid out of school during the day to see the orthodontist when he’s having academic issues.”

So she complained to the coach, then to the head of the department and finally to the headmaster, who called a meeting last fall. Brookline High is known for its great track team, she said, and many parents refused to join the effort for fear of retribution or harming their chances of getting a leg up on college admission.

“I got a lot of messages from parents saying, ‘Thank you for saying something but no I will not attend,’ then hanging up the phone,” Ms. Costolloe said.

The school agreed to allow three unexplained absences, which she considers only a modest victory. Her son switched to the diving team, where he’s thriving.

A group of parents in Houston took their complaints even further: to court. In 2012, the boys’ basketball team from Robert M. Beren Academy, a Jewish day school, was scheduled to play in the state semifinals on a Friday night, during Sabbath. The school made two appeals to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, known as Tapps, which administered the event, to change the time. It denied both requests.

A group of parents, led by Etan Mirwis, filed a lawsuit, which the head of school objected to, he told me. “I’ve always told my children to never limit their dreams,” said Mr. Mirwis, a father of seven. He thinks sports are generating increased tensions with families because individuals trained as educators control activities for which they have no experience. “But no one wants to deal with the politics of fighting with them or getting rid of them, because they have a kind of fiefdom,” Mr. Mirwis said. “So there’s a hands-off approach.”

Within minutes of the lawsuit being filed on Thursday, Tapps called and offered to reschedule the game, which was played the next day, at 2 p.m. Beren Academy won, but lost in the final the next night.

I asked Mr. Mirwis what message he would send to parents fearful of making a fuss. “I don’t mean to sound like a civil-rights leader,” Mr. Mirwis said, “but if the coach or league has a policy that you think is wrong, to accept it blindly is equally wrong. Sometimes you have to advocate for what you believe is right without regard to the personal consequences.”

James Emery White, the pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., has spoken out widely on the dangers of sports eclipsing family life. In a sermon and later a blog post, Dr. White said, “Let’s say this out loud, in front of the mirror, and see if we like it: ‘I will do spiritual things for my child’s sake until sports conflict, then sports win.’ ”

Dr. White said the problem was rooted in the social anxiety of contemporary parents. “Parents are so insecure, they feel like whatever other parents are doing, they have to do,” he said. “If it’s soccer, then my kid has to play soccer. We have elevated sports into a cultural religion. The fact that it clashes with family life is not surprising.” In one study of pastors, he said, a chief reason they cite for the decline in church attendance is sports games being scheduled on Sunday mornings.

So how should parents handle a situation in which they feel their vacations, weekends or religious practices are being threatened? “A lot of parents think they can’t be outliers, which is absolutely ridiculous,” Dr. White said. “The role of a parent is to be the mature one, not the immature one.” Parenting is not a popularity contest, he said. The goal is not to fit in. The goal is character formation.

“Sports can be a part of that,” he said, “but when sports takes on an outsized role, when it works against school, family or faith, then sports has taken on a role it should never have had. Sports is a wonderful thing to do for kids, but it should be kept in its place.”

-Bruce Feiler, The New York Times

 

Sources

“There’s No Off in This Season: Team Sports Are Taking Over Kid's Lives,” Bruce Feiler, The New York Times, Sunday, August 17, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

 

About Dr. James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

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