We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Good Pastor Makes for a Happy Church - Really?

The Christian Post recently posted a column entitled, "Nine Characteristics of Happy Churches," which is little short of eye-opening.  Of the nine characteristics listed, five have to do with the pastor, one with the way business meetings are conducted, and one other has to do with the church staff.  That is, seven of the nine are about the pastor and/or her leadership team.  Only two are directly related to the church's members distinct from its pastor, namely involvement in ministry and in a small group.  When a substantial number of members are engaged in those two activities, the church is more likely to be happy.  Otherwise, the person and style of the pastor is the key to a happy church.

If only it were that easy.  There is no question but that the leadership style and the personality of the pastor is one important factor in church health.  That statement, however, is equally true of the followership style and personality of the congregation she serves.  Churches are a blending of personalities, sometimes inherently quite healthy and sometimes not so much.  Thus, the same pastor with the same personality can have a healthy, happy relationship with one church and then move on to a relationship in the next church that turns out to be dysfunctional.  A church, by the same token, can get along very happily with one pastor but then not the next.

Interestingly enough, the listed characteristic overlooks the presence and influence of the Spirit in a congregation's life.  Before all else, a church where the whole leadership of the congregation, including pastoral,  is mutually committed to spirituality is a church that is more likely to be healthy and happy.

It is lists like this, to be frank, that infect pastors with both hubris and anxiety.  In spite of this list's fixation with pastoral leadership, church health is not all about the pastor.  It is about a healthy relationship between a church and its pastor grounded in the Spirit.  That is a three-way relationship.  In this relationship, church members exercise significant leadership, the pastor knows when to lead and when to follow, and the Holy Spirit is a Presence in the interpersonal and institutional dynamics of the whole congregation.  Things are not all sweetness and light in such a church, but on any given Sunday morning its sanctuary will hum with health and its singing will be infested with the Spirit.  Without a good pastor, a happy church will not happen.  Without a good church, it will not happen.  Without the Spirit, it cannot happen.  Amen.