Sunday, November 20, 2016

Why I Hate Andy Stanley

Ok. Now that I have your attention, let me say I do not HATE Andy Stanley. I have never met the man. I have read a fair number of his books. Like Will Willimon, he does not seem to have an unpublished thought. And, like Willimon, most of his thoughts are worth considering. We have some theological differences, but that’s not a reason to hate him (or anyone). He seems to be a good man, he loves the Lord, and he loves people. So how can you not like him? But something in me gets riled up by him.

I have the same feelings for Rick Warren, the heir apparent to Billy Graham as America’s pastor, Max Lucado, one of the best story-tellers in the country, and Craig Groeschel, pastor of the largest church in the country. And, just so you’ll know it’s not all of these in their particular denominations. There are some within my own tribe, the UMC, that raise the same feelings in me.

Here’s the issue: I am not them and I do not serve a church like theirs. Every time someone comes to me (and they often do) and say, “Pastor Mike, I just heard the most moving sermon I have ever heard by (fill in the name of any nationally known preacher),” what I hear is, “Why can’t you preach sermons like that?” When someone says, “Well, at that church they have the best process for welcoming non-believers into the church. Why can’t you do that?” I want to say, “Because I’m trying to just keep up with us.” A well-meaning church member told me, “You just need to work smarter.” I didn’t know how to tell them, but this is about as smart as I can get.

Those churches with pastors like Stanley, Warren, Lucado, Groeschel, etc. are different. Not only are they much larger, but they have different needs, and are in different communities. They do not do pastoral care in their congregation. That doesn’t mean people aren’t cared for, it just means that it’s not the pastor who cares for them. If you have an illness, if your parent dies, if your child is in a horrible wreck, in Florence SC, and you are part of a church, you pretty much expect your pastor to show up. And he/she wants to. If you are part of 25,000 member church with seven campuses, and you see your preacher more often on a screen than in real life, don’t expect him to be there to pray with you before you go into surgery. Perhaps someone from the congregation, or from your small group, will be there, but you cannot expect your pastor to…..well….pastor.

I get leadership “tips” from most of the above mentioned folks, and some others, almost every day. I’m on about a zillion email lists.  And I like what they have to say. But it’s obvious we’re in very different places. One of them writes about his schedule. “I get up early, spend some time with the Lord, go to the gym, work out and talk with friends there, then get into the office about 10. I’m usually in the office from 10 until 3, where I work on the Sunday service most days of the week. After 3 I go home, spend time with my kids and wife, then read and relax for the evening. And I usually take Friday and Saturday off.” Curious about how that works, I emailed and asked some questions, and, surprisingly enough, he wrote back. I’ve emailed, mailed, and hand written a lot of pastors, asking questions. Most do not reply. So I was grateful for his.  Here are some of the questions and answers.

Q:“When and how often do you visit your home-bound and assisted living members?”
A: “I don’t. We have very few members like that. Our church was a new church plant, and we reached out to younger adults. We really have very few older adults, and we let their small group, if they are in one, care for them.”

Q: “Do you visit the hospitals when your members are sick?”
A: “No. I watch after my staff and their families. I expect the congregation to take care of itself.”

Q: “What kind of relationship do you have with the children and youth in your church?”
A: “I love every one of them! But I know less than a hand full. I let my staff care for that.”

Q: “How many church meetings do you attend?”
A: “One. I have an advisory board of 7 people in my church. We meet once a month.”

Q: “How much time do you spend with your church doing community outreach?”
A: “Very little. I spend most of my time developing sermons that will meet people’s needs. I find that if I do that, all the rest takes care of itself.”

There were a few other questions he answered, then wished me well.

Andy Stanley says that his church, which started with more people than my current church has, said they wanted to make a church that non-churched people would be comfortable in. And they did that. According to him, you might walk into their worship space and the band be playing old Beatles songs. Nothing wrong with that. I sort of like the idea. But I would feel real bad about all of those people in my church that have loved it and supported it for generations walking out. This is not to say that I don’t want to change, because I do, but there’s a dynamic here that is not in other places.

Rick Warren has all his 100,000 people reading the same book at the same time (usually written by him) for a few months. It’s a great thing. A couple of years ago our church decided to read through the Bible together and use our readings for Sunday school and worship for about 9 months. For some in the church, you would have thought that I had said, “Why don’t we all burn the International Lesson Series in a bonfire.” By the way, the church did it, the people learned and grew and were very appreciative of it, but said, by and large, “let’s not do anything like that again.”

Another one of the pastors said his church gives him the summer off, so he can plan the sermons for the other nine months. I can hear how that might go at my church. “You want to take off for the summer so you can work on the rest of the year? Okay by me, as long as you don’t mind if we don’t pay you for the summer.”

I also know that there are some of my colleagues who hate me. For the same reasons. We have a wonderful children’s ministry, an active and growing youth ministry, and the best preschool weekday ministry in town. I also have the best staff members leading those programs. And I’m sure that at some smaller, struggling church, a church member is saying to their pastor, “Mike Henderson’s church does this…..” and that pastor walks off muttering my name and a few words.

Please hear me clearly. I’m not complaining about where I am or what I do. I am in a church that has some older members “who want to see the preacher, and anybody else, but only the preacher really counts,” some parents of teenagers and children who want me to know what’s going on in those areas and to make sure that everything they do is the best in town, and some younger members who are looking for ways to serve and wondering why we don’t meet in the local pub. I have lots of people who sincerely want to serve Jesus by serving others, and some who are here to see what’s in it for them. I have some who are scared to death of change, and others who are scared we will not change.

Many of them want to see the best at Highland Park, and by best, they mean what they have read about or seen in those other churches. I am sure that those other high profile preachers have struggles, though for all their talk about authenticity and vulnerability, most do not share them with the congregations. Maybe that’s why so many fall, and our hearts go out to them. In my church, people see my shortcomings and failures up close. They see how I am not able to do everything, and the things I do, while they may be the best I can do, are not the best.

So while I do not really hate Andy Stanley and the rest, I am not one of them. And though I do not know what to do to make Highland Park be “the next big thing” among churches in Florence, there are three things I do know. I will just try to be the best me. I will continue to love Highland Park, because they are a great church and at the same time just regular people (like me). And I will find ways to serve Jesus in the world.