I am laughing! This morning in my inbox was a connection to my Conference with a weekly e-news email. The title of one of the articles was Disconnected Connection?, and guess what, the link to the article didn't work! It is hard to stop laughing as I sit here thinking about it.
I spent many years in management and teaching at the college level before becoming a pastor. I went to a Christian College, Geneva College, where I learned that my faith needed to be lived out wherever God took me. I graduated with an Accounting, Business Administration degree and went into the world of management for a small family owned business. As I think back on it the collision between my faith and what I saw in the business world challenged my faith in many ways and for me made it stronger. I failed many times to live out my faith but every time I learned something from it. First I was invited back to Geneva as a speaker and after completing a Masters Degree in Business at Robert Morris I was invited to become an instructor there. I had the opportunity to challenge my students to go through the same struggle I did between living out their faith and living in the midst of what is often an evil world. The one thing I learned well there, both as a student and an instructor, was that I needed to stay connected to the world if I wanted to influence others for Jesus Christ.
I have spent my entire career working diligently to connect people to meet their needs wherever they are and to connect them to an awesome God that I have been called to serve. Over the years I have learned that I must always be willing to listen to many voices and at times most closely to those that are telling me what I don't want to hear. Leadership that fails to listen will fail to lead.
The article I was trying access was about our denominational Call to Action and the "recommendation to consolidate general agencies and the perceived disconnect between the agencies and local churches." Thus my laughter at a broken connectional link! When I was teaching marketing I often used the phrase that in the marketing world "perception is reality" and taught my students that if you wanted to sell your product much of your success would be based on the perception of your product and that would be the reality that you had to work from. My perception in my denomination is that the connectional links at all levels of leadership are so broken that those at the top are clueless about the perceptions in the pew.
Every day it seems the demands of our leadership conflict with the perceived needs in the pew and are completely out of touch with the view of those that are not sitting in pew. Several years ago when I moved to a new community I did what I thought I should do and began to spend time connecting to those that were not a part of the church I was serving. I began hearing two things very clearly. The first was that they continually referred to the church I was serving using the phrase "that is the church that used to" meaning that they were connected in some way to that church by what it used to do but no longer did. The second phrase that I heard was "we don't want to be a part of organized religion" and it took me awhile to figure out what that meant. I learned that it meant that they didn't want to be a part of an organization that its leaders said one thing but that their perception of what they did in their daily lives in reality didn't match up with what they said.
Many books have been published outlining what this means and I won't go into that here but the gist is that the local church is out of touch with the perception of it in the community. The sad thing is that I believe that many of those perceptions are the reality. We as leaders at all levels most of the times don't want to hear about those perceptions. We say "they are not reality" and "That is not who we really are" but, my friends, it really doesn't matter, perception is reality.
My perception of our denominational leadership is that they will develop a "Plan of Action" and demand that we execute it no matter how connected it is to the communities in which we serve. My perception is that many of those leaders are so busy developing ways to "teach us" how to be the church that they have lost touch with not only those in the pew but those that they are demanding that we reach for Christ. I am sure that many of my perceptions are wrong and I know that every one of those leaders is working as diligently as I am on what they see is important. What I also perceive is that what we have been doing as a denomination isn't working to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, out mission as a church.
I am very aware that these are my perceptions and that I don't have the full picture that the leaders have. My prayer is that we will begin to see a breakdown of the endless meetings, paperwork and time consuming demands that keep all of us disconnected from the communities we are called to serve. It seems to me that we have a call to action
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."