A Letter From M. Patrick Gibson
Ok, the team says I have to talk a little about what makes me, well, me. So here goes.
I'm not special. Nor is there some anointing that descended on me from heaven like a dove. I'm just an imperfect guy who's been around the block a few times when it comes to this little thing we call church. I grew up in ministry, but I never spent a day in seminary or Bible College. For those that think that was rebellious, the truth is quite the contrary. I asked God whether or not that is what He had in store for me after high school, and the answer I got was shocking to my young adult mind. I've only really come to understand the Spirit's wisdom of late. I was divinely prohibited from seeking out a formal theological education. Go figure.
My childhood in ministry made me a witness to the good, the bad, and the incredibly ugly in church leadership. My family helped start three separate churches in our community with both financial and sweat equity. The average Sunday morning for us started around seven, involved loading vehicles with speakers and sound boards and nursery supplies and anything else you can think of from storage, hauling it to whatever rented meeting space the church had, setting it all up for Sunday service, overseeing greeter teams and ushers, taking up offerings, counting offerings, ministering to people at altar calls, tearing down and repacking all the equipment, getting it all put way, and finally getting home sometime around three.
Church wasn't a checkmark on a weekly spiritual to do list. It was life. Our home cell group grew to around sixty people on any given Friday night, close to thirty of which were teenagers gathered in my basement for a weekly prayer meeting. During a internship after graduation, the Wednesday schedule began at 5:30 am with a men's leadership meeting, the next meeting was at 6:30 am, the next at 8:30 am for church staff, then 10:00 am for pastoral staff, then the afternoon was spent prepping for Wednesday night youth service, setup began at 5:30 pm, service started at 7:00 pm and ended by 9:00 pm, with the period between 9:00 and midnight spent actually hanging out with members of the youth group – which always evolved into a counseling and ministry session with one teen or another.
I'm not saying any of that to toot my own horn.
I'm saying it to explain that no one knows the stresses put on the volunteer members of a church better than my family. We did all that and never got paid as church staff, nor were we expecting it. That's not the point. In fact through our giving we paid for the privilege. The reason I say it is to clearly convey that I understand the incredible burden that gets put on the good people that donate their time, often times without any acknowledgment of their efforts, and many more times to the point of burnout and disillusionment.
That's why I've never been a believer in the supposed separation of "Clergy" and the "Laity". In many cases, the pastors were the ones that showed up just before service started and left while there was still so much to be done. A wise pastor – one of the best I've ever met – once asked my dad, "When did it change that the people were supposed to serve the pastor instead of the pastor being a servant of the people?" This was a guy who, if an emergency call came in about one of his congregants, he'd be the first at the hospital, in a suit, at three in the morning, even up into his seventies. He knew what it was to serve.
Yet today, so many pastors spend so much time talking about their "vision" for their church or ministry. I'd go so far as to say that from listening to hundreds of podcasts from churches all around the country, it's a pastor's all-time favorite topic. Our churches are filled with programs tailored to meet the demands of any demographic, niche, or interest group – and they are staffed on the backs of the twenty percent of the people who do eighty percent of the work. Meanwhile the rest of the congregation is lectured to get involved in order to be a dedicated member because if you're not participating in the church's vision, you're not in alignment with what God is doing. Ministry has become focused inward on a building, programs, and visions. It was during my time studying under a pastor with just such a vision that he said to me "Matt, you'll learn more from what I do wrong than what I do right."
How true that was.
Most people don't realize it, but Jesus only did one of His miracles inside the temple walls. All the rest were done in the places where people gathered for non-religious reasons: the marketplaces, the wells, the bathing pools, the highways, byways, and hilltops. The people came to Jesus because of what he had to say and how he backed it up. The New Testament makes it clear that the purpose of our gathering together is for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. Yet, modern church ministry is focused around our gathering together. When ministry is focused on the "church meeting" the saint's aren't equipped for everyday life.
Does that seem backwards to anybody but me?
This reverse paradigm keeps mutating. I've scoured the Bible for the doctrine that says the pastor is the head of the Church. I can't find it. Within the Body of Christ there are pastors, yes, but even then, the biblical version of a pastor is the guy knee-deep in the trenches ministering and serving the needs of the people. He isn't even necessarily the guy doing all the preaching as that responsibility gets handed off to those best equipped to teach the principles of the Word.
The pastor is the guy working, playing, eating, and hanging out with the people so he can demonstrate how to walk the teaching out one day at a time. The elders, those who were most disciplined in the doctrines of the Gospel and understood the mysteries of the Kingdom, were the ones calling the shots in the Body – and yes, people with pastoral giftings were among them. The rest of us just followed them as they saw them following Jesus' example because Jesus was the head of the Church – and anything with two heads is a freak.
I've no desire to be the head of this church.
At Rainmakers, our vision is really, really simple. As a teacher, I can fulfill it completely whether I'm talking to an individual or a crowd of thousands. Preach the Word, explain the real Gospel, make disciples who know how to walk in power, and see them start to disciple others.
I once got derided by church people for addressing our senior pastor by his first name. Apparently I was being disrespectful. Having not gone, I didn't realize that in seminary they teach new pastors how to put their pants on both legs at a time. I know I'm not that talented. I'm just an average guy, working out my salvation by renewing my mind to the same Truth each and every member of this body has to every day. I have good days, and bad days, and I have people who kick my butt and make me get back in the Word when I let a bad day linger on too long.
In fact, when I go to visit a new family that's been coming for a few weeks, I always feel weird when I show up. Many times, the kids act like I'm some kind of celebrity. "Pastor Matt… Pastor Matt." Without fail, I gather the kids and sit them down in front of their parents. Then I tell them, "I don't want you to call me Pastor Matt. Just Matt is ok, and I'm saying this in front of your parents so that they know I've given you permission and it's not disrespectful." Once the kids scoot off to play, I tell their folks, "If they think I'm someone special just because I'm up in front of the service on Sunday morning, they will miss it. They'll grow up thinking that ministry is reserved for people with titles and that they can't do it unless they have a full time call of God on their lives. We all have a full time call of God on our lives, and it's important that your kids see me as ordinary. If I'm not special, that means they don't have to be for God's Word to work in their lives."
The ministry at Rainmakers only exists to serve and equip the people who show up so they can go minister Monday through Saturday in the marketplaces, highways and byways they walk through every day. I've run businesses. I've had to be out there and work for a living. Trust me, I know you've got better things to do than think about how many church programs you can volunteer for. I want you out there in the world, armed and equipped with the nearly too-good-to-be-true news. You are in full time ministry right where you're at. My responsibility is to make sure those truths are being activated in your life so that you know how to go activate it in the life of someone else.
I pray every day that God will multiply the grace and peace I need to get that done by increasing my knowledge of who He is. I'm thankful for all the pastor's I've had in my life that have formed the philosophy of ministry and service that makes me who I am, even the ones who's mistakes taught me more than their successes. Without them, I wouldn't be able to really understand the difference between being a leader, and being a servant who leads.
Church isn't buildings and programs and services.
Church is believers and power and service.
OK, that's it for my rant. Now let's go change some lives.
M. Patrick Gibson