Friday, October 21, 2011

See, what you need to understand is...

"See, what you need to understand about Dean is..."

I was working at an advertising agency, and I think I was about 23. I had just been publicly, loudly, and colorfully reprimanded by my boss, Dean (not his real name). Everyone around this scene knew that I had done nothing wrong, that it was just a misunderstanding. But nobody spoke up. I just had to take it, apparently.

I was speechless. Dumbfounded. By God's grace, I somehow did not cry, but I'm sure I looked like a scared little girl. Dean's #2, who had witnessed the scene, came up to my desk after about 15 minutes and said, "See, what you need to understand about Dean is...he's a really good marketer. He is really sharp and really creative. He just moves too fast sometimes, and he doesn't really know how to handle people. I'm really sorry for his behavior. Are you okay?"

Okay? Even at 23 years old, I knew I was NOT okay and that what had just happened was NOT okay. That was the beginning of the end for me and that company. I was never assertive with Dean - never had the chance - and I naively thought, "If I leave this company, I'll leave this jerk behind and not have to deal with this crap anymore." I didn't yet realize that there are jerks everywhere. I somehow avoided more Deans in my professional life, but do you know where they have showed up since then? I'll give you three choices:

1. Church
2. Church
3. Church

Did you say "Church?" If so, you're the winner!

And this is the hang up for me. Because if some crazy dude at some tiny ad agency wants to be a jerk, that's fine. It's not good, but it's his deal and not my deal and I'll get over it. But aren't people in the church accountable to a higher purpose, a higher way of doing things? Aren't we, as the church, accountable to God and each other? Of course we are.

And church people are still people, and not perfect, and all that. I get that. I really do. But when this girl sees a pattern forming, she is gonna try to figure it out.

So. I decided to study the local church, and I figured out a way to get credit for it in one of my classes by getting more specific and studying the American megachurch. I am going to share some of what I learned here as background.

Businesses love to study megachurches. They see them as successful, creative, and lucrative. Forbes magazine has referred to megachurch pastors as "essentially CEOs who successfully address many of the same issues that challenge their business brethren." Megachurches are designed -- and this is stated in various ways explicitly and implicitly -- to grow resources (people, money, land, buildings) as much as possible in order to display the "big-ness" of God. "Big" experiences are also part of the mix here, as they are constantly pushing towards the cutting edge in terms of music, technology, and creative events.

So, that's the goal. How do they support and work towards achieving this goal? Essentially, by fashioning every aspect of the church around the goal.

1. The Pastor is offered as relatable, accessible, and highly visible to the congregants.

2. The large support staff is able to provide many services in-house (graphic design, counseling services for congregants, food and hospitality services) that were hitherto unavailable in this arena.

3. Architecture. One article I read drew a distinction between the "vertically-aligned" buildings of the traditional church, and the "horizontally-aligned" buildings of today's megachurch. The traditional (Catholic, generally speaking) church was built to overwhelm the congregant with the majesty and big-ness of God, with its high ceilings and ornate statues and crucifixes. But today's megachurch buildings are designed to be approachable, comfortable, and utilitarian. The congregant comes to church, but it "feels" more like a shopping mall or community center. Basically, this new architecture is centered on the congregant rather than on God.

4. Symbols. Old church symbols: think crucifix, statues of saints, the Communion table. The megachurch, on the other hand, abandons these heavily religious images for images of...well, of people. Websites, promotional materials, and of course the huge projection screens. All of these have images of people enjoying each other, or enjoying their time of worship, or being reverent.

And this is the crux: the megachurch offers the personal experience on a grand scale. Goh (2007) refers to this as "performing the mega." The megachurch relies heavily on creating "mega" experiences (grandness of scale, variety of options, etc.) for its congregants in order to display the "mega"-ness of God.

So far, this discussion of the megachurch has just been discussion. Now I will move into some of my criticisms of this model, and in order to do that, I think I need to share my personal experience to be completely honest with you.

I am an evangelical. I am female. And I am a worship leader. Oh, and I live in Arkansas. That is the nutshell of my dilemma. I am called and gifted as a worship leader, and I have been supported in this gifting by the Body, to a point. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that every church I have joined with in ministry (as a member) has brought up my gender as a detriment to ministry at some point. Correction: the leader of the church, rather than the members of the congregation, has had some sort of conversation with me about my gender. Here's a sampling of what I've heard:

"You know, I think from now on we're just gonna hire a male for this position. It'll just be easier." [I was briefly employed here.]

"This will be the first time I hire someone for this position, and I think I want that person to be a male. Maybe we'll hire a female in the future, but not this time."

"I am thinking I may need to hire a male this time because I'm considering the chemistry of my team."

Message received. My gender is a detriment. At least as far as they are concerned. I kind of like my gender. It's pretty great. I like being pretty, and a wife, and I get to have babies which is also pretty miraculous and awesome. Further, I am confident in what God wants me to do. While some of the people I have encountered do take theological exception with females in leadership, I am not one of those people. And I have peace about this. And it's actually because of a John Piper book, which I will tell you about if you really want to know but I don't want to get too far off topic.

But most of these do not take theological exception. They have told me that they fully support my desire and gifting. However, they are considering factors other than what the Bible says about me and my gifting. If a church is primarily concerned with "performing the mega," which is to say, reaching as many people as possible with as broad and inoffensive a message as possible in order to grow resources as much as possible...and if this church is in boils down to this -- it's just easier to hire a male worship leader. It's less controversial. Or at least, it's just more expected.

You may not be surprised to know that this has been hard for me to deal with. It has been very hurtful. Because these church leaders are not business executives. It's church. It's not business.

I've been in at least three (maybe more, but who's counting?) hurtful situations regarding gender and calling and yada yada. And I kid you not...each time, I saw the "Dean scene" replayed before me. This is how it goes --

Head honcho #1 says something to me that is really, really crappy. See the above quotes.

Everyone else knows it's crappy. I don't speak up for myself, and they don't speak up for me either. OR I do speak up for myself, but it doesn't change anything.

Eventually, honcho #2 comes along to smooth things over. #1 has disappeared, apparently. Either doesn't know, or doesn't care, what's going on with me. And here's what #2 says...

"See, what you need to understand about Dean is...he's just way ahead of the rest of us. He's been hurt a lot in his life, and so he doesn't really have any soft skills with people. I mean, he's just got so much on his plate, that he can't possibly be expected to care about every little thing..." And so on. And then #2 apologizes on behalf of #1, and tries to coach me regarding my further interactions with #1. Because...I's my problem...? It's weird, people. Just weird.

Okay. Why do I need to understand anything? And I am proud to say that, finally, after the third take of this particular scene, I was able to say in that moment that I was not okay with my life or self-respect revolving around #1 like -- apparently -- everyone else was. I am supposed to live at peace with everyone, as far as it depends on me. And this one...this one doesn't depend on me. So. Peace.

I am glad that I finally did that, and I really do have peace. But...

I am of the belief that if I find myself in an unfortunate situation more than once or twice, I need to not only examine the situation in order to avoid it...I also need to examine myself. Because apparently, there is something about me that is contributing to this mess. I've been doing lots of that self-examination lately.

There are two things that I have learned, and I'm going to be completely and brutally honest here:

-- I was looking for significance (which is okay), but I was looking in the wrong place for that significance. Maybe I was not fully confident in myself, and I needed someone else to bolster that. Unfortunately, I kept seeking this from people who were incapable of encouraging me for whatever reason. And these days, when I'm feeling shaky or negative about myself, I take it to God and to people that I know love me and have my best interest in their hearts. World of difference!

-- My ministry focus was too narrow. Since I have given up on gaining this sense of significance from the withholders, it's like the floodgates have opened! I am ministering more, and in more varied ways, than I ever thought possible. I cannot accurately express how much of an encouragement this is to me - and such a special gift from the Lord - that I am now in a season of my life where my calendar is literally flooding over with opportunities to make a a real Kingdom difference.

So, I know this is a really long blog post. But it's one that has been stewing around in my heart and mind for some time. I offer this as encouragement to those of you who may be wondering about your usefulness as a part of the Body, or wondering about the Lord's timing. I want you to be encouraged, and know that while the Body is imperfect, the Lord is perfect in all things. His love for you never fails. His plan for you is amazing! Trust Him! Lean on Him! Let Him heal and strengthen you. He will take care of the other stuff. Just move in closer to Him.

Thanks for reading. Peace to you.


HB said...

Okay, I so loved this post. Great writing. Great thoughts. I love you forever.

Steven said...

Wow, Rachel. I'm so sorry to hear about your experience. I can't honestly say that I am surprised though. I grew up in the megachurch environment and this lines up with reality. I've got my own story but I won't tell it here. Your post is encouraging, though and I appreciate the reflection at the end.

Alex and Jill said...

Oh how I loved this. You are incredibly gifted and I'm so thankful for you!