Before ministry, I was in law. And in my brief time in law, I realized that every time I told someone I was a lawyer, I had a deficit to overcome.
People who don’t work in law make assumptions about lawyers that are rarely flattering (in fact, some of you are thinking struggling to keep reading this because you know I have a background in law.)
Knowing it is half the battle. And usually after somewhere between 5 minutes and 5 weeks, I would be able to turn the label around and earn a client’s trust.
Then I switched from law to ministry, only to discover the same thing is true in ministry.
In fact, there are at least 3 unattractive labels every church leader has to overcome.
Have You Felt the Shift?
A generation ago, clergy and church work were well respected members of the community. And I’m sure in some (very small) circles they still are.
According to Gallup, only 47% of the population has a high or very high estimation of the honesty and integrity of church leaders. That’s right. Less than half the population thinks church leaders are honest or very honest.
Today church leaders rank ahead of lawyers, TV reporters and members of Congress, but behind nurses, doctors, pharmacists and police officers in terms of trust and integrity.
That means to some extent, in every conversation, you’re digging out of a medium sized trust hole before someone shows confidence in you.
3 Unattractive Labels Unchurched People Place on Church Leaders
When it comes to church leaders, I think there are at least 3 frustrating labels every one of us has to overcome in order to gain people’s trust.
These aren’t pulled from Gallup or any science, but these are the labels I sense as I interact with people who aren’t attending church:
People who aren’t in church often don’t have a seething hatred against the church. Some do for sure. But most don’t.
They just rarely think about church.
It’s not like they wake up every Sunday and decide not to go. They just wake up every Sunday and think what you and I think every Saturday morning: Day off! What am I going to do today?
You’re perceived as irrelevant.
So how do you demonstrate relevance?
Well, you could try wearing a worship-leader-scarf and skinny jeans, but that tends to really look awkward on a 45 year old lead pastor. Far too many church leaders think cool=relevance when really it just makes you look like you think way too much about your hair and your clothes. I’m all for dressing in a way that recognizes it’s 2014, not 1994, but let’s leave it at that.
I think the best way you can demonstrate relevance as a leader is to show people how the Christian faith and the scripture is applicable to our daily lives. Not as information-to-be-learned but as knowledge-to-be-applied and as a relationship to be lived.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always suspected that more than a few people think that church leaders got into work because they couldn’t find a ‘real job’ doing anything else.
And sadly, I think once in a while that’s probably true.
Church should not be a shelter for people who don’t want to work or haven’t got much to contribute.
It should pull from the best and brightest talent around and demand our best efforts.
If this mission really is as important as the scripture says it is, we should apply our best academic, organizational and relational skills and thinking to the mission at hand.
The church should be seen as a community leader when it comes to organizations poised to make a difference and transform cities, not as an also-ran.
So what do you do to respond to an incompetence label? Quite simply: develop every gift God has given you to its fullest potential and put it to work in the Kingdom.
This is probably the least surprising, but it’s a label I run into all the time. It’s also a conversation I have with many, many unchurched people (and some church people).
The headlines fill up regularly with new scandals of high profile leaders who have compromised their integrity.
How do you counter this label?
Here’s what has helped me as I’ve tries to offset that label:
1. Acknowledge it happens. Everyone knows it does, why pretend it doesn’t?
2. Empathize with their frustration. I get frustrated too when leaders lead people astray and compromise the reputation of the church.
3. Acknowledge that we might also let them down. I often tell people our church isn’t perfect and we will probably let them down. However, what distinguishes the Christian church from others is not that we make mistakes. Everyone does. What should distinguish us is how we handle those mistakes. Openly. Honestly. Directly. With sorrow and with a desire to right what we have made wrong. I tell them to judge us not by whether we make mistakes, but by how we handle them.
4. Establish very tight personal and organizational standards. I recently wrote a post outlining 10 habits of leaders who effectively guard their hearts. When you have high personal standards you try to walk by, the likelihood of you falling into the pitfalls that claim so many leaders drops.
So what do you see? Any other labels you’ve sensed or confronted? And how have you handled them?
- See more at: http://careynieuwhof.com/2014/02/3-unattractive-labels-unchurched-people-place-on-church-leaders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=3-unattractive-labels-unchurched-people-place-on-church-leaders#sthash.6VXpsNKy.dpuf