It’s no secret where I generally fall when it comes to the political “spectrum” but this isn’t about that. I’ve been thinking that a lot of the problems I see in our political system, can be equally applied to our churches. One that is perhaps most obvious (at least to me) is the Christian incumbent.
A Christian incumbent is one who originally got involved in the church because they were inspired by lofty goals and ideas – often rock-solid, Jesus-honoring, world-changing goals and ideas. But something happened once they got involved on the inside and they fell victim to the trap that says, “If I don’t stay here and work, things will never change.” I actually think it’s quite the opposite…the longer they stay, the less they’ll change. Let me explain.
People, whether pastors or lay leaders, attenders or volunteers, there is often an element of responsibility for others that drives them to get involved. Pastors look at a “lost” community, lay leaders see a ministry that might not happen if they don’t step up. Even attenders often start out because of their kids, spouse or friends. But after a while,they learn the ropes, the ritual, the process and they get sucked in. They started to forget about why they got involved in the first place and forget about the rest of the people that they came to serve. The pastor stops reaching out and instead focuses on just “shepherding his flock.” Others value things that are easier, more comfortable or “a better fit” for them. When that happens, they become inefficient Christian incumbents.
Not only do the “little people” get left behind, the incumbents themselves become isolated, insulated and down-right ignorant of the what’s happening both around them and in them. They figure that since they are constantly busy with Christian stuff – bible studies, small groups, worship services, mission trips and conferences – that they are naturally growing. Christian incumbents tend to think that they know what other people need, but are often unwilling to apply those same laws, rules and guidelines to themselves. Their flurry of activity and ability to craft a good soundbite must be proof that they really know Jesus – after all, just look at all they do and listen to them describe, in detail, ministry paradigms or missiology.
I’m not saying all incumbents are bad, but I am saying that it’s a very real danger in the Christian life. The goal isn’t to know how to play the church game. The goal is how do we live a life that honors Jesus Christ. Tomorrow I’ll share a couple thoughts on how to avoid becoming an out-of-touch Christian incumbent.