“You are destroying the church I love!” “You are not a godly man and I hate you!” “Sometimes I do not understand the way you think!” “You are making my church too corporate!” After you hear statements like this from your staff, you start to wonder if leaving the marketplace and serving in ministry was such a good idea after all. I found myself on the receiving end of those statements more than once; if it had not been for a graceful and patient boss, elders who truly believed in me, and a sincere belief that I was called to ministry, I would have fled back to the marketplace—where I expected treatment like that!
One day a newer staff member (who was also an ex-marketplace professional) marched into my office and declared, “These ministry professionals are driving me crazy! They don’t like rules—and the few that I can get them to follow they drop in a heartbeat if they think they need to help a person!” Her statement resonated with how I was feeling and reflected some of my frustrations. Ten years later, I firmly believe that ministry professionals just see the world through a different set of priorities than a business person. I didn’t know it when I entered ministry, but I had walked into a cold war between the secular and the sacred—a war that was even raging back when Jesus invited Matthew—a business guy—onto His team!
Nothing would prepare me for the difficulty of the transition as I moved from the marketplace into ministry. Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 fictional classic, A Stranger in a Strange Land, became a timely resource for helping me understand the environment I was experiencing. Mr. Heinlein’s book and Moses’ words in Exodus 2:22 gave me a way to process the isolation I felt daily; I seemed so different from the staff and “church” people around me. We all loved Jesus and His church. But how I loved the church was expressed very differently.
There were also the constant reminders that the function I provided in the body of Christ was sometimes viewed as a “necessary evil” and not as important as the ministry that others were contributing. Without realizing it, I had assumed the role of a Modern Day Matthew at the church I was beginning to love. I wish I would have paid a lot more attention to how Mr. Heinlein’s book ended. If you have not read it, the main character, Valentine Michael Smith, is a human male who was raised on Mars, returns to Earth with special abilities and philosophies, and is martyred in the end because he was too different to fit in. Sound familiar? Hopefully this has not become your story. But the similarities between my world (during the transition from marketplace to ministry) and Valentine Michael Smiths’ are eerie. Some of the attitudes of the people I encountered, and their actions, were hurtful to both me and my family. Their regular attacks set back potential gains because of the time I had to spend cleaning up the collateral damage—caused by people who claimed to love me and the church.
During that season of ministry, I began collecting a list of “realizations” regarding the differences between the marketplace and ministry. These realizations gave me a vocabulary to communicate why I was struggling with other business and ministry leaders. The realizations were discovered through personal experiences while I helped the other ex-marketplace professionals that served with me handle the frustrations that we faced daily. They may not match your story exactly, but I think they may help you understand other perspectives.
The first step in my process was to identify the two lenses that I needed to use to view circumstances if I was going to get the most accurate picture possible. The first lens was the perspective from the marketplace into ministry. I had grown up in the marketplace so I was very familiar with “the profit is the only thing” lens. I understood what it took to survive, and even thrive there. The second lens, “everything is people,” was much tougher for me to adopt. I was trained to believe that people were a means to an end, a replaceable tool. Learning how to view people as treasures and becoming more successful at caring for them as the ultimate profit proved to be incredibly important to my personal, long-term goal of servant leadership (Robert Greenleaf’s model). I believe that part of my calling was to protect the unique environment of ministry while making it more effective and efficient. Understanding the differences in the “lenses” made this possible for me.
Another advantage to using both lenses is that I now have a perspective that helps me anticipate how my ministry peers and followers will react. If I only viewed ministry through the marketplace lens, I would have missed critical clues to why people were not feeling pastored or connected. Understanding how ministry professionals and members viewed my actions (and reactions) helped to gain insight into how differently I processed data and expectations. Nobody was wrong, we just approached things differently.
Before I understood the differences, it seemed like I was playing a game of soccer using rugby rules. I was always tackling people when I should have been guarding them and expecting acclaim for the field goals I was kicking over the net instead of into it. Talk about frustrating for everyone involved! Fortunately, I adapted quickly to the new game and changed how I was playing before too much damage was done. This is why I felt compelled to write down the realizations—so that other leaders who are transitioning from one game to the other would know the rules before taking the field.
There are ten in total; some are major and obvious while others are minor and subtler. But all of them speak to some aspect of the differences I experienced between the two worlds and my transition process. For the sake of brevity, I am going to focus on three of the major realizations and provide recommendations for surviving—and even leveraging—each.
First, I realized that I was not alone and had some pretty good company in the person of Jesus’ disciple, Matthew. Matthew was also despised by his community and considered a sinner and traitor by some of the people he interacted with daily (Matt. 18:17, Mark 2:15). Matthew was called a “publican” by the Pharisees, which had the connotation of “public sinner” and “idol worshiper.” Matthew was “chosen” by the Roman government for his role because he was good at business and could translate between the secular government and the religious leadership of his day. Once I understood how Matthew was treated, I coined the term Modern Day Matthew to describe how I felt in my role.
There were several times when I attended meetings where the pastors were discussing ministry strategy and I felt like a third wheel. Why? Because I kept asking questions that were not perceived as ministry related. Questions like:
- How will we measure success for this event?
- How will we pay for the event and how does this align with our mission and vision?
- Does our insurance cover that and will we need to have security present?
Each time I asked the questions, I would either receive blank stares or people would attempt to convince me that this was ministry and that those issues were not a concern. But I knew the importance so would continue to bring up my questions, hoping the pastors would consider those details in their planning and thought processes. I was not despised exactly, but I was a burr under the saddle of these ministry cowboys/cowgirls as they merrily went along, planning without concern that the business rules were being violated. Eventually, they realized that there was some value to the issues I was highlighting. But to me, it always felt like my issues were acknowledged begrudgingly and not because I was an equal at the table.
Once I discovered that Matthew may have shared some of the same issues, I felt emboldened to continue to bring my concerns forward. I think it is obvious that Jesus valued Matthew’s skills and experience or He would not have invited him onto the team. Jesus knew that Matthew could connect with and understand an audience that was valuable and different; that is why he was allowed to write one of the four Gospels. I was encouraged when I realized that my special skills and experience had value in the Kingdom of God. He was expecting me to serve alongside my pastoral brothers—even when it was uncomfortable or even unwelcome.
With this realization came an appreciation for the unique giftedness of the pastors and my role in helping them fulfill their callings. I saw myself as a fullback, clearing the way for my running backs. My job evolved into removing obstacles and pastoring corporate refugees like me. From that point forward, I wore my title of a being a Modern Day Matthew proudly and with a renewed desire to fulfill my calling. My recommendation for dealing with this realization is two-fold:
- Don’t take it personally when your ideas are rebuffed. The ministry professionals care about your heart and will learn to appreciate your ability to improve the systems and processes that make their jobs easier. You are different and that is “okay.” Be humble, helpful, and apply your influence with kindness and a servant’s heart. Stop lamenting about how misunderstood you are and focus, instead, on educating and serving your church family through the pastors you work with directly.
- Now that you recognize your similarity to Matthew’s position, highlight and joke about it. Say things like “Hey! Modern Day Matthew over here and I have something important to add!” Don’t take it too seriously. Remember that they need you as much as Jesus’ team needed Matthew. The sooner you focus on similarities, rather than differences, the sooner improvements can be made in the church processes. You are not the same type of pastor as some, but it was God’s idea to create people with varying skills. You do your job for the applause of the “audience of One” and stop trying to win the accolades of people who may not understand your purpose. Please keep in mind that we all have the same goals (loving God and people), but different methodologies.
The second major realization was that my boss wanted to be both my friend and my supervisor. This may seem like a minor issue, but it was not. While in the marketplace I never expected my boss to be anything but a casual acquaintance or, at best, someone I admired. But I never expected him to be someone I hung out with outside of the ten hours a day we spent at the office! My church boss wanted to have BBQs, attend family parties, and even celebrate holidays together! And to top it all off, he wanted to be buddies and grow old together! I couldn’t believe it! Talk about a strange land.
This was probably one of the biggest shocks to me. In the past, my marketplace bosses might start a meeting by considerately asking how I was doing, and, after allowing thirty seconds for my safe answer, would immediately plunge into discussing tasks I was doing and when they would be done. He didn’t seem to care about me as a person and that was okay because I basically felt the same way. If we all played our assigned parts, it was safer and more efficient. Once I became a Christ-follower, my heart changed towards my boss and I cared and prayed about the person and his or her family. But that was generally one-sided and my own secret mission.
Now my new boss/pastor wanted to know everything about my personal life, and shared about his life. Personal questions felt like prying and I was usually evasive or vague. That resulted in his thinking I was hiding something and made him dig even deeper. We were in a vicious cycle. I was running away and he did not know why. And, at the time, I couldn’t tell him why. He was not being nosey and his inquisitiveness was coming from a good place in his pastor’s heart. But I was not used to it, so there were red lights flashing all over my dashboard as he continually wanted us to share our personal lives.
At the time, I did not understand his motivation and was too paranoid from my experience in the marketplace to try to figure it out. In order for a relationship between the first and second chair leaders at a church to work properly, they must have a strong foundation of trust and a deep understanding of each other’s hearts. But this was new to me. I did not know how to protect my boundaries while building the trust that was critical to connect with my new boss/friend. Once I realized that he was sincerely trying to build a friendship with me, it became easier to share. However, I was, and still am, careful about what I share because of what I would learn from the third realization.
But those first several months were bumpy as I experimented with sharing bits and pieces of my life with him. He had to be patient as we traveled at a snail’s pace. My recommendation to Modern Day Matthews would be to discuss these things right away. Explain the world you came from and why there was a need to protect your heart from the people around you. You are probably not going to be able to avoid the friendship for very long; a church’s staff is more like a dysfunctional family than a team and knowing each other’s heart is critical. I would suggest that you lean into it and see where it leads. God brought the two of you together for a reason and He knows what you both need. Maybe you need a deep friendship more than you know and it is time to step out and trust.
Absolute transparency is required up until you reveal your true brokenness. This is confusing because you never know for sure where to draw the line until you either share too much or not enough. Then, to be even more unclear, it varies with every person. Some of the staff want to know everything because they care or need to know your heart to build trust. Others think they want to know you and then cannot accept the real you because they need their leaders to be perfect. Pastors are held to a near impossible standard that a normal human cannot attain. The weight of those corporate expectations may crush a leader eventually or seriously hurt his family.
This was one of the toughest challenges that I faced. I liked building meaningful relationships with people, but I was hesitant to share with people at work. Early on, I took a few staff leaders into my confidence and shared some of my struggles with them; that did not end well. With each person, there seemed to be threshold of brokenness that they could handle. When I went past that threshold, I was judged as an evil, sinful man and a confirmation bias was formed that I could do nothing to erase. I had staff members shouting at me in my office and accusing me of all kinds of wickedness. No amount of explanation or requests for grace would work. They had decided that I was bad and nothing I said or did could ever change that.
The irony is that the sweetness of relationships is one of the best perks of the ministry environment. When the relationships are good, they are really good and reflect what I think it must be like in Heaven. But the information that you share on the way to the “good place” sometimes comes back to haunt you if the relationship starts to have challenges. Much of the time you are safe and sharing will not hurt you. But sometimes the individual decides to use details to cause as much pain to you and your family as possible. I have talked to several pastors and staff members who shared stories of incredibly deep wound