Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The past few days, at least three NFL head coaches have lost their jobs. The Browns fired Romeo Crennel, the Lions fired Rod Marinelli, and the Jets fired Eric Mangini.

Even one who doesn't normally follow football could look over these teams' performances and most likely say, "Of course." Cleveland finished 4-12. Detroit...let's just skip that one. And New York faded down the stretch and missed the playoffs. One may have an argument in favor of keeping Mangini, but the inability to meet high expectations for the season sees him looking for another job.

When sports teams continually flounder or some teams, particularly those in bigger markets such as New York, don't meet expectations, the pattern has been to place blame largely on the shoulders of the coach. It doesn't matter, for instance, that
Bret Favre had 2 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in their last five games. No, Mangini's head was the one that was going to roll regardless of other possible factors. The Browns had an unstable quarterback situation all season, but Crennel got the blame and the pink slip.

When it comes down to it, the guy in charge is held responsible for a team's performance. Never mind if an individual player's attitude is hindering the team, or if a player isn't giving it his all, or if the team as a whole is plagued by injuries, or if an offensive or defensive coordinator isn't using his entrusted players properly. No, it's the head coach's fault. So the solution is to get someone else, and all those other issues may somehow right themselves.

There are times when the church operates under a very similar philosophy. If a church's culture is very pastor-centric, praise or blame will be assigned to the pastor depending on how successful the church is.

Yes, this is a business-oriented philosophy. Yes, this is a view of church that is based on budget and attendance rather than discipleship or mission. And yes, this is the type of church culture that hasn't quite grasped the "priesthood of all believers" concept. If the church isn't "successful," however one measures success in such a setting (again, usually budget and numbers), the pastor's job security may be the first to get a look.

Let's be honest. Sometimes, it really is the pastor. Sometimes, the pastor-congregation relationship breaks down or isn't a good fit to begin with. Sometimes the pastor isn't handling conflict properly or doesn't leave room for other people's voices and ideas. Sometimes the pastor's vision of ministry and the congregation's vision just aren't the same.

At other times (more often than not, I'd argue), there are other factors at play that can't or shouldn't be blamed on the pastor at all. Maybe the attitude of an individual or group is holding things up. Maybe there is a deeply-seeded pathology in the church's culture that needs to be weeded out; something in their past that they haven't dealt with properly. Maybe a church's approach to organization or development no longer works in its changing environment. These and other factors may be contributors to decline, and the pastor may even be dismissed for trying to get the church to address them.

Regardless, this pastor-centric, performance-based approach to church life doesn't seem to leave much room for mutual accountability. It certainly holds the pastor accountable, and perhaps for more than his or her fair share, but it doesn't properly hold the church accountable. It doesn't hold the church accountable for seeking "success" in spiritual growth, in mission outreach, in nurturing a culture of faithful discipleship rather than larger membership rolls. These things can't really be measured, after all, which can be frustrating for a church operating with a business mindset.

What if whole congregations began evaluating themselves the way they evaluate pastors? Would they be happy with their own score?

Or maybe we can just operate with a different mindset altogether, and not worry about questions like those.