Monday, April 27, 2009

Promoting Talent over Integrity

In church work personal integrity is paramount for anyone who is in any level of ministry. The Bible is VERY CLEAR about this. This includes church workers, volunteers, staff, and leaders. The more critical the position, the more integrity is called for.

One of the greatest challenges church leaders face (especially in small churches and new church plants) is the continual shortage of help. Because of the pressure to cover all the ministry bases it is so easy to just “plug another warm body” into a key position without waiting long enough to observe and prove an individuals integrity first. In the case of PCC, especially the early days, people would show up who seemed larger than life. These persons seemed like an answer to prayer and often would land in positions that they later would have to be removed from.

For instance, several years ago over a one month period, a group of people walked through the doors of PCC offering to help. We were small, still meeting at the local High School, and this influx of new people was just what we needed. They added critical mass to our attendance and the varied personalities possessed many different gifts and talents that were in short supply in our fledging congregation. We needed what they had to offer, so it was easy to believe that maybe it really was the Lord who sent them to us. Before long a few of the people in this group found their way into places of service. They were active in small groups, leading groups, singing, serving, and a couple of them even made it into very critical positions. All was going well…. or so I thought.

From the beginning I was uneasy about this large influx of talent because it made our church too dependent upon a group of people I did not really know. My job as a shepherd is to protect the flock, so I kept many of these people at arms length, allowing only three or four to get close to me. I continued to make observations about their behavior & integrity, and it’s a good thing I did. In time certain patterns of behavior began to manifest in this group of people that were so grievous that it disqualified them from ministry in a local church. It could not be ignored.

Then one day the dam broke. The obvious lapses in integrity was something I needed to deal with; the vulgar language, the off-color jokes, racial jokes, short tempers, quick fuses, and the gossip were too much. And to be brutally honest, many of them simply did not have the capacity to serve at the level they desired. They wanted to be in top leadership positions but lacked the necessary skills and spiritual understanding required. My response was to have several diffucult, and individual, conversations with each one concerned. It was then that the fertilizer hit the fan! They formed a solidarity among themselves. Then in one fell swoop, every one of these people left us just like they came… quickly & loudly.

Instead of receiving godly counsel about their integrity issues and getting healed by submitting to church discipline and proper Biblical authority, these people drove off into the sunset. Still sick and unqualified for ministry they simply found another small congregation that was in need of talent. There they can sing, serve, lead, sit on committees, pad the offering, and gain influence without being challenged. Of course, it is only a matter of time before the same issues will eventually manifest at their new location because nothing in their behavior has changed – they have only changed churches.

This story is not unique to PCC. It happens everywhere. I talk to pastors all the time and the story is always the same. For us, it is a good thing that we kept our guard up during this period and maintained godly standards of behavior for church workers and leaders. Otherwise, we would be shipwrecked today.

Some lessons about talent vs. Integrity:

1. Talent that walks in off the street is much quicker and easier to DEPLOY than talent you have to develop, and USUALLY it is a MISTAKE. It can take years to develop a worship leader, a youth pastor, a children’s pastor, small group leaders, a small group’s director, ministry leaders,or Biblical elders. But if you can grab one ready-made right off the rack you save yourself a lot of work. Why not speed up the leadership development process? It takes less time and you can get on with the business of kingdom advancement. And don’t forget the wow factor of instant talent either – you get instant bang as soon as these people are added to the team.

The downside to this quick-and-easy deployment of talent is that 9 times out of 10 these people will GIVE YOU PROBLEMS! You don’t know who they really are… plus they often believe their talent gives them a free pass on behavior issues.

2. Detecting integrity and character means LOOKING BENEATH the TALENT level. You’ve heard the old adage - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is – and nowhere is this more apparent than in church work. Every talented person who walks through our doors off the street and volunteers for ministry CAME FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE. As a shepherd I am responsible for developing and deploying talent, yes, but I am also responsible for detecting CHARACTER DEFECTS and INTEGRITY FLAWS. It is my job to find out where they came from, why they left, and why they are here. A call to the former pastor is not out of the question. Where have they served in the past? Why did they leave? Did they leave on good terms? Is there unresolved conflict between you and someone else in your last church?

3. When assessing integrity, HARD QUESTIONS need to be ASKED. When considering placing strangers or newcomers in any type of serving capacity, certain questions must be asked. Do they tell tales that don’t seem to add up? Are their finances out of control? Do they seem a little too friendly with the opposite sex? Do they frequently tell stories that make the people around them uncomfortable? Are they fully committed to the vision of our church? While it’s never good to go on a witch hunt, we should also listen to our instincts and the instincts of the other leaders around us. If there are persistent, nagging questions about an individual, it might be better to pass on this person.

4. Enforce a time out. The first step in dealing with leaders/workers/volunteers who have had a lapse in integrity is to have them take time out. This is not punishment, but rather a process for healing and restoration. It is a time in which they can grow in their personal walk with Christ without the pressure of ministry responsibilities. It’s also a time for them to reflect on what led to the lapse in integrity and build safeguards against a repeat in the future.

I am concerned when I hear of public Christian leaders who have failed, and after a brief time away (say 3 months), are “healed” and ready to get back into full time ministry. People need significant TIME to allow the Lord to restore what the locusts have devoured.

I am also very concerned about the types of people who flit from church to church offering their talent to desperate congregations, but are spiritually sick. Church-land is FULL of these kinds of people. Most of them will never get healed or ever be truly qualified for ministry. Why? They always have the easy option pulling out and going to another church when confronted about their behavior. BECAUSE OF THEIR TALENT, OTHER CHURCHES QUICKLY OPEN UP MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES FOR THEM, and THE CYCLE CONTINUES.

No matter how talented a person is, they are subject to the same Biblical standards as everyone else. Exceptional talent does not get you a free ride or a free pass at PCC. If you have attended our church for any length of time and possess an observant eye, you have noticed the many changes in personnel we have made over the years and in recent months – and some of them very visible. We have people step down, take time off, so they may recover. The goal for the ministry is to maintain integrity, and the ultimate goal for the individual is restoration. No one is exempt from this standard – not me, any of my family members, my friends, you, or even your family members.

INTEGRITY is more important than talent.

1 comment:

Zachary said...

I definitely agree on that integrity is more important than talent.
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