This Isn’t Normal

You know how “normal” is based on your personal experience? We grow up or live life and develop this sense of what is supposed to be mostly based on what is. Then one day we’re living side by side with someone else’s normal and suddenly realize one of us is way off the “normal” meter. I’m feeling lately like my church is experience is off the “normal” meter.

I read these blog posts and articles by other pastors and find out that “normally” pastors don’t have friends and if they do they’re definitely NOT in their church. Apparently mine is a lonely profession. And here’s where my normal bumps into their normal. My best friends in the world are all here. We go to church together. Obviously I’m closer to some than I am others but these are people I know I could call in feast or famine and find help, hope and love. I have a really large group of leaders on our elders team and we don’t have an adversarial relationship. There’s no sense or feeling of “me vs. them”. We don’t all agree with everything each other says, we don’t always come to the same conclusions about things but we still like each other without winners or losers in our decision making or processing.

And apparently that just can’t exist. An oxymoron. A logical fallacy. A freak of nature.

I read magazine articles, news feeds, books and blogs about pastor’s run amok. They start fights (fist fights, not just arguments) or get into financial messes, sexual relationship with anything that moves, refuse to leave the building after they’ve been fired. And I have some great friends in ministry who don’t seem to know this is “normal”. I’ve watched over the last few years as good friends have stepped out of paid ministry when the church they were with went through a transition of leadership. They didn’t fight or fuss they sought what was best for the church. One friend just walked away from a church he planted decades ago that has an international profile and a good salary but he felt God was telling him it was time for a transition that would help the church move with strength into the future. Other friends are working through other transitions, good times and hard times, messy situations with real life struggle but they’re managing to do it all without affairs, embezzlement or abusing anyone and dying to their own ambitions every day. And that’s not normal.

I love going to church. I love gathering with the saints assembled. And apparently, this too is not normal. From what I hear and read the only I’m supposed to like going to church is because I’m the pastor and I’m getting a fat paycheque, a huge ego boost and indulging in all my power trip fantasies. I’ll admit I think I get paid well. But I don’t think I’m getting a huge ego boost – most days I think I’m an o.k. pastor, not a great one and sometimes not even a good one, but I’m o.k. And I suppose people ask me if I’ll pick up more coffee cups for next week and that’s some ‘power’ but I don’t feel very powerful. Yes, people kindly listen to me talk but I like to think, in part, it’s because I listen to people talk to me the rest of the week.

I love worshipping with the church so much I do it on my holidays. I go to other churches when I’m on holiday and even miss home while I do. I don’t go because I think God will be mad or because it’s expected – sometimes I do stay in bed that morning. But mostly I love to be with the saints, even strangers, singing, learning, praying, contemplating, showing solidarity by hanging out together, however briefly. But I’m reading that really there’s nothing to get out of this experience. It’s a waste of time and energy and nobody gets anything much from being there. But I do. And I guess that’s not normal.

Does that sound normal to you? Are you normal?

…to be continued…

About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, faith, frank viola, Friends, God, Life, ministry, pastor, perception, questions, religion, theology. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to This Isn’t Normal

  1. Lori McDonald says:

    Hey Brian,
    I don’t think you or “your” church are normal at all.
    Charlottetown Community Church is the first church that I go to because I want to. My past Church experience has been about going because I should, going because maybe I’ll be saved, going because my in-laws will love me more.
    Nope, CCC is all about me. Well….that’s not exactly the truth, it is actually about the “we”. It feels good to be there, and I feel like the others who go are there because they want to be there too.
    You Brian are the first leader of a church that I feel I have become friends with. It hasn’t been about me trying to please you or feel good about myself through your eyes. I just like you. As a person.
    There is nothing normal about that from where I come from.
    And I like it this way.

  2. And who’s saying that normal is desirable?
    Normal is just a setting on the washing machine. What’s passed for normal all my life is – well, it’s just not what I want to be associated with because it’s boring at best – and at worst, downright dangerous to my spirit and to my ability to relate to suffering people. Masks, judgment, infighting, politics, pretending to be something one is not – these have become normal in the western church. I’d rather hang out with real people any day. I’m pleased that you are one of those real people. If by being yourself you are not normal, I have only one thing to say.
    Thank GOD!!

  3. Michelle says:

    I happen to think you’re a great pastor. You can talk for hours about something spiritual and make it downright practical. No feigned emotions or dramatics, no cliches or catchphrases -just honest, soul-expanding stuff. That’s a gift. And you ARE a good listener. A lesson that many in helping professions would do well to learn.

    And I agree, our church isn’t normal. It’s definitely above average. We rock. I think in part it has to do with just how diverse we are -how many artists, outlaws, old hippies and accomplished professionals there are among us. And people with giant hearts. So many big hearts, so few big egos. This past Sunday Lisa whispered to me “there’s a lot of people here I don’t recognize” and I said, “you know you’re a regular when you recognize new faces” and she said “nah, I just notice the fancy clothes.” Haha. She’s right, fancy clothes do stand out, and I don’t think that’s real normal in most churches either.

  4. brianmpei says:

    They say that “like tends to draw like”. So maybe we’re just ‘abnormal church’! But I know several churches and pastors that seem as ‘abnormal’ as us but I suppose we don’t make news because we aren’t condemning everyone who isn’t like us.

    I appreciate the kind words about my pastoring but objectively, depending on what you use to grade these kinds of things, there are some really brilliant guys (women too but they seldom get the gig) out there who’ve grown churches from 35 to 3500 in half the time that we’ve been in the city. Huge buildings, massive budgets, outreach/missions on the go, lives being changed, etc. I’m not being down on myself, I still like me most days. I’m just trying to honesty look at ‘normal’ and what expectations I’m living up to. Or not.

  5. Nathan says:

    I guess I’m not normal either, because what you’ve written describes the position that I’m in as well.

    I think the big problem here is identifying ‘normal’ with our personal experience. It’s that kind of thinking that causes us to find the Kingdom so ‘un-natural,’ when in fact it is the gold standard of normal.

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