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The Dangers of Church Work

meat grinderI was anxious about working at a church full-time. Before I played in Atomic Opera I had gone to Bible College to become an Assembly of God Pastor and nearly lost my faith. We joked that “seminary” was more like a “cemetery” where young Gospel zeal goes to die. Many of my friends survived dusty theology classes only to be killed in the muddy trenches of their first ministry position. Churches can be terrible places to work and have a special way of using and damaging the people they hire. Very few of my friends made it through their first years of music ministry, youth ministry or pastoral ministry—it is difficult being a “professional Christian.”

Churches can be like sausage factories. People like pepperoni on their pizza but no one wants to see how it’s made, and once seen it cannot be unseen. Many of my friends blamed God and left the church entirely after the way they were treated by pastors, elders, and fellow Christians. Some of you are there now, wondering why you ever signed up for this, putting your soul in the hand cranked meat grinder of church work.

My first church job was twenty years after I graduated with my B.A. in Bible. I walked into the factory with my eyes wide open and full knowledge of what to expect. When a bunch of sinners get together to do God’s work it’s going to be messy and we are going to hurt each other.

The way to survive is to keep our focus on Jesus, following Him through the dangers of this antique dilapidated factory of horrors. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Remember what He called you to do and keep the fire of that passion burning.

Remember that He loves you, gave Himself for you, and promises to be with you.

Remember that He loves your pastor, elders and fellow Christians and wants to love and serve them through you.

Remember that you are part of the part problem, too. Their motives are not pure but yours are not either.

Don’t let them get between you and God, spoiling your view of His love and mercy. Walk in the forgiveness you have been given. God has forgiven you, forgive yourself, and forgive the people who have hurt you.

You can do this.

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A Thoughtful Response from Pastor Paul Goeke

Frank, thanks for reaching out to hurting leaders. I know that leaders all across the country and world have legitimate hurt from “sausage factory” churches. People have been manipulated and abused emotionally, spiritually, and in every way. “Sausage factory” churches need to be addressed honestly and squarely, as you seek to do. We need to lovingly care for those who have been hurt.

I want to offer some more encouragement: Not all churches are sausage factories. When faced with or experiencing this hurt, it can seem like every church is a sausage grinder. But it’s not true. “Sausage grinder” situations do not define all local churches everywhere. Already some voices may be tempted to say, “Well…they are just bull-shittin and not being honest. They are ALL sausage factories.” That’s what hurt may be tempted to say…but it is simply not true. The “sausage grinder” picture is a church that is putting out a “product” (ministries, church services, impressive and cool things) that is necessarily contradictory to how things work behind the scenes, in the factory. It looks good, but it was a nasty, unhealthy process. I know that this is sometimes the case.

And yes, all churches are filled with dysfunctional people (like me). But In my 10 years as a pastor, I think the some of the deepest, most profound love that I have experienced in my own brokenness was behind the scenes. It wasn’t a factory, it was a family. The “product” put out was not a church service or some cool ministry, but people receiving forgiveness and love and healing – often because they actually got to be honest about their lives and struggles for the first time. This was certainly my experience. In fact, I learned so much about Jesus’ love behind the scenes.

Thus, the “product” was not contradictory to the “behind the scenes”…instead, it flowed from it. The two were the same. The good stuff (love, forgiveness, grace, freedom to be weak, freedom from performance-based relationships…in short, the Gospel of Jesus) that was taught in public was EXACTLY what was happening behind the scenes as well. Yes, relational struggles happened. But behind the scenes, the manner in which those struggles were addressed modeled the way we would want them to go on “the outside.”

In fact, I’ve been in situations in which we openly brought these things into the public eye and taught them from “the stage” simply to show that 1)Leaders struggle too 2)These things can be addressed with grace and result in deeper relationships than ever before 3)The local church is being led in a way in which the “system” is consistent with what we teach. In fact, the public ministry flowed from what happened behind the scenes.

It was not a dilapidated factory of horrors. It was a family, a comfort, an advocate, an agent of healing, an evidence of unearned, ill-merited love. Parents are not physical abusers. Some are. In the same way, churches are not sausage factories. Some are. And when they are, we’ve got to address it honestly and love well the people who have been abused.

Man, your “Remember…” statements at the end are a great encouragement to so many. I am so grateful to have you as a friend and brother. I am so grateful for your constant encouragement to me personally. Thank you so much for loving me well. Thank you for encouraging me in the midst of my weaknesses and struggles and insecurities…and for showing me that the church is not a “sausage factory”

– Paul Goeke