Ronald Reagan become president, Anwar Sadat was assassinated, and the Iranian hostages were released. Charles and Di were married, Muhammad Ali retired, and the the first Frequent Flyer Miles program was invented.
I was 7 years old, and in the evenings my Dad would wrestle me and my brother on the living room floor. By day he did denominational work. I didn’t fully understand what that work entailed, but every once in a while I’d go into work with him and it seemed like there were a lot of typewriters & secretaries involved. There were several impressive looking old men with horned-rimmed glasses and dark suits there. My Dad would take to coffee break and sometimes one of the old guys would buy me a soda while they drank coffee and had what seemed to me to be boring conversations about church issues.
Back in that year, 1981, my Dad had already worked in the denominational headquarters of The Wesleyan Church for several years. He was a “company man” by then and knew the lay of the land. He wrote some advice for denominational work newcomers. He likely wrote it on one of those type writers you may have heard about–or even more likely, he dictated it and a secretary typed it up. I can explain all this to you young’ens who might be confused if you ask me about it later in the twittersphere.
His letter was called “Dangers of Denominational Leadership Work.” Today I found an old archived copy of it. I have a great deal of interest in this advice, because on July 1, 2012, I start a new ministry leadership life as the Chief of Staff to Jo Anne Lyon at the Wesleyan World Headquarters. I will now be in denominational leadership work, and I’ve suspected there are dangers in such work. There are many points in his letter–so let’s just look at his first point today. I’m going to leave his letter unedited below. (I should point out that “International Center” was the name of our denominational headquarters at the time.)
Dangers of Denominational Leadership Work,
Part 1 by Keith Drury: SPIRITUAL COOLNESS
“1. Spiritual coolness. If you are not careful, your spiritual vitality will evaporate. Not because the atmosphere is bad or evil, just because the nature of the work is different. In the local church you work with the same people week after week, month after month. You can see their regular and consistent spiritual growth. You had the opportunity to win new souls to Christ. In fact, doing these things was your job. Your new work is different.”
“The International Center is not a church. It is an administrative and leadership center of the church. We don’t have services, we don’t have outreach programs attempting to build the size of the International Center. Each person working here has their own church at various points across town. So the nature of your work has changed. In a sense you will be more like a layman — having to do your soul winning, Sunday school class preparation, personal devotions, and discipline of others on your own time. These things used to be your primary work activities. Now they move to leisure time activities. This may be a struggle for you. In fact, some have moved from a local ministry into the International Center to discover the alarming truth that much of their spiritual activity was done simply as a job, and not an avocation.”
“If you do not get involved in reaching out and discipling people you will be in danger of spiritual coolness. The work of editing, administration, management, and leadership is an enemy of spiritual vitality. You will need to add the direct-to-people ministry you used to get automatically. This is the only way to avoid spiritual coolness that will be devastating to your soul.”[/row_box]
Response: As with many things he said in the 80s, the advice of my father here stands the test of time. I’ve heard this kind of advice already from many. In fact, when I asked the esteemed Harry Wood for advice in my transition, he said something pretty close to the above. One thought I have is that if, as Dad said in 1981, that the “work of editing, administration, management, and leadership is an enemy of spiritual vitality” then my spiritual life has been under attack for years. As an executive pastor & author that list pretty much sums up the last 5 years of my life.
Resolution: I must ensure that I’m a Christian first, and a Christian worker second. I need to engage in church life as a quasi-layperson, not a distant consultant with opinions and no elbow grease. I need to continue to find ways to rub shoulders with the unchurched, or even just the un-wesleyan once in a while! And I must keep to my Day Alone With God although I can already tell that will become a threatened part of my schedule.
What added advice do you have for me in this area of “spiritual coolness” as I and others make this transition? (We’ll talk about other categories later but I don’t want to steal Dad’s thunder now on those other matters.) How do you think spiritual coolness is a danger in this transition and what would you do about it?