Paradigm breakers are probably the most faithful persons in a church, but they are rarely viewed as outstanding members or the creme of the crop that they truly are because the church’s measuring stick often evaluates one’s commitment to God and/or the church based on church attendance and active church involvement. And while it might be entirely appropriate for this measuring stick to evaluate most of its leaders and members, it simply can’t & shouldn’t be used for the paradigm breakers. If churches and pastors aren’t more careful, they will drive away these prized individuals away, possibly to God’s chagrin. Let me excolor-box.
Well, before I excolor-box, let me say that I realize that my perspective and position is rather unorthodox… at least I don’t think that most people look at it the way I do. So if you let me, I’ll lend you my eye-glasses for a few minutes so that you can see this thing through another set of eyes, from a different paradigm if-you-will.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a paradigm is:
A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.
In the context of the local church, paradigm breakers are an often misunderstood and overlooked group of individuals, and it’s for them that I write this article. It’s their stories that break my heart. It’s their stories that ought to make some pastors rethink their narrow-minded and biased view of these persons.
Let’s take a look at some of their stories below. Maybe there are people like this in your church!
Sallie Mae is a member of Hold it Down for Jesus Church. (That’s not a real church name, but I’m using it as an example.) She is a popular speaker and travels the world speaking to women about various topics. She has also authored several books. She most commonly speaks at women’s conferences on Saturday nights, so she often is in route back to her city on Sunday morning or she stays at the church and attends their service, so she often misses Sunday service at her home church. She’s even sometimes asked to speak on Sunday morning services at the churches where she does ministry on Saturday’s.
So with a schedule like that, Sallie Mae needs her church to be a “sanctuary” when she is able to make it there. She “gives out” so much of herself during the week that she needs to be refueled by the worship and Word when she’s there. She attends Bible study when she can, although this past year she’s been under deadline by her publisher to finish her next novel, so unfortunately most Wednesday nights have been spent trying to meet that deadline. She believes that God wants her to write the book based on the enormous letters that poured in from her first two novels; testimony after testimony of how the book has changed people’s lives in significant ways.
But unfortunately Sallie Mae is not endeared by her church. They see her out-of-town trips as a lack of commitment to God and her local church. They believe that she should rearrange her schedule to only accept out-of-town engagements that do not prevent her from being in church on Sundays, and furthermore, the church doesn’t understand why someone who has such a calling to work with women is not helping more with the women’s ministry at the church. The head stewardess asked her, “Why are you doing women’s ministry around the nation but can’t head up the women’s ministry at your own church?” And although Sallie Mae faithfully tithes from all the proceeds that her books make, the church is not very understanding about her lack of attendance to Bible Study. She’s even gone to bible study to make her stewardess happy, to show her face, to then miss deadlines with her publisher. She finally decided that if she goes to bible study, it needs to be for the right reasons, to learn God’s Word, not because “stewardess so-and-so” is keeping an eye out for her to fill a pew, like it’s a law or obligation that she must fulfill in order to be viewed as a good Christian. The stewardess is at the church whenever the doors are open and reminds Sallie Mae of this fact. Well, good! If she’s able to do that, then she should! Sallie Mae does know and understand that studying God’s Word is important so she does a lot of personal bible study in preparation for her speaking speaking engagements and also for her novel since her novels are adaptations of popular bible stories. She also does bible study for her own spiritual enrichment and growth. God has opened the door her writing and speaking ministry to be her sole source of income and she’s very fulfilled as a believer to have this kind of life… if only her church would stop hounding her. “Sallie Mae, where you were last Sunday.” “Sallie Mae, where were you today?”
Sallie Mae is a paradigm breaker who will soon leave Hold it Down Church for Jesus because she needs a church that will not put these type of pressures on her… she needs a church that can embrace, support, and encourage the outside ministry she does and realize that she can’t be measured like the average congregation member. She’s far from average. And she clearly loves God and He’s blessing her ministry. If only her local church would extend a little grace, like Jesus.
Let’s talk about James next. James works full-time for a non-profit ministry. It’s a small organization, so James has to wear a lot of hats. Four people are doing the work of what twelve people would normally do. The work is often very exhausting with the amount of hours needed each day to complete the necessary tasks to keep the ministry running in a way that is pleasing to God; for example, accounting, bank errands, picking up mail, answering mail, fulfilling book orders from the website… the list goes on and on and on. There are also staff meetings and even ministry outreaches that often keep Jame’s mental gas tank on empty. But what keeps James going is the endless testimonies that pour in from youth and adults literally around the globe saying that they received Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior as a result of the ministry work that this nonprofit is doing.
James attends a Bible Study at a Christian bookstore on South Street. Persons from many different churches attend the Bible Study, and while the Bible Study fulfills his need to study the Word and to fellowship with others in the Body of Christ, James decided that he also wants to become a member of a church, that maybe even the church could partner with the nonprofit ministry he helps to run and maybe even give financial support. You see, none of the staff members of the ministry receive a salary. They have to raise their own financial support by sending out support letters, similar to a missionary. The Impact Movement and Campus Crusade for Christ requires its staff to raise their own salaries through the generous donations of others who support their ministry work, and Jame’s ministry has this same requirement.
So that’s when he found a church that he liked. The church knew about James already and the full-time ministry work that he did, and the church welcomed him with open arms. They even invited him to leadership fellowships right, even though he was not a leader at the church, and they made special provisions for him to complete his membership requirements on Monday nights instead of Thursday nights of membership due to Jame’s schedule (each person desiring to be a member of this church had to complete a certain amount of bible studies & pass a basic knowledge knowlege tests). The red carpet was really rolled out for James, and he felt very blessed of God. He thoroughly enjoyed getting to know yet another circle of believers (you see, James knew many circles of believers in his city, because his day time job partnered with many different churches in town and he fellowshipped with believers from all over). James loved his new church and the pastor. Sunday after Sunday he would go to church and get refueled by the worship and Word of God. Well, most Sunday’s. Some Sunday’s his job required him to work. Even though James was not involved in a regular 9-5 job for a secular company, the full-time ministry work he did was just like having a regular job because there were still responsibilities and commitments that James had to fulfill, and sometimes it was on a Sunday. But even so, at least James still got a chance to worship with other Christians and hear the word of God even when he wasn’t able to be at his local church. James also continued to faithfully attended Bible Study on South Street with his coworkers and other Christian buddies who came out for the study, so he was rarely at his home church for Bible Study.
Well, one day the pastor called him into his office, probably at one of Jame’s happiest moments because on the particular day the head of Jame’s ministry, his boss, had actually been the guest speaker at the church. So naturally James was excited that his two worlds (his home church and his full time ministry work) were joining together for a day of ministry. He admired his pastor dearly and often talked very highly of him to others, so James was completely floored when the pastor, seemingly in disgust, began to abruptly inform James that he expected James to be more loyal to his church. The pastor said that he was not involved in any activities at the church (which wasn’t entirely true), and the pastor said that was very displeased with the number of Sunday’s that he has missed. He even questioned Jame’s loyalty and dedication. James was devastated. He did not see that coming. His pastor was clearly very displeased with him as a member but James could not see how things could be different unless he quit the calling he believed God put on his life to work in full-time ministry for such a time as this. James excolor-boxed his special paradigm or situation to the pastor, but the pastor just wasn’t hearing it. The pastor also was upset that James was attending a different Bible Study that was not at the local church.
So James gave it some thought. He wondered and prayed, “Should I quit full-time ministry so that I can fulfill these opportunities for service at my local church?” He was very confused.
Tameka was a rapper, a gospel rapper in a very popular rap group that was often invited to perform on Sunday mornings. So she also looked for a home church that could understand and embrace that. She also didn’t have the regular 9-5 secular job that most people did. Like James, she worked in full-time ministry, but for a different organization. And like James, she was required to raise her own support, so she drafted a letter and took it to her church. People laughed, rolled their eyes, and even called her crazy when they saw her letter. She met in person with the Pastor to solicit his support. “We bring your group in to minister to the youth 3-times a year… that’s supporting you,” he retired when she made her presentation. She excolor-boxed to the pastor that the monies the church pays does cover the concert costs, but that she personally does not see any of that money and it doesn’t help her pay the rent. “Get a job,” the pastor told her. “One that pays.”When she got home from church that day and checked the mail, inside were support checks from other nearby churches who had read her letter and decided to support the work she was doing in ministry. She thanked God and immediately paid her landlord and later decided to leave her home church and join one of the churches who had decided to support her. She now attends that church whenever she is not doing elsewhere eleswhere and she is very popular with the youth group. The youth at the church love having their very own gospel rapper as a member! And she gives them free concerts all the time. The pastor supports what she is doing so much that he often permits his youth pastor and the youth pastor’s wife to travel with Tameka on Sunday’s as she does ministry. Some of the youth travel too. Tameka has since made her gospel rap ministry an official ministry of the church, for even more accountability and letters from other churches flood into Tameka’s church thanking the pastor for Tameka’s ministry. Sometimes Tameka is sad that this could not have been a reality at her former church.
Jennifer is single, doesn’t have a boyfriend and spends her days & sometimes her nights working as a lawyer. Sometimes when she’s working on a big case, it requires her to work on Wednesday nights to prepare, especially if the court case is on Thursday morning, and some court trials last for weeks!
She’s excolor-boxed this time and time to her church, but they still put the pressure on her to attend Bible Study because she’s a member of the choir. “All leaders should be here when asked,” she was told. She already gets special permission to miss some choir rehearsals, so shes thinking about quitting the choir, and if they keep this badgery up, she just might leave the church altogether and go somewhere that embraces her and is more understanding and sensitive to her work as a lawyer.
She’s even began a non-profit legal aid ministry in her spare time, a vision she has had for years, but she has little time to devote to that venture because of the expectation of her church for her to be at Sunday morning service, Sunday night service, Thursday night bible Study and Saturday morning women’s breakfast. It’s just too much.
She’s given the church free legal advice and even represented them for free when a church member sued them over a financial matter two years ago, but there seems to be little grace for her less than ideal attendance in the eyes of the church. Should she quit her job to appease her church’s demands? She faithfully attends Sunday morning service and Sunday School. That’s really all she can reasonably manage to fit into her schedule at this time. She’s all for accountability, but she is pretty sure that is not the type of accountability the Bible meant.
* * * *
These are just hypothetical stories, but they are stories that happen all the time, far too often. I know this is true because the insights and experiences of paradigm breakers have filled my ears for several years now. You see, I was an “army brat” growing up, so while some people may have grown up in the same church their entire life, my experience included multiple churches (and schools), because my family was
constantly on the move due to military reassignments. For example, I went to four different high schools growing up, one being in another country (i.e., West Germany). And throughout my life journey, it seems that God often crosses my path with many paradigm breakers who pour out their painful stories of churches who prey on them too agressively to join and lead multiple activities in the church. So this is possibly why I’m so sensitive to this issue and why my heart almost breaks when I see churches and pastors giving these type of individuals such a hard time.
Does this apply to everyone?
No, it doesn’t. Remember, paradigm breakers are a very small minority. There’s only a few people who do not fit into the church’s paradigm… usually. Some churches may not even have folk like this in it. Not every church has a Ce Ce Winans in it (who actually attends Bible Study faithfully at her local church when she is not touring, according to one interview by Today’s Christian Woman magazine). Not every church has a Michelle McKinney Hammond or a Kirk Franklin who have huge ministries outside of the local church. But even persons who are not “celebrities,” like the above examples of Sallie Mae, James, Tameka, and Jennifer, exist all over the world who have major, impactful ministries outside of the church, just not as well known, even though we know God knows. I think the smarter paradigm breakers go to churches where these type of pressures from their church leadership do not exist. For example, I know of a large, predominately white church here in Philly that welcomes AND ENCOURAGES paradigm breakers. Ahhhh, what a relief. And guess what, because they embrace them, those special people in their congregations are so blessed and the church is blessed in return because these persons are very open to partnering with the church to do special ministry events and the church even seeks their COUNSEL on certain boards. They realize what a treature these paradigm breakers are.
In fact, I’ll go as far to say that Jesus Christ Himself was a paradigm breaker, ya’ll.
The Gospels tell us that when Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them. He touched lepers. He spoke to women. He had dinner with outcasts. He forgave his enemies. He died for them too. Paul Miller’s book provides a stirring study of how Jesus loved people. This book will help those who seek practical help in learning how to love fellow sinners in the likeness of the one “who loved us and gave himself for us” (Galatians 2:20).
A Word to Pastors Who Pressure Members
Don’t take it personally when paradigm breakers are not in attendance every time the church door is open. Don’t falsely accuse them of being disloyal to God… or to you. Remember, it’s not all about you or your church. The Body of Christ is larger than one local church. You see, as you have learned from the stories above, maybe, just maybe, that person is a paradigm breaker and is about his or her Father’s business, leading a soul to Christ at the very moment that you are judging the person.
After all, if God is pleased, why is the church or the pastor looking down?
In fact, I’ll go as far to say that Jesus Christ Himself was a paradigm breaker, ya’ll. When He went on a road trip with His parents, He stole away to the synogue, and the parents were looking all over for Him. They found Him in the church and what did Jesus say? “Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?” Paradigm breakers are asking this same question to church leaders in many churches. When they can’t be found, they want church officials to “get it” that they are still about the Father’s work, just physically not at the church address that day. Jesus Christ definitely did not confine His activities to one church. He had a global ministry, nor did his home church expect him to do so once He started His ministry after age 30… and if they did have this expectation, Jesus was too busy obeying God and not man.
Please, pastors. Relax. Tell your stewards, stewardesses, elders, and deacons to relax too. Let this small minority of persons get refueled at your churches. Stop expecting them to be superheros in their outside ministry AND in the church too. Don’t insist that they are there every time the door opens. That’s what God has called YOU to do as a pastor. It’s your job to be at the church. In many aspects, the church is your whole world, or at least, a very significant part of your worldview. If you as the pastor fellowship with other believers outside of the four church walls, how healthy and wonderful. But please allow your congregation members to do the same thing! There are people in your congregation who have lives outside of the church that are not limited to your local Body of Christ, and some of those lives involve ministry outside of the traditional church structure… ministries that the church could support instead of trying to measure who’s on the “A” List by looking solely at church attendance and how many ministries inside your church that a person has joined. We know small churches need more persons to plug in to help carry out the church’s mission, but don’t put that pressure on people who prayed and do not feel God has let them to do that. Nowhere in the Bible does God say that a Christian should only do ministry at his or her local church or that a Christian can not fellowship or network with other Christians outside of his or her church. Encourage believers to expand their horizons and continue the works they are doing for Christ! Especially if you see fruit and it’s effective. If they are a member of your church and are doing a ministry outside of the church that is biblical sound and effective, support them! At least emotionally if nothing else. Don’t enslave them. Let them be all who God wants them to be, not just in doing things that benefit YOUR local kingdom, but benefiting GOD’S Kingdom. Then watch. God will send you the right persons to plug into the church because you “Let go and let God.”