In AD 324, Constantine the Great defeated his rival claimant to the Roman throne. After deciding that Rome was a poor location for his capital, Constantine choose the city of Byzantium for the seat of government. Straddling the connection point between Europe and Asia, Byzantium was the perfect spot for managing the European, Asian, and North African territories of the Roman Empire. There was a catch: it was too small.
In AD 330, the city was named Constantinople. An enormous building project began to enlarge the rather small metropolis, with armies of workers, craftsmen, and artisans. The new emperor was in a hurry, and passed his urgency on to his subjects. In their haste to fill the city with works of art and beauty worthy of an emperor, officials sent collectors throughout the empire gathering statues, columns and carvings from all nations. It was faster to take and transport these works than to carve new ones entirely. The scavenging was so efficient that Saint Jerome, writing in the same city years later, was to describe Constantinople as a city clothed in the nakedness of the Empire.
In the 1980’s a similar phenomenon took place in the free enterprise world of finance and business. Head-hunters, people charged with scavenging top-tier talent from industry and business, recruited the brightest minds in their fields in order to place them with other companies. Pillaging one company in order to serve another was just business as usual in a time when personnel demands out-stripped supply.
The trend continues today in the North American Christian environment. Churches choose not to raise up the next generation of church leaders, preferring instead to hire another church’s pastor. Mission agencies invest in workers, nurturing and growing tomorrow’s leaders only to see another organization with deeper pockets hire those apprentices away. Pastor search committees start with applicants from outside the church first, and only look within if there is no other option. Mentoring and apprenticeships, once a staple of producing a continuous flow of skilled workers in any field, no longer has a place in the North American church. And each church looks to dress itself in the nakedness of another.
Unlike fourth century cities and 80’s-era businesses, churches should not look to advance themselves at the expense of another. Churches, agencies, and ministries have a responsibility to serve their people in a fashion similar to Jesus’: invest in the lives and potential of those who are present and willing. Train them, mentor them, nurture them until they are prepared to fill the shoes of elder leaders who have come to the end of a long faithful journey. Churches and leaders must devote themselves to the task of making sure their people, their offspring are capable of standing on their own two feet when the call to God’s service comes. The Christian community’s failure to do this, to invest and nurture, seems to have guaranteed that the call will never come because their people are not ready.
While serving their people, these organizations also have a responsibility to serve the entire Christian community. Christian ministries and agencies must recall that we are one, linked in our faith and in our position within the family of God. Pillaging the staff of Ministry X in order to fill a position at Church Y ultimately hurts both. Ministry X will need a new staff member and Church Y has taught its members that none of them will ever be good enough to lead a church. Both ministries are jerked off course as new parts are massaged into place and new gaps are slowly filled. Is it any wonder tenures are down, pastors are scarce, and leadership structures are aging?
Whose clothes are these, and where did I get them? And whose clothes are you wearing?