I prefer dogs to cats. Some wag (yes, intended) once said that dogs have owners and families with cats have servants. That has been my observation of the canine/feline divide.
So, when I say that every church needs a D.O.G., you might think I was advocating some four-legged church mascot. And, trust me, if I did, it would be a Dane or a Great Pyrenees, or some other “real” dog–not one of those micro yappers.
But, when I advocate for churches to have D.O.G.s, I am not suggesting that each church leadership team head to the local animal shelter.
Nope–I’m advocating another kind of D.O.G. This is a D.O.G. that I’d call the “Designated Old Guy (or Gal).” This D.O.G. is necessitated, in my view, by our culture’s (and our church culture’s buying into the) idea that old ministry guys and gals should just move along and make way for the young pups.
I’ve written about aspects of this before but, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems to me that D.O.G.s are more essential now than ever. The one thing universally required when dealing with potentially overwhelming issues is the mature wisdom that can only come with experienced church leaders–men and women who have navigated tough times before and therefore have (mostly) the capacity to lean back in the chair and say, “Let’s not be either cavalier or panicked; let’s be prudent and burrow into the accumulated wisdom of the church–not just the latest trending tweet from the latest twit.”
This is not the first time that the church has had to navigate a health crisis that has crowded out other concerns and fixed a population’s attention on human mortality. This is not the first time that priorities have been rapidly adjusted to minister to the hurting and dying. This is not the first time that churches’ meetings have been disrupted by a wider cultural phenomenon.
But, if you are a young pup…everything that is new to you seems like it must be actually new–when, in actuality, it’s not. The writer of Ecclesiastes nailed it when he said that there is “nothing new under the sun” (1:9). Though the particularities of a “novel Coronavirus” are different and require some specificity in the clinical responses, the generalities of widespread infectious disease impacting the church and the culture are not new. The church has been here before. The church will prevail. Church leadership teams need to take a breath and listen to accumulated wisdom–most often available through the life and ministry and learning experiences of that old D.O.G.
So, I think church leadership teams need a D.O.G. To help navigate “unprecedented times.”
I also think church leadership teams need D.O.G.s to provide readily accessible accountability and support for the rest of the team. Too many church leaders have stumbled and fallen by the wayside in recent years. And, most sadly, too many church leaders have reached the end of their personal resources and taken their own lives. D.O.G.s may not have the entirety of the Christian life mastered, but they have been with the Master longer, through more joys and difficulties. Those additional “laps around the track” provide for the perspective and wisdom and, yes, cautionary tales that can only come with time.
D.O.G.s for leadership teams need permission to ask hard questions, to look other church leaders in the eye so as to provide actual accountability. As churches (particularly we evangelicals) have focused our attention on the latest center stage personality, we have often missed the idea of responsibility toward each other that is woven throughout the Scriptures. From the early days of the forming of the Israelite people, through to the last New Testament record of church leadership responsibilities, the “one anothers” mandated often demonstrate the need for a seasoned voice to meet the relational and leadership tests that come to any church ministry team.
When COVID-19 was first gaining traction in the United States, it seemed as if every newscaster had enrolled in the “school of breathless reporting.” Many of them, it seemed to me, had spent hours with their digital thesaurus app searching for the most impactful adjectives. I tweeted to them (yes, I am a twit on twitter), “enough of the breathless reporting. Where is Walter Cronkite when you need him?” Of course, many these days will not remember much of Cronkite, but I can remember his solid, accurate, sober reporting–of even extraordinary national events–the tragic assassination of a President and the landing of the first astronauts on the moon. You could tell he was emotionally invested in those significant cultural moments, but his demeanor was always forthright and designed to do his job: pass on the news.
Similarly, we don’t need breathless church leadership–convinced that this is the one and only time that the world has faced trouble. We need the firm foundation of the D.O.G.s. Find yourself a D.O.G.–take him or her out for a walk.
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