A Chemistry Conversation with Dr. David Fletcher
Matt Steen and David Fletcher, have a poignant talk about the unspoken stress that is causing Churches to make fast and bad, far-reaching decisions. In this Chemistry Conversation, David Fletcher of xpastor.org brings to the surface the long-lasting effects this stressed-induced pattern has on Pastors, Boards, and Churches. David gives us a structure for a new vision that will help leaders to see the end game and sort through the weeds so they can conquer the toughest choices ahead.
About Dr. David Fletcher:
Dr. David Fletcher is known as “The Dean of Executive Pastors” at XPastor.com. Fletch— an affectionate nickname for those who know him best—was a pastor for 35 years in churches from 1,000-8,000 members.
He currently, coaches thousands of Executive Pastors every week through XPastor.org. There you can find hundreds of useful tips for job searches, articles for guidance, and practical tools to shore up your ministry systems.
As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
David Fletcher: Well, with titles like that, that’s why I just go by Fletch.
Matt Steen: [laughing] I understand that completely. Well hey man, you’ve been working with guys all across the country. You’ve been hearing a ton of stories. What are you learning about the church these days?
David Fletcher: Well since this is Chemistry Staffing, let’s pull out the chemistry set.
Matt Steen: Oh boy.
David Fletcher: So let’s pull out a scale of 1 to 10. And this is going to be noise level, so not exactly chemistry but close enough science.
Matt Steen: Okay.
David Fletcher: So here’s what I’m hearing. When it comes to finances, the noise level in churches is about a 1. Not a lot of churches have a lot of noise about finances right now. When it comes to children’s volunteers, there’s a noise level of about 4. “We’re kind of concerned,” and “we’re talking.” But when it comes to attendance, there is a lot of noise. I’m going to call this an 8. Any churches have 30-65% attendance levels of pre-COVID. They’re not sharing those numbers very much, but they are scared. The boards are looking down and breathing down the backs of the staff people. Not in a mean way, but they’re asking some pretty serious questions. Are the people coming back? But now, let’s go to the big one.
Matt Steen: Okay.
David Fletcher: And this is opinionated division. And I call it opinionated division because it’s not gospel issues, it’s opinions. And this is at least a level 10 on a scale of a 10.
Matt Steen: Got you.
David Fletcher: What I mean now is the evangelical church is the most divided it’s ever been in decades. Vaccine versus no vaccine. Mask versus no mask. And they’re different opinions but with strident positioning. So all those flames that people would put out in social media, they’re now directing in emails and in conversations with their pastors. I have never seen so much angst in the church. This is akin to when the Methodists, liberals that they are, now listen to [00:02:34.25] UNCLEAR, especially you Methodists, they wanted to put kitchens into churches. This is like 1880’s, and that was too liberal for the Nazarenes, and they burned out. Go back to the 1820’s and there were churches, believe it or not, that wanted to put bathrooms into the house of God. We can’t do that. So we’re not used to this level of non-doctrinal conflict, but this is really what it is. Huge conflict. There’s an enormous tide in the church of anti-education and anti-science. And when those two come together, we’re getting into a lot of trouble. Now the interesting thing about that is, when those folks - anti-education and anti-science - when they get sick, do you know where they go, Matt?
Matt Steen: I’m guessing the witch doctor in town right? They’re not going to hospitals.
David Fletcher: They’re going to the hospitals. Because the vaccine is new and we have many people in churches in anti-science mentality, we have just jumped on, many have, that it’s wrong, it’s bad, that we’ve kind of forgotten all those benefits that we just take for granted. Science and computers, agriculture, sanitation. So this is all this enormous stress for boards, for pastors, for churches, for communities all across America.
Matt Steen: What are you telling the guys that you’re talking to? How do you encourage them to walk through this? Just like you’re saying, they’ve been wrong on every decision they’ve made for the last 18 months. We’re watching this with guys we’re talking to. The carnage is real in the ministry ranks right now. How are you advising them?
David Fletcher: One is to recognize that there is stress and to get someone to talk to. I have a Confab [00:04:39.01] group of 12 XP’s that meet with me. We talk through issues every three weeks. We meet again tomorrow, but the last time we met, the guy said, “I hate to do this, but we’ve got to talk more about COVID.” We thought we were over it, but it’s still just ripping people apart. The masks, the vaccines, the children’s workers. So you’ll get a children’s worker who says, “I’m not coming to work unless everybody is masked.” And then you’ll get another children’s worker who says, “Well, I’m not coming because you do require masks” or you even recommend masks.
Matt Steen: Right, right.
David Fletcher: So I was hoping for the conversation today that I could give you some good news that Delta is actually capping. For two or three days, it was, but then we got a huge spike in the numbers yesterday. So don’t hold your breath.
Matt Steen: Yeah.
David Fletcher: But what I am telling folks, look, you’ve got to capitalize in new ways with your online viewers. And I would say capitalize with the word capital as in money. You need to monetize these people. They’re watching. They’re attending. So make them now go from the outer circle into the next circle in. Give them ways to give. Give them ways to join small groups. Emphasize… well, we’ll talk about encouragement in a minute. Another thing is, the third item I see here in the horizon is, get a balance on intellectual capital in your life. Get a balance on medial science in your life and be consistent. So if you’re anti-vax, why? What, are you just reading on Facebook? Look at honest medical views, not what the fringes are saying. And then be consistent. Are you vaccinating your children with measles, mumps, and rubella? Well, yeah. Why? And don’t give me the, “Well, we know that Jonathan Edwards died of the smallpox vaccine.” Great, that was 1820. Science has come a little bit further in 200 years. Let’s get a little bit more consistent, see why we’re doing things. Let’s get balanced in our intellectual life. And actually realize that if we think that all truth belongs to God, then great, there’s going to be a lot of truth in science. Just like there’s going to be evil, immoral people in any area - military, they’re going to be in science, they’re going to be in medicine. There’s going to be some offshoots, but that doesn’t mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Matt Steen: True. That’s a good word. So be consistent, be reading. Some of the churches I’ve watched weather this storm on both sides really have been the ones that have leaned into the medical communities represented in their congregation.
David Fletcher: That’s right.
Matt Steen: And really have had them lead the way in this, right?
David Fletcher: So, what I do is I read two newspapers every day. I read The Wall Street Journal, that gives me my conservative side. And then I read The New York Times because I want to know what the left has to say. And then somewhere in there, I’m going to begin drawing my conclusions. I want to do it with reasons, I want to do it prayerfully. I really want to be a thinking person because God gave me a mind to think with, believe it or not. And emotions that I want to work through.
Matt Steen: Exactly. That’s incredibly wise. So you said that you wanted to get to encouragement later. So?
David Fletcher: I have a verse. I like the book. The Bible is not only a bestseller, but it is on my digital bookshop. I don’t even have a bookshelf anymore. Did I tell you that, Matt?
Matt Steen: No.
David Fletcher: Every print book of mine is gone. I gave them all away.
Matt Steen: I’m about 75% of the way there. I want to be you. I have a dear friend who wanted to give me his latest version of a study Bible, and I had to say, “Gene, I don’t have print books anymore.” He got it. Okay, here’s out of Ecclesiastes 3:1. “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” We do need to take the long haul. It’s not a very American view. It’s more of an Asian view. But we need to take what Geert Hofstede, great studier of culture said, we need to take a long-term orientation. So where’s this going long-term? What are the long-term things that our own lives and in our own congregation, because believe it or not, COVID will pass. Then to get there, we need to recognize the angst. This is a deep-seated feeling that we might not even realize, this angst. The picture behind me, you can’t see me, but I’m scuba diving. You can see the fish. There are bubbles. And when you’re doing a reef dive, you’re actually swimming with the current the whole time. When the boat moves, you put up this floater and then the boat moves with you. But here’s the crazy thing about a reef dive. You have absolutely no idea how fast you’re going or how much you’ve traveled. Even though you can see the ground below you moving, but you’re not swimming aggressively. You’re just floating with the current. We’re all in this current, so the first thing we need to do is we need to recognize this angst, this deep-seated pain from people we don’t see, from people we’ve known who’ve died, people who’ve had a hard time. First in ourselves and then in our families. And then we need to see it in our neighborhoods, in our congregations, in our staff, and in our boards. Now we can see this in some boards around the country who’ve made very quick, knee-jerk reactions to problems with their senior pastors. Normally they would have taken 3-6 months and looked into issues and been gracious in severance. Instead, a problem comes up like plagiarism, questionable action that they’re doing - [snaps fingers] poof, you’re fired. Very little process. But why has that changed? Because of this angst going on. We don’t understand how intense and tight we are.
Matt Steen: How suspicious we are.
David Fletcher: That’s right. That’s good. I would say my second thing of encouragement - so we need to recognize that it will pass. But we need to be about the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5: 3-9. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure at heart. So let’s move people from where our society and our newspapers want us to be concerned. They’re real issues, but we don’ need to get the hype of the newspapers. Remember, Matt, what is the one purpose of being in the newspaper business?
Matt Steen: Sell subscriptions and sell ads.
David Fletcher: That’s right. The whole media business only works on the latest story, the latest news cycle. So they want to take every COVID story and blow it up into one that you’re going to read. Let’s step back from that, maybe watch a little less TV news and read more. Because you can turn off what you’re reading quicker. And then let’s just get back to the spiritual fundamentals of what Jesus is calling us to. We can accept other people with different viewpoints than ours. We don’t have to take the view that “my view of the Bible is true.” That means that “all my views are true” is a common evangelical problem. But we can always say, “I’m going to be poor in spirit. I’m going to mourn. I want to be meek in an American society where that’s very hard. I really do want to hunger and thirst for righteousness. I want to be merciful for people who’ve made bad decisions. And I want to be pure in heart before God.”
Matt Steen: That’s good. That’s good. And you start to model that and see what happens with your congregations as they follow, right?
David Fletcher: Well yeah. Calling people to something higher than differences over opinions. These are not differences over doctrine, but they’re causing the same kinds of splits. So let’s stop that train. Let’s understand where Jesus is. Even if the other side is wrong, we’re still going to be merciful to those folks when they’re hurting.
Matt Steen: That’s a good word. That’s a good word.
David Fletcher: That’s where I see the American church right now. Enormous problems. The biggest in at least a generation.
Matt Steen: Yeah. The great piece of this is that we have the Holy Spirit, that we know that God is not surprised by this, and we are confident He’s still at work and empowered through the Holy Spirit and empowered through what we know of God’s word. We will get through this.
David Fletcher: Yes. But we need to understand how big it really it. This is the equivalent of the Second World Ward in church. That was a national thing everybody got behind. And now this is a national division that’s happening everywhere. In family, in churches and in communities.
Matt Steen: Yeah, yeah, Well David, thank you for that. I think that is incredibly helpful. Just the framing that you give us with this being the Second World War in the church. I don’t think anybody else is saying anything quite like that, but I think that’s an incredibly helpful framing for us as we try to leap through that. So grateful for the work that you’re doing, grateful for that way that you’re pouring into church leaders, and really grateful that you took the time to spend with us here today. Thank you so much.
David Fletcher: My pleasure. It’s always good to be with you, Matt.
Matt Steen: You can find more from David at xpastor.org. Great resources for the church, whether it’s some of the webinars that he’s been doing, some of the seminars that he’s been putting on. You need to go and buy one of everything at least. So thanks David.
David Fletcher: Thank you.