TPFKA”TP”The People Formerly Known As “The Pastor”
The following post is a polemic. It is meant to provoke conversation in line with Bill Kinnon’s, “Grace’s” and Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s posts mentioned in the last entry. These comments are a composite of my own experiences and those of disillusioned church leaders.
There are thousands of us. You probably know many of us now as insurance sales agents, real estate agents, or doing anything besides “church.” We started with idealism about being voices for the kingdom of God and soon realized we became mutated forms of USAmerican business leaders. Even Jesus became a CEO. We traded immersion in the Bible for hyped-up seminars and books about good management, strong leadership and slick public relations. We learned that the size of our church parking lot mattered more than the size of your hearts for God. Be Thou My Vision got altered to “What is your vision statement?”
The People Formerly Known As The Pastor discovered somewhere in “doing church” that they were being paid as surrogates for the congregation’s spirituality. You know, the old saw, “Pastors are paid to be good; the people are good for nothing.” People seem to tell others more about their pastor(s) than about Jesus, their Savior. Of course, this made pastors feel good and loved and valued. Then it dawned on us, we were feeling good for all the wrong reasons. We were dynamic communicators, we awed people with exegetical biblical wonders, we spoke notebooks full of outlines with cute stories and precise principles and timely applications. We “rightly handled the word of truth” as a magician handles his tricks. What a one-man show. Little did we realize that all our song-and-dance additions overshadowed the eternal Word itself. For all our proclamation about the “sufficiency of Scripture,” we communicated as if that Word needed our 2 cents worth. And our razzle-dazzle knowledge of Hebrew and Greek helped us create messages that made you feel totally inadequate to do serious Bible study on your own. So, you either read a fluffy devotional snippet each day or ran off to Bible Study Fellowship to really learn the Word.
The People Formerly Known As The Pastor wrestled with conflicting ego issues. Some felt the rush of power over people. Some even said that in order to get to God, you had to go through us. We were your covering (a term never used in pastoral ministry until the 1970s). We were “the Lord’s anointed.” Don’t touch us. Being charged with the eternal well-being of souls is heady stuff. And, sadly, it went to our heads. We became commanders rather than servants. We liked the feeling of bossing people around…in the name of the Lord, of course. When you confronted us with our spiritual abuse of you, we were quick and smooth, savvy and cunning, and we made you feel like it was all your fault. On the other hand, others of us were scared to death of you. You gave us our paycheck. You gave us benefits. Unknown to us, you called us to your church in order to get your way. We thought we were authentically praying to God, “Your will be done…,” but it became apparent that the will of God was the will of those who had the money. We became people-pleasers at the cost of our own dreams. Eventually the commanders among us got kicked out of the church and the fearful among us got scared out. Selling shoes looked mighty appealing.
The People Formerly Known As The Pastor ran up school bills, too, going to college and seminary. It’s costly learning Hebrew and Greek these days. Our peers in the “market place” were making twice, sometimes 3 and 4 times the salary we were offered. We were told to live by faith. We saw the rampant materialism permeate the church and we baptized it with “being relevant with the culture.” We officiated at very high-priced weddings and worried how we would get our own kids married. Spring Break meant Disney-World for you and your kids and a trip to see relatives for us. We tried to remember the thing about “treasures laid up in heaven” while realizing that tithing was the rich person’s easy way out. Yes, we made you give to our grandiose building projects, our need for bigger this and newer that “for the Lord.” We made you pledge to this idea and that effort. All the while we told you, “You can’t serve both God and money.” When some of us ventured to speak about simplicity, you thought we were anti-capitalists, unAmerican.
The People Formerly Known As The Pastor loved the idea of spiritual gifts and gift inventory tools. Now we could recruit you with this slick saying, “You will find your deepest joy when you become a Sunday School teacher, a financial council member, an evangelistic campaign organizer.” We loved the idea of “recruiting.” We could build our religious empire footnoted with Bible verses. More people serving possibly meant a bigger church. We could go to Pastors Conferences armed and ready to shoot off our mouths about “the hand of God’s blessing on my church.” Note that many pastors really do say,”My church.” Our worries at night about problems and struggles in “my church” were the signal that we truly had taken ownership of what is God’s. When we overlooked 20 compliments and ruminated angrily over one negative comment, we knew it was “all about us.” Some of us needed counseling.
The People Formerly Known As The Pastor were angry people. Not that you would know it. Our spouses and children knew it. We lived in glass houses. Our kids had to be angels while yours were smoking pot and having sex. And, God forbid, that anyone in the church say anything negative about your kid(s). When you “dedicated” them to God on that Sunday morning, the church committed to helping you raise your child. But, watch out if someone corrected your child while at church. You lost it. You left. You were living under some crazy belief that being born a sinner didn’t apply to your children. You wanted to drop them off in a very safe environment with very safe people and then you could forget all about them and do your church thing. You would listen to “Focus on the Family” and then pay church staff to focus on your kids. It was really a crazy environment.
The People Formerly Known As The Pastor began to smell something rotting in the whole “church” thing. Only once in the New Testament is the term for the service of pastor used as a noun (Ephesians 4:11-12). All the rest of the times “pastoring/shepherding” is used as a verbal form, except when used of Jesus. Having accepted a corrupted image and Christendom model of “the pastor,” we finally began to see that corruption infiltrating the church. Apostles and prophets and deacons and elders/overseers are mentioned far more than “the pastor.” Why did this one term and office (!) gain supremacy? In its current expression, “the pastor” certainly isn’t biblical. And don’t get some of us started on the injustice of limiting the equal status of women in ministry.
The People Formerly Known As The Pastor are still serving in the places once populated by The People Formerly Known As The Congregation. At least some of us are. We are not seeking to command and control. We are not jittery about what people think. We are not afraid of the seismic shift caused by TPFKATC. We sense that something magnificent is afoot. We are intrigued by the chaos. We, TPFKATP, are willing to risk significant change with TPFKATC in order to recover or even create local expressions of the kingdom of God that first of all are burning with missional passion and practice. We want to explore with you the meaning of the chaos, the vision of a preferred future, the challenge of being “church.” We dream of kingdom outposts that are guided by the biblical text in its storied form, shaped by the community of the Trinitarian God, and devoted to the equality of all who are in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. What does this mean for “the pastor”? Who knows? That’s the adventure we all are in!
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