Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Do We Need From Church?

           I called my last blog “a snapshot. ” Like a snapshot, it expressed the frustrations and questions of a single moment of my life. Photographers will tell you that a snapshot often reveals more than film. However, it also expresses less. 

I have heard from a several pastors. They say that my blog expressed their experience: that the way they understand church work and pastoral leadership seems increasingly at odds with that of many of the people they serve. 

Of course, many –perhaps even most -- pastors begin their career with a romantic view of both the church and pastoral ministry. Our idealism is akin to our courtship with a person. It’s not entirely wrong. It is a kind of whitewash that momentarily covers up the blemishes and faults of the one with whom we have just “fallen in love.” Marriage quickly dispels those illusions.  We then get on with learning how to love when not intoxicated by the heady hormonal cocktail of romance. We may also seek to rekindle the high that comes from romantic enthrallment by flirting with someone else, or even by having a full-blown affair.

How we are personally wired has a lot to do with how we handle fallen reality.  Our ideology also has a lot to do with it.

There are those who expect little from marriage and who are thus able to adjust to a life partnership that is little more than a contractual agreement to stay together to raise children and share chores.

There are those who keep trying to take the relationship deeper and make of it an inner penetration of souls. 

Our satisfactions with life and relationships have much to do with our expectations.

The Buddha famously taught that our desires and expectations are the cause of our pain. In that case, if we surrender them the pain will also disappear.

The problem with that is that Christian faith teaches that we ought to expect and seek transformation of our character. The Bible doesn’t teach that we will follow Christ and be forgiven of our sins and then go to heaven but that in this life we will pretty much remain as we are. We are called to be a different kind of people, and to be different now.

Furthermore, our faith teaches us that worship is a transcendent meeting with the living Christ; “tasting the powers of the world to come,” as the writer to the Hebrews puts it.

Evangelism is the sharing of good news, through word and deed (and through the demonstration of a changed life.)

The transformation of souls is the result of hearing the Word, internalizing the word, living out the word within community, acting out the word among unbelievers, and sustaining this process of life-transformation by a continual worship of God in which the soul is reawakened and reoriented by grace.  

If this is true, then the role of the pastor is to study the word, proclaim the work, model the word, and create worship opportunities for the community he services to meet the risen Christ. 

There is no pastor alive who is not aware of his inadequacies when it comes to this high calling. Nonetheless, pastors are expected to accept this calling and to then work through our immaturity, insecurity, faults, pride, and all that hinders our own spiritual journey. Before the community we serve we must become “living epistles, known and read by all.”

If we don’t care whether or not others (or we ourselves) grow in God, our task is easier. We can just grow our church, collect our money and mind our own business. The role of the pastor is simple in this case: manage the stuff and keep the nickels and noses in the pews. 

If we do care, we will realize that we are both responsible to keep the noses and nickels in the pews and to grow the people in God. And, we must discover, train and release new leaders. And, we must settle disputes. And, we must be there when people die, divorce and go bankrupt. And, we must remain cheerful and energetic Sunday mornings as we preach – or during the week when we blog.  We must listen as those who believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old tell us that any other view is rank heresy. On the other hand, we must resist what the Bible calls “damnable heresies.”  However, we must do all of this with grace and tenderness. And, of course, we must know how to manage money and people well. Otherwise, our Bible teaching will fall flat.

No one can do all of these things. That is why a pastor must grow – or allow others to grow – a system of people equipped to do the things he is not gifted to do. However, as he delegates, he cannot appear to be aloof and unavailable. Nor can he allow the church to appear institutional and cold. The result of delegation must be an organic body rather than a cold machine.

A few years ago, most people remained a part of a single church for most of their lives. They squabbled and fussed in that church. They loved and lived there. They died there and were buried out back. If the church had some issues, they weathered those issues.  Sooner or later they found a solution. After all, it was their church. The pastor could preach a few bad sermons, make some mistakes and gradually grow in God before the people.  He was the father of a family rather than the CEO of a corporation.

In the new church consumer environment, churches compete for people and money just like any business enterprise. Pastors learn to market, take polls, create events and produce programs that will attract people and keep them coming.

I don’t know how pastors can escape sometimes struggling with the thought: “is any of this really about meeting God? “

Well, the truth is: a lot of it is not about meeting God. But people meet God anyway, in spite of all the frantic distractions of modern church work. And gradually, a pastor must decide to locate that place where God is at work within his congregation and lovingly ignore all the voices that would distract him from his real calling – from those responsibilities for which he will give an account to the Lord at the day of judgment. He must then accept the consequences of his choice, knowing full well that he is going to make some bad calls along the way.

The truth is, there is a lot of people who could care less about the Christian crowd that churches are competing over. The people on the edge – those with serious questions, those that hurt, those that come from places where Christ is unknown, those who are addicted, and those whose souls cannot be satisfied with good lights, good sound, great programs and a comfortable seat.  Those who hunger to meet God and be transformed by Him will always want a church where these things remain a priority.

Pastors who really want that should stop whining and just get on with it.

And if the camera takes their picture on a difficult day?

Well, it just does.

That’s what snapshots do.

1 comment:

Lisa Hewitt said...

Dear Pastor Scott,

Thank God, you're human! : D

I am surprised you haven't posted this (and the one prior) sooner, to be honest. I don't know how you pastors do it. I couldn't. Admitting that being a pastor isn't always easy takes a lot of courage, but it also reminds the rest of us that we need to lift you up in prayer more than we do. : )

Thanks for your vulnerability. Thanks for sticking with your calling. We need you. (And thanks for not being perfect; we need that, too.) Hang in there. Prayers are going up...