Contemporary Christianity in the U.S., especially of the megachurch variety, is a typically American phenomenon. As soon as it achieved some popular “success,” its leaders began to treat it as a product and to develop programs to enable the product to scale in the marketplace. If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you know where this leads. Ultimately, it’s not the quality of the product that is most important, it is the efficiency of the business plan and the energy and savvy of its marketers.
Genuine faith is not a commodity, however, and the church is not a merchant selling a product. Genuine faith is based on a trusting relationship, with God and with other people. It is not efficiently scalable. It is messy, inconsistent, and notoriously inefficient. It’s more like a family than a business.
In a business, you cut loose the unproductive and inefficient and focus on the keen, the sharp, the attractive. In a family, however, you’re stuck with Uncle Leo who belches at the table and Cousin Ida who cries all the time.
I have served the church all of my adult life in a variety of roles, including as a pastor. Like everyone, I have lived through times of stress and loss—physically, materially and emotionally. Sadly, in none of these moments of deepest need has the institutional church been there for my family and me. Ironically, much of that reality has arisen from the fact that I have served the church all of my adult life.
For example, when you move from congregational ministry to another type of service, it is easy to fall through the cracks during the transition, so far as being part of a caring community is concerned. For that reason, many of those times when we most needed the sustaining presence of a community, no congregation regarded us as part of the family. Despite this, we remain committed to the idea of church as the community of faith.
I love writing, and I expect to use my gifts in that area for as long as I have physical strength and mental clarity. Some of my readers have even told me they think of me as filling something of a pastoral role in their lives, irrespective of their other church involvements. That is both gratifying and humbling.
Still, there is something about the hands-on, face-to-face interaction of pastoral ministry in the flesh that simply beckons me, even though I was never really very good at it. I miss the conversations over coffee, the prayers at the bedside, the sharing of rites of passage such as baptism, confirmation, weddings, and even funerals. And, truth be told, I’d like to have an opportunity to be the kind of pastor I never was.
Specifically, I would like to be a pastor for people like me. By that I mean a person to represent God for people who believe in God, even love God, especially the God who comes to us in Jesus, but who have questions and doubts and don’t want to be judged or abandoned because of them.
I would like to be a pastor who is a less-than-perfect human serving God on behalf of less-than-perfect humans who want to seek God in a context that celebrates our humanity, makes room for our flaws and failures, and doesn’t require us to pretend to be something we are not in order to experience acceptance.
I would like to be a pastor for people who, while they identify as Christians, nevertheless understand the sometimes-sordid history of the church—as a result of misinterpretation and misapplication of the Bible—well enough to know that our beliefs and convictions should be held lightly and with humility.
I would like to be a pastor for people who are tired of all the wrangling over theological issues and simply want to return to the basic two-point theology of Jesus—”Love God and love each other.” Everything else is just an extension or application of that.
Finally, a bit of unsolicited advice for any reading this who might be considering a church ministry career. If you want to measure your success by your effectiveness in the marketplace, then start a business, don’t become a pastor. The church does not exist to advance the career aspirations of its leadership. But by all means, if you value relationship over productivity and understanding over efficiency, consider devoting your life to the service of the people of God.