A Pastor for People Like Me

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 day-6marketplace. 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. Continue reading

On Being a Pastor: A Letter to Myself

During the month of October, I have taken up the challenge to publish a blog post every day. I have worked hard to avoid a negative or critical tone in what I have written. True, I did defend the role of the critic, especially when it is clear that the focus of criticism—as, for example, the church—is so clearly an object of the critic’s love and affection.

Still, knowing my tendency to embrace the critic’s task with excessive enthusiasm from time to time, I have tried to make my posts this month as positive and informative as possible. Only my readers can judge my success in that endeavor. Continue reading

A Thought for Sunday: What if Pastors…

Today is Reformation Sunday 2015.

Speaking of Reformation, what if pastors, priests, and other pastoral leaders,

instead of functioning like…

  • authority figures
  • expounders of truth and wisdom
  • entrepreneurial spirits who view their role in the life of the church as CEO in a business enterprise

saw themselves as…

  • wounded healers
  • recipients of grace and mercy
  • chastened and teachable spirits who view their role as an example of those who have suffered loss because they had the courage to change, and through it all clung to faith, maintained hope, and lifted up Jesus.

Just a thought.

Pastor Mark, Meet Father James

The saga of Seattle minister Mark Driscoll and the mega-church he founded and served as pastor for eighteen years has dominated the evangelical church press for far too long. I have written almost nothing about that situation, since, even with all the press coverage, I didn’t feel I knew enough about the particulars to add anything substantive to the discussion. A quick review of the archives for this blog turned up only one other reference to Driscoll, way back in January 2013 in one of the Arthur Chronicles, and there I simply listed his name along with several others associated, at one time or another, with the movement known as “emergent Christianity.”

Continue reading

Right Thing, Wrong Way (Part Two)

Instead of being a counter-cultural community, the evangelical Christian community, of which I am a part, is taking its cues from the prevailing culture.  As we do, we are always a step behind the culture so we look like we are hurrying to catch up.

For example, much of the culture has recognized the inadequacy of the modernism which arose from the Enlightenment and has moved beyond its sterile secularism to the nebulous and narcissistic “spirituality” of post-modernism.  The church, however, is showing signs that it has fallen under the influence of the very secularism which the prevailing culture has rejected.

Sixteen years ago, a group calling itself the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals published something called “The Cambridge Declaration,” in which they fairly and accurately assessed the state of contemporary evangelical Christianity.  In it they wrote:

As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture.  The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope.  Christ and His cross have moved from the center of our vision.

And again, Lesslie Newbigin:

What is required of us is faithfulness in word and deed, at whatever the cost; faithfulness in action for truth, for justice, for mercy, for compassion; faithfulness in speaking the name of Jesus when the time is right, bearing witness, by explicit word as occasion rises, to God Whose we are and Whom we serve.  There are situations where the word is easy and the deed is costly; there are situations where the deed is easy and the word is costly.  Whether in word or in deed, what is required in every situation is that we be faithful to Him who said to His disciples: “As the Father sent me, so I send you,” and showed them His hands and His side.

The contemporary evangelical church in America has sold out to the prevailing “spirit of the age”—consumerism.  Doesn’t anyone see the irony in multi-million dollar church campuses—complete with health clubs, coffee shops, and state-of-the-art media technology—led by highly paid staffs of specialists whose training and experience is more likely to be from the world of business than from a theological seminary—all supposedly involved in service to the One Who said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Brothers and sisters, we are doing the right thing but in a decidedly wrong way.

Henri Nouwen, in a book titled In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, reminds us:

Real theological thinking, which is thinking with the mind of Christ, is hard to find in the practice of ministry.  Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists, pseudo-sociologists, pseudo-social workers.  They will think of themselves as enablers, facilitators, role models, father or mother figures, big brothers or big sisters, and so on, and thus join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday living.

But that has little to do with Christian leadership because the Christian leader thinks, speaks, and acts in the name of Jesus who came to free humanity from the power of death and open the way to eternal life.  To be such a leader it is essential to be able to discern from moment to moment how God acts in human history and how personal, communal, national, and international events that occur during our lives can make us more and more sensitive to the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection.

It used to be that pastors were called to service on the basis of their knowledge of scripture, their spiritual insight, and their personal holiness of character.  Today a pastor needs to be a motivator more than a mentor, a psychologist more than a prophet, more familiar with technology than with theology.

In his book, The Technological Society, Jacques Ellul has written…

In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity. … The machine has made itself master of the heart and brain both of the average man and of the mob.  What excites the crowd?  Performance—whether performance in sports or economic performance, in reality these are the same thing.  Technique is the instrument of performance.  What is important is to go higher and faster; the object of the performance means little.  The act is sufficient unto itself.  Modern man can think only in figures, and the higher the figures, the greater the satisfaction.

This is not authentic Christianity, but it does help to explain the line in Os Guinness’s book, Dining With the Devil, where he quotes a Japanese businessman who asks a visiting Australian Christian, “Why is it that, whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man, but whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager?”

More anon.

Leadership As Chaplaincy

About a month ago I read an article by Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today magazine, called “Why We Need More ‘Chaplains’ and Fewer Leaders.” It was one of Galli’s regular Soulwork columns, published by CT as a web-only feature. As soon as I read the piece, I knew it would someday find its way into one of my blog posts. That day is today.

I was, first of all, intrigued by the article’s title. Not many evangelical writers would dare to suggest that the church needs fewer leaders these days, especially if the alternative is an increase in “chaplains.” By placing that word in quotation marks, however, Galli makes clear that he has in mind a ministry style more than a specific ministry role.

Like most people influenced by the army of leadership consultants and management experts “serving” the evangelical church community these days, I had developed a negative view of the term “chaplain.” The literature in this field generally uses the term pejoratively, a way of describing a ministry style which focuses more on maintaining the status quo than on casting vision or launching new enterprises. That is the way I have used the term when I have said, to people who inquire about my vision for planting a new church, “God has not called me to be a chaplain to disgruntled ex-Episcopalians.”

Galli’s article, like a splash of cold water, caught my attention and refocused my thinking. It caused me to repent of my earlier attitude toward the term “chaplain.” As Galli notes, attaching negative connotation to the term denigrates those who serve in the vital role of chaplain… in hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, and the military. Moreover, it implies that today’s church leaders should aspire to be charismatic visionaries and entrepreneurial motivators rather than pastors and priests whose primary ministry is what used to be called the “cure (or care) of souls.”

Galli writes,

In an increasingly secular, capitalist culture, it’s understandable that so many clergy are fascinated with the idea that they can be leaders and entrepreneurs. These are the people our culture admires most—those like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or whoever has made a ton of money and a practical difference. … Such is the culture we live in, where successful business people seem to enjoy really important work, and pastors, if they are not careful, will be chaplains, mere servants.

I have served as a local church pastor, and, if God brings the new St. Patrick’s Church into existence, I will serve in that role again. I have reflected on my experience as a pastor, and the way I understood my job at that time, as I have considered what sort of leader I aspire to be in the future. Galli’s article helped crystallize some of the ideas that had been taking shape in my mind for a while. I have determined that I am not a charismatic entrepreneur, and I do not wish to be one. Further, I do not know the implications of that admission for the work I want to do in the Grandview/OSU area.

This I do know. I believe the primary work of a pastor is spiritual formation, the cultivation and development of Christlikeness, first in himself (or herself) and then in the people among whom he has the privilege to serve. This, I think, is how Mark Galli defines the term “chaplain” in the title of his article. I base that conclusion on statements like these.

To say that a pastor is first and foremost a chaplain—someone who is the Lord’s means of healing—is not to suggest that his or her role is primarily therapeutic. It includes therapy-like moments, for example, in helping parishioners deal with their ordinary fears and worries. But it is fundamentally about the healing of souls—helping men and women, boys and girls, to become right with God, and therefore, right with others.

That is what I aspire to be and to do. I want to be a “servant-leader” whose primary concern is to assist men and women, boys and girls, to become more like Jesus.

For that reason, I need to admit something else that might rankle my readers who are also members of the Anglican communion, my newly-adopted church home. Where Evangelicals call the main leader in their churches the “pastor,” Anglicans prefer the term “rector.” I don’t like that word.

The word “pastor” comes from a Latin root which has to do with things related to shepherds and sheep herding. Its Christian usage connotes one who is a spiritual guide and a “shepherd of souls.” The word “rector,” on the other hand, derives from the Latin root which means ruler or governor. In my mind, the image of a rector is one who runs a church while that of a pastor is one who serves a church. I prefer the latter image, even as I prefer the role of servant to ruler.

Many times over the years I have heard people describe the main leader of their church something like this: “Rev. So-and-so is a great preacher (or administrator or motivator or something else), but he’s not much of a pastor.”  In my mind, that is like saying that a butcher is a great conversationalist or sports fan or investment counselor, but he’s not much of a meat cutter.

Mark Galli writes,

I’ve been a parishioner in many churches over many years. In each church, the pastor has been tempted, as I was, to become the great leader, to shape himself in our culture’s image of success. To be sure, the modern pastor does have to “run a church”; he or she is, in fact, the head of an institution that has prosaic institutional needs. I’ve been thankful when my pastor carries out these institutional responsibilities with efficiency and joy.

But the times I remember most, the times when my troubled soul has been most deeply affected and moved—outside of preaching and receiving the sacraments—have been when my pastor acted like a chaplain. When he pulled me aside in the narthex, put his arm around me, and prayed with me about some matter. When he visited me in the hospital. When in unhurried conversation I felt less alone, because I knew in a deeper way that God was present.

May God forgive me for ever speaking ill of chaplains. By His grace, that is precisely the kind of pastor I want to be.