Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What's Up with Pastors?

I found a job on Friday at a restaurant that was closed on Sundays. Keeping my word to Ms. Hardin, I found myself mounting the steps toward two Sunday morning hours in a small local community church. All the worshipers slowed at the door. Closing ranks with those going through the door, I noticed why. The pastor of the church was shaking people's hands as they entered. That's different! I felt a bit of excitement rising in me. Something special here?

I reached my hand and looked into the pastor's face to make a connection. His eyes clearly focused on my forehead. He's hiding, too! The brief excitement evaporated. I found my place in the pews for announcements before everyone sorted out for Sunday school rooms. I cared little for the sick being mentioned nor the planned mid-summer vacation Bible school that needed volunteers. A scene from my stay in rural Georgia replayed in my mind's eye.

I recalled the afternoon sun chasing summer-like heat into my friend's rented house. The month was May, and already the landlord's field across the dirt road brimmed with waves of green hay. I imagined a breeze while I waited on the porch for four o’clock to send me to work. A white, four door sedan pushed along by a billowing dust cloud moved down the road and turned in the driveway. Three men emerged.

One man in a simple striped tie and white shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbows, climbed the stairs to greet me. The other two men, matched in garb but minus ties, warily hung back on the porch steps, watching. Three heads of closely cropped hair and the pocket testament held against a full-sized black Bible in the first man's hands told me what was about to happen.

"Hello, Son." He reached to shake my hand while his eyes scanned my forehead looking for a place to land; I reached back. "I'm Pastor Dell Griffin of Bethel Church out on the highway." Pastor Griffin broke our handshake to gesture toward the men behind him. "These men here are deacons of our church."

"Hello," one man muffled while both nodded.

Pastor Griffin turned back to me and focused directly on the my eyebrows. "Concern for your eternal soul has prompted today's visit, Son." Pause. "Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?" Glancing back at the other two men, I had an impression of this pastor on a deacon's leash.

I considered personifying my eyebrows clearly holding Pastor Griffin's intent stare and answering, "Yes, we do." I knew he wouldn't get the joke. Seeking to chase this threesome away quickly, I simply said, "Yes."

"Well, very good." Pastor Griffin seemed relieved to be able to give me the last line. "On behalf of your brothers and sisters at Bethel, I wanted to give you a little gift." He passed me the New Testament. He mentioned times for Sunday school and the main service, and they left.

The opening prayer pulled me back to the present. I studied where I was, how it felt, what it meant to be here. In me were a tumble of conflicting feelings. I had been reading that little pocket testament off and on for a year. I occasionally attempted to sort out whether or not God would take me back. That brief moment of something-different-here excitement lay as a small pile of broken glass shards inside me. I was ready to sweep that away and move on, but walking down the hall looking for a door labeled "Young Adult Class," I realized that lost excitement bothered me. I found my class, and anger's heat steeped my feelings into a strong brew of resentment. Why do some pastors hide?

10 comments:

Craig V. said...

Good question. I'll give my ten second pop psychology answer. They hide because inside they know they don't come close to being what they think is expected on the outside.

ded said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ded said...

Ayep!

Is that because they're pastors or just human?

Craig V. said...

Both. I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that it's common for all of us (pastors and non pastors) to fear that those who admire us will discover that we're not what they think we are. For a pastor it can be exaggerated because my existence as a pastor depends on others' perceptions of my success living the Christian life and being a strong leader. It's the blind leading the blind but with a fear of admitting how blind I really am. Who will follow if I admit how lost I am? I might believe I need to keep up appearances for the sake of the spiritual health of those entrusted to my leadership. That's a crushing burden for an honest person.

ded said...

I think you are exactly right. I think there may even be a worse scenario. A man remains a pastor because it involves a retirement plan even though he knows he is only keeping up appearances for cultural reasons.

Craig V. said...

I agree. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (and I'm certainly not immune to its lure). I don't think, however, that's the most interesting case. The question I find most fruitful is how is it that pastors who enter ministry with a passion for the gospel and an honest sense of a calling to lead find themselves so isolated from truth and from the people they seek to lead? How is it that we seem to start with Christ and a desire to serve and we end by being fakes?

ded said...

craig v,

I tend to like to unturn every stone and see what kind of worms I can find. You are so right. Greed is the story easiest to understand and probably the easiest to fix. Remove the hireling.

To your last question, it is central among the reasons I am writing this narrative with a focus on authority. I found myself experiencing degrees of what you described and would guess you have felt something similar. I saw those around me feel it, too.

Thanks for your comments and insights, my friend.

Ben said...

I think pastors buy into the same lie that they feel pressure to propagate: That they are to do the job of Jesus instead of point to Jesus.

I'm a pastor and I work really hard at transparency, especially about my faults. I find that when I'm open about my own weakness it illicits strong responses, both positive and negative.

I had a pastor tell me once that I couldn't preach something if I wasn't living it. I contend that this is true only if I am pretending to have "arrived" concerning that truth being discussed. If I'm trying to convince people to worship me instead of Jesus, then for sure I can only preach what I know.

However, I've found the most powerful thing I can do is say, "I fail in this daily. This is hard. Let me share with you how God and His Word confront and change me in this area. And let's live this together."

It's what Jesus was saying with the story of the prodigal sons. The good son needed to repent of his damnable goodness (goodness in his own name) and the bad son needed to repent of his damnable badness. Both sons wanted the father's stuff, but not the father himself. Both were equally lost. But we don't believe that. We think that somehow that "prodigal" son was the really bad one, and the older brother just had a bad attitude. I think Jesus would disagree.

I think some pastors, including myself, desperately need to repent of our "damnable good works". Our filthy rags of righteousness.

ded said...

Ben,

Great to see your comment in the thread! I appreciate your time in reading over here.

I agree completely with your assessment that pastors need to live more like a brother among all rather than one above. Those negative responses to your stance are key indicators I think of something the Body of Christ needs to address in order to mature.

Nothing is accomplished in putting pastors or any leader on a pedestal, except burn-out and disappointment on both sides. That pedestal turns those on it and those following into self-righteous rats proud of their endless running on the wheel in the cage.

Why? You're words hit the nail on the head and drove it solidly into the wood with one stroke.

I think some pastors, including myself, desperately need to repent of our "damnable good works". Our filthy rags of righteousness.

The repentance is required of everyone of us, brother, not just those who would be responsible for the spiritual condition of others. We want so desperately to have God's approval, we continue to bring Him offerings of wood, hay, and stubble as if His grace and love were not enough to satisfy His perfect justice. It is a slap against Him and fully brings forth no satisfying fruit.

Some will charge that not expecting more out of pastors will weaken the Body. That is natural logic and not true. If pastors are growing in love as ones who love by God's own Spirit, then their authority and the wisdom to use it will increase. Those who are supported by the pastoral gifting will do nothing but benefit.

When will we learn, He has done it all?

Steve Sensenig said...

I finally had the time tonight to catch up on the last 4 posts and 40+ comments.

I absolutely LOVE the way you're writing, brother! This story is capturing my interest, and I look forward to reading more of it. It reminds me of the old form of serial publications, and part of me is dying to get to the end of it to find out all that will be told, yet not wanting it to end because the reading is so enjoyable. I actually hope you'll draw this out quite a bit more ;)

As for pastors...you and I both have experiences on both sides of this fence. I have found that almost any position of "leadership" fosters a sense of needing to hide. As Craig says in his "ten second pop psychology answer", my hiding was always a horrifying knowledge that I couldn't possibly live up to the expectations I thought were placed on me (and, in fact, probably were by many).

As soon as we lose the "one of us" mentality, it's all over. And we have immediately crossed that line that Jesus told us not to cross. We must, as Peter wrote in his first epistle, shepherd the flock AMONG us, not beneath us.

Can't wait to see you this weekend, my dear friend and brother!!