Thinking Out Loud

July 16, 2011

The World’s Riskiest Profession: Pastor

In the movie Fletch, Chevy Chase dons a number of disguises and aliases, at one point stating his occupation as ‘shepherd.’  The word is almost quaint with its suggestion of middle Eastern hillsides standing in contrast to the urban reality that greets most of us each day.

Still, shepherds — the spiritual kind — do exist, they’re just harder to see in a world of megachurches and multi-site churches.  And they’re harder to see in a Christian culture that seems to want to venerate its key leaders.

Mark Galli has written a landmark article at Christianity Today that gets into the mindset of what he calls, “The Most Risky Profession.”  Here are some samples, but I copy these only because statistically many of you don’t click the links; this is a great article that you should take the ten minutes needed to read sequentially.

The modern American church is very much a product of its culture—we’re an optimistic, world-reforming, busy, and ambitious lot, we Americans. In business, that means creating a better widget, and lots of them, and thus growing larger and larger corporations. In religion, that means helping more souls, and along the way, building bigger and better churches… Religious busyness will be with us always, it seems.

Translate that into church life, and we find that American churches exalt and isolate their leaders almost by design. Our ambitious churches lust after size—American churches don’t feel good about themselves unless they are growing. We justify church growth with spiritual language—concern for the lost and so forth. But much of the time, it’s American institutional self-esteem that is on the line…

With this addiction to growth comes a host of behavioral tics, such as a fascination with numbers. The larger the church, the more those who attend become stats, “attenders” to be counted and measured against previous weeks…

No longer is it a good use of the head pastor’s time to visit the sick or give spiritual counsel to individuals. Better for him to make use of his “gift mix,” which usually has little to do with the word pastor—or shepherd, the biblical word for this position. Instead, he has been hired for his ability to manage the workings of large and complex institutions. The bigger the church, the less he works with common members and mostly with staff and the church board. To successfully manage a large church, one must be on top of all the details of that institution. This doesn’t necessarily mean directly micromanaging things, but it certainly means to do so indirectly.

[M]ost pastors have become heads of personality cults. Churches become identified more with the pastor—this is Such-and-Such’s church—than with anything larger. When that pastor leaves, or is forced to leave, it’s devastating. It feels a like a divorce, or a death in the family, so symbiotic is today’s relationship between pastor and people.

Pastors aren’t the only people who find themselves trapped in a social milieu where it is impossible not to succumb to sin. It is for habitual and trapped sinners—like pastors, like us—that Jesus died. The hope is not that we can find a perfect church environment in which we can eradicate pastoral pride. The hope is that Jesus loves and uses repentant sinners despite our pride.

This does not mean Jesus doesn’t want us to change the way we do church. I sometimes wonder if he’s allowing us to reap the fruit of our churchly ambitions—with many pastors burning out or becoming cynical, or resigning in one form of “disgrace” or another—so we will discover anew why the word pastor or shepherd is the name he gives to the church’s leaders. That very name suggests that perhaps the church should not be about growth and efficiency, but care and concern, not so much an organization but a community, not something that mimics our high-tech culture but something that incarnates a high-touch fellowship. By God’s grace, there is a remnant of such churches alive and well today, with leaders who really are pastors.

Click here to read the whole piece.

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1 Comment »

  1. funny how things never change…

    The one true God wants to be the Lord of our lives

    …and we keep appointing Sauls to be king instead.

    Comment by Chris — July 16, 2011 @ 7:53 am


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