January 23, 2021

A Second Look at the Ordinary Pastor

pastoroffice.jpgLynn (fictional) wrote me a letter with complaints about her pastor.

Lynn,

It was good to hear from you. It sounds as if your new home and John’s new job are just right for your family. We all miss you, but this will be a good chapter in your life together. Hopefully, we’ll see you at homecoming this year.

It was sad to read your comments about your pastor. Finding the right church isn’t peripheral to this move. I know your family wants church to be a big part of your new life.

Still, I couldn’t help but think you were being very hard on your pastor. I hope you won’t mind me being honest with you when I say that your critical nature, which is part of your God-given personality and gifts, may be running in a higher gear than will prove to be helpful to you or your family. I’m not asking you to accept what is wrong or to ignore what is truly a problem, but I am asking you to be in more sympathetic listening mode at this point, and make your critical judgments more slowly, and on substantial issues.

For example, you mentioned that the sermons were much longer than your pastor back here, and that made it difficult for your children to pay attention. As true as your observation may be, it’s far from an issue of real substance, at least on it’s own. Generations of Baptists have been formed under such suffering. 🙂

You also mention that he stands behind a pulpit and you would prefer he move around in order to hold your children’s attention. I can sympathize with your concern, but the pulpit represents more than something to hide behind. In the more traditional churches, to stand behind the “sacred desk” is to recognize the authority of God’s work as different from your own.

Another criticism had to do with too many sermons from Paul’s letters, and I can understand that frustration as well. Perhaps there is some reason he wants to use these epistle texts right now. But if he consistently ignores texts from the Gospels, I would certainly feel it was appropriate to raise that issue, and perhaps offer him a good lectionary as a gift 🙂

Your final observation was comparing this pastor to Alan, and the differences are, certainly, many. Alan is almost 30 years younger and came right into the church from ministry with students. Your pastor now is more of a “seminary and denominational man,” who is less concerned with the opinions of the younger families than he is the health of the whole church. I can’t help but admire him for going against the grain in this era when every church seems to be an enclave of twenty-somethings.

Please don’t think I am devaluing your observations. I’m not, but I have to admit to you that I believe the “ordinary,” traditional pastor is an undervalued man these days. We’ve come to a time when we need to honestly admit some things. Buckle up:

1) We like our pastors young. There’s a lot of age prejudice in the pews right now.
2) We’re very influenced by the entertainment culture in which we live. Our favorite pastors are media savvy, work the stage like comedians, and know all the current pop culture buzzwords.
3) What our children like has become the ultimate measurement of most things in church. As important as children are, I can’t help but be afraid that this isn’t a good measurement of most things. Children shouldn’t be our instructors and judges.
4) The skills of a man like your pastor aren’t particularly “sexy.” He won’t draw attention to himself. He will go to the hospitals, visit the elderly, be there in emergencies and trouble. This is what he was taught matters in pastoral ministry. Is he wrong? I know this kind of life won’t be as noticeable or make as good a story as riding a motorcycle or rock climbing, but he is a pastor and knows it.
5) Your pastor preaches in a way that draws attention to the word of God, not to his own personality. Would it be wrong of me to say that Alan often drew much attention to his “points” and “principles,” but not as much to the Bible. Your man wants you to have a Bible open in front of you rather than looking to a screen to “feed” you the verses. This will be more demanding, yes. But what is best for you and yours?

Here is something to think about: We seem to be in a time where many of us who gave years of our lives to youth ministry can recognize that a “youth minister” model has come into the pastorate. That is not without value, particularly in some settings, but it’s not entirely a good thing. We are seldom moved into real maturity by those whose job it is to make Christianity understandable and- dare I say it- “interesting” to the young. We are moved to maturity by those who are….mature. In other words, the pastorate is an adult calling and it takes a certain kind of maturity to talk about the truth of growing into conformity to Christ.

We are simply too much bothered by style, and we are having a great deal of trouble seeing that the basics of the Christian life are not a matter of style, but of substance.

I can imagine that your pastor would greatly benefit from knowing what was meaningful to you in your last church, but in all kindness, be fair. Let God’s man be God’s man in his own time, style and personality. Don’t treat him as someone who is constantly being subjected to opinion polls and applause meters. Support him. Learn from him. Pray for him. Become someone he values because you honor his honoring of the Gospel.

Remember how hard it is to be a pastor these days. Ordinary pastors feel worthless most of the time. All the emphasis is on the megachurch stars, and the regular pastor feels like a failure. He’s not. He is almost always a faithful man, even if he hasn’t taken 6 weeks of the last year to go to as many conferences to learn all the latest innovations.

This kind of church and this kind of pastor are on the sidelines in many ways. No doubt, there is much that needs to be reconsidered, but I see much in your pastor that you can support. At the end of his ministry, Christ will be central and the Bible will be over, under and in all that he has said and done. That is a precious gift.

Continue to stay in touch, and be sure and send pictures of the new baby as he grows. We all miss you.

peace,

Michael

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