I know some people who are part of that statistic. In fact, since I first started Bible College and the path to the full-time gig I’ve got now I’ve met lots of men and women who worked as pastors who don’t anymore.
One friend was hired as an associate pastor at a large U.S. church with multiple staff. Their church was in the buckle of the Bible belt. When he was hired he was told, explicitly by the hiring committee made of board members, that they chose him to be a balance to the senior pastor. They explained that the senior pastor, though loved, was shallow both personally and in his preaching and teaching. Their plan was for my friend to bring some depth to the mix. They supported the senior pastor and his driven personality type but thought the church would benefit from sermons with more depth, occasionally, and a process of follow up that would build disciples rather than just attenders.
It only took a few months of “applied theology” before the senior pastor complained to the board and a few months later the board complained to my friend. It became clear that the most important question was, “Does it work?” and work, in this question was, “Does it increase attendance or offerings?” A few years and a few ulcers later and my friend was packing the U-haul, along with another staff person, a former Bible College professor, after the board decided to find staff that would be a “better fit”.
One of the things I think that breaks pastors is this simple observation…
Anyone can do what we do.
I have some good friends reading this who will disagree and some of them tell me how great I am at different aspects of what I do.
I love these people. I never, ever get tired of hearing them say that.
But here’s the deal (as my friend Robert would say), we’ve chosen a field, studied, read, gained experience – and STILL a believer with a grade 3 education will feel completely comfortable setting me straight on my theology, preaching style, teaching content or prayer life. Someone who has only been a Christian a few years will read a book, see a video or visit another church on their vacation and confidently set about telling us or showing us the right way things should be done.
Everything we have, all our hopes, plans and dreams for here and the hereafter are tied up in what we do. Nevertheless, a deacon who fixes cars for a living, who couldn’t tell Greek from Hebrew and who has never actually read the Bible from one cover to the other cover, thinks psychology is the devil’s handiwork and any musical instrument invented since the pump organ probably is too, gets to jump in the opinion ring with us and go mano-a-mano at the leadership/board/deacons/presbytery meeting. They can speak on behalf of the nameless, faceless “number of people” who’ve come to them to complain, criticize or conspire.
The truth is, there’s some merit to this. We can all have a relationship with God and I’d be the first to step and agree that “God is no respecter of persons”. But nobody really applies that biblical truth when they’re flying. If cousin Eddie decides half way across the Atlantic that God’s no respecter of persons and decides he’d like to fly us the rest of the way to London we’d be right to freak out. But not at church. No sir. My wife doesn’t even apply that to plumbing at our house. “Let’s hire someone.” She has learned to say after 25 years of me saying, “I can fix that.” Only to have the final state of the house 7 times worse than it started.
At church, if cousin Eddie decides the Lord’s led him to understand that the KJV is the only translation that God is happy with, and he finds enough like-minded people then guess what the will of God turns out to be?
Here’s the thing. After you’ve gone to school, more school, conferences and workshops, you’ve read books and more books, magazines and other professional journals, listened to hours of recorded messages and teachings, worked at pastoring for years and years – all that knowledge and experience quickly gives way to something a few people heard on God TV. How demoralizing to pour your heart and soul into an individual, couple or family with some spiritual guidance only to be told they’re going to get some professional help instead. It causes you to step back and do some serious evaluation.
What’s the point of “clergy” anyway? Why have a group of people who get paid to do what everyone else can do? Is the whole idea of “pastor” outdated? Are the subtle nuisances of theology (the study or conversation about God) worth specializing in?
…to be continued…