He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

I have a love/hate relationship with the pastoral office. There, I’ve said it. I love what the office should be. I hate what it’s become. I love the idea of the biblical pastor. I hate the idea of the 21st-century American pastor. I love what I could be, by God’s grace. I hate what I’m pressured to be, by man’s expectations. I love seeing the flock eat week-in, week-out. I hate the ecclesiastical steroids that tempt them between meals. I love what churches need to be biblical. I hate what churches expect to be successful. I love the institution. I hate institutionalism. I love that Jesus doesn’t need me to adorn his bride. I hate that he doesn’t need me to adorn his bride.

Like many pastors I’ve struggled to reconcile what I should be with what “they” say I should be. The tri-fold glossy pamphlets I receive peddle a pastor who is marketable, administratively brilliant, motivational, highly-starched and sharply-creased. A baptized Tony Robbins. A sanctified Gap model. A glorified spiritual guru.

Frankly, I have absolutely no desire to be any of those things. Well, I do like a starched shirt from time to time. It’s the Arthur Andersen in me. But, I’m neither wired nor care to be a marketing genius who cleverly packages the gospel at discount rates. I simply can’t stomach the Hollywoodization of the church in the name of cultural relevance. Why has “church” gotten so complicated? Where is the simplicity of biblical community? The elephant has drown in an inch of water.

Maybe I’m dead wrong and prideful, but I’ve felt (very, very) guilty for a long time that I’m not, nor care to be, that guy. I feared that maybe I don’t really love the lost or the church. Who is that guy? Joe Smiley with a PhD, MBA and PsyD who dazzles the masses with his organizational and rhetorical wizardry. He’s an entrepreneurial team player who offends no one while defending everyone.

I just want to be pastor.

  • A guy who prepares consistent biblical truth because it prepares him to kill sin and love Jesus.
  • A guy who regularly prays with and for the people rather than “strategizes” about prayer.
  • A guy who ‘d rather help a brother/sister over coffee than attend some executive meeting that caters to our inner pope.
  • A guy who doesn’t want to sell appearances to sexy Christians, but invites the broke, lame and outcast to the head table of God’s grace.
  • A guy more concerned about becoming like Christ than doing tricks for him.
  • A guy who doesn’t have to be someone he’s not.
  • A guy who has little figured out, but wants to lead the band of the ignorant to the surpassing knowledge of Christ.
  • A guy who doesn’t preach for a living, but lives to preach.
  • A guy who doesn’t need to finish first, just finish together. The village idiot may be an idiot, but at least he still has the village.

Two particular resources have helped me recently peak out of the shadows. David Wells book No Place for Truth and particularly the chapter entitled “The New Disablers” freshened the breeze. Wells masterfully describes why I feel guilty about modern expectations; and why we’ve assumed these new expectations as normal pastoral work. I can’t come close to summarizing Wells, but you’d do well to try yourself. For perhaps the first time I finally felt free to hate that guy and still have hope that I might one day be a good pastor. The square peg need not fit anywhere. Of course, now God must have mercy on my hate!

Also, Michael Horton wrote an article in the latest Touchstone Magazine, whose March theme is pastoral ministry. The article entitled “All Crossed Up” addresses the very issues raised in part by Wells. I close with several selections from Horton’s article:

“Just as traditionalism is a parody of a living tradition, a ministry defined by the entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative capacities of today’s ‘super-apostles’ should not be mistaken for genuine growth and outreach. Marking the remarkable missionary advances of the apostles, we meet repeatedly in the Book of Acts the phrase, ‘the word of God spread.'”

“When churches abandon the ordinary ministry for extraordinary ‘excitements sufficient to induce conversion [quoting Charles Finney], eventually the innovations become traditions and the insatiable craving for ever-new experiences of spontaneous expressivism, like a drug addiction, leads eventually to the spiritual equivalent of a heart attack. Tragically, the landscape of American religion is littered with successive waves of ‘revival’ (often patterned on American trends in salesmanship) followed inevitably by periods of spiritual fatigue and skepticism.”

“Instead of focusing ecclesial faith and practice on marketing Jesus to the ‘unchurched,’ the apostolic pattern was to draw aimless drifters into the covenantal drama already in progress. To become a Christian was already to begin one’s lifelong journey in the company of pilgrims under the care of the church. Discipleship was defined by churchmanship. Personal faith in Christ was never set over against the active membership in the visible body of Christ.”

And finally,

“When pastors feel the burden of saving people, selling the gospel, or cornering the market through their own cleverness, methods, creativity, or charisma, they eventually burn out. So, too, do the sheep who are submitted to perpetual exhortations to imitate their restless ‘authenticity.'”

Is that freedom I smell or just burn out?

7 thoughts on “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

  1. Amen 100 times!
    You are right Barry. Continue in that way and continuing helping all of us resist the siren song of the culture which seeks to seduce us to false views of ministry. It must have felt odd for the Reformers to shake off the ways that had become so familiar to their setting when they returned to a more biblical path. it will feel odd to us too, and if we are in the least bit humble we will wonder, as you have done here, if we’re on the rigt track or have simply lost our minds. We must be diligent to encourage one another in this path. And who knows, maybe for our children this biblical path will not seem so strange.
    Thanks for sharing brother, and keep up the faithful work!
    1 Cor 15:58

  2. Thanks, Ray, for your always instructive comments. I do confess, though, that after reading them I got very proud that I might be the “least bit humble.” Oh, how I love myself.

    Your comment about our children is so crucial. We’re fighting for the next generation of churchmen and churchwomen. May we pass down the vocabulary of “Word, sacrament and discipline” rather than “contemporary, emergent and missional”.

  3. wow! I think every rural and small church pastor should read this post. It was a huge encouragement to me today.

  4. ruralchurch,

    Thank you, my friend, for your kind words. God be praised for his encouragement of you. May it serve to ignite zeal in your heart, home and congregation this weekend.

  5. Found you via Milton Stanley & Adrian Warnock who quoted you on their blogs.

    Wow! I say AMEN to this! Every pastor in Atlanta would benefit to read this post of yours. God bless you. You’re the kind of pastor we need. Keep your face & heart to the Son. I am so thankful that you are being yourself in Christ.


  6. Blessings to you, Vickie. I’d consult my congregation before assuming I’m the pastor we need! God be praised nonetheless for your kind encouragement.

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