Monday, June 16, 2008

Pastors Pastor

If you're a writer, you have likely heard numerous times the cardinal rule: "Writers write."
Talking about writing, trying to write, thinking about writing, reading about writing, and aspiring to write do not make one a writer. Only writing does. You don't even have to be published or successful (whatever that means). If you actually write, you're a writer.

Perhaps we should begin campaigning for the ecclesiological corollary: "Pastors pastor."
Talking about pastoring, blogging about pastoring, thinking about pastoring, strategizing about pastoring, and speaking at conferences about pastoring is not pastoring. Only pastoring is pastoring.

This post from Brant Hansen resonated strongly with me this week. Nothing I've read online this week has touched me more and made me think harder.
A taste:
A new friend of mine, "Rick", describes himself as "too alone", and I can understand why. He's a single dad. A smart, kind guy who's raising a sweet, happy, eight-year old daughter. Rick was raised Catholic, but "wanted something more", and found an evangelical church down the street. He tried, but never made close friends. But, wow, he was inspired by The Pastor, who's a famous Man of God.

Rick was a little naive about how church can operate, and asked if he could meet The Pastor to talk. The staff eventually sent him a letter, saying yes, at such-and-such date, Pastor would be available, in the hallway, but for no longer than five minutes. Rick was disappointed. He wanted 20, maybe 30.

Rick thought the staff may have acted on its own, and maybe his Pastor would talk with him if he could just reach him directly. Rick decided to sit in the front row, next to a table where the Pastor sits. Rick wrote him a brief letter, telling him how thankful he was for the Pastor's sermons, and how the Pastor reminded him of his own dad, who had passed away, and how comforting it was for Rick to read The Pastor's books and listen to him, and could they please talk for a bit, because it would mean so much.

The Pastor took the note wordlessly, read it, folded it up, stuck it in his pocket, didn't look at him, and Rick never heard a word back.

And another:
I think it's really easy for Pastors, for any of us, really, to love people. At least, I should say, love People, capital "P", as in The People in Theory, the People Out There, the Sheep, the Idea of People.

It's real easy to love The People. It's much more difficult, much more challenging, much more exhausting, much more a test of the heart to love actual people: The people who work for you. The people in your home. The people who slip you a heart-rending note when you're getting ready to impress The People.

Ministry is loving people you didn't handpick.

It's easy to love The People. There's a long history of impressive leaders who loved People while abusing those actual humans walking around them. Rousseau, Russell, Marx (Marx abused his only employee, a woman who bore his child and whom he threw out in the street, along with the kid) -- there's a loooong list of intellectual and leadership titans, and tyrants; it goes on forever.

We have a name for those who find it so easy to love the idea of the people, to serve The People, while thinking themselves too busy for people: Elitists.

So here's to those with pastoral hearts, who love each inconvenient human around them -- each person who offers nothing but a mess. Blessed are those pastors, for theirs is not an ego trip.

I get emails every week from people who consider me their pastor, even though I am not. I don't mean people within the Element community; I am, for most of Element's participants, the pastor. I'm talking about people who either read this blog or one of my others, or who were in a small group of mine at previous churches or whatever, who for whatever reason have no one at their church they can talk to about their life, about biblical questions, or what-have-you.

Some of those people are reading this right now, and I want you to know I am blessed by your correspondence. Please don't read this as a complaint; I am honored to be of service.
What I am distressed over is the proliferation of churches that have no apparent pastoral mechanism in place. I am concerned.

I fully realize that in big churches, the main dude has a lot of main dude responsibilities that occupy his time. (Brant relates to this very valid point in his post, as well.) I get that. If you have several hundred or several thousand in your church, the Lead Pastor (or whatever you call him) cannot possibly make time for everybody who wants his ear (even for five minutes). The group I lead is very small (and not very needy, honestly), but I would not be able to make quality time for all of them every week if it was requested. So I understand the time management thing.
But I think of two things:

a) If the head honcho isn't pastoring, why isn't somebody else? The people I hear from have nobody else to talk to about such things. Or the one or two designated in their church for such purposes are constantly unavailable or unapproachable. Everyone's too busy. It's understandable that the main guy at a big church can't meet with everyone who wants his ear, but it's inexcusable that an entire pastoral staff leave folks untended to.

b) Shouldn't the head honcho do some pastoring? A little?
A friend once asked her new pastor at a meet-and-greet this question: "If I'm in the hospital, will you come see me?" The pastor disappointedly and begrudgingly said no, there are other people that do that. Now, with thousands in the church, if he had said, "I couldn't promise I would, although you would definitely be visited by somebody," that's one thing. He obviously can't promise a theoretical availability. But in actuality he didn't leave any room for the possibility. His answer was basically "I don't do that. Somebody else does."
Shouldn't he do that every now and then?

This speaks to the professionalization of the pastorate, and what's odd is that many of these pastors are Type-A, gregarious, energetic, conversational dynamos -- the very people who should be out there visiting with the people.

The current setup appears to be this: The head honcho pastors the staff; the staff pastors their particular areas; the particular areas somewhat self-maintain. Every member is a minister, right? So the Body should be pastoring each other.

But that's not working. It's not happening.
The current setup has resulted in churches a mile wide and an inch deep. Why do you think so many big churches have problems maintaining small group programs or discipleship training? Because the pool of lay leadership is tiny. Nobody's growing up because there's no one to help them beyond the 20-30 minute message at the weekend show service.

There aren't leaders to pastor fellow laymen because nobody's pastoring leaders, nobody's developing them. Pastoring has become about programming and visioneering and whatever the heck, and while the pastor stays supremely busy running the church, the great irony is that ministry to the body essentially ends up on autopilot.

Jesus would suck as a pastor in the modern church setting. He'd be spending too much time ministering to the sheep to help his creative team develop powerful video elements for the "God On Your iPod" series.

Here's the question: What is pastoring? What does biblical pastoring look like?

Brant's post hit me quite strongly because I don't think his anecdote and the stuff I hear every week are isolated incidents.
This is a critical post that I know will irk somebody, but I don't apologize for that. Reformation requires constructive criticism. And there is a dire need within the more influential segments of the American Church to reconstruct what it means to pastor.


Jen said...

Your questions are exactly what ran through my mind as I read Brant's post. I thought about my own largish church (we're at about 2500 people now) and the pastor/staff and how needy people's needs are met.

It made me think of when my granddad died two years ago - no one from our new church came around my Mom in her time of grief or even to the funeral (which was two months later, granted. That said, though, our pastor did come for the viewing as did a few friends my folks have made in that time at the new church). It was folks from our previous church who did step in to lend comfort and came to the funeral and the reception that followed. It's a small thing, but because my parents had not joined a small group yet, there was no support base for them in the church. That's a problem.

Chanda said...

I will most definitely pass this one on -- thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said... la.... grrrrrreeeeaaaaattttt post!

how very real and challenging this issue is...

how very few seem to be really getting with the solution to such a vexing problem...

although... the solution is not complicated... as you illuminate...

it's choosing to do what it takes to solve this vexing problem that appears to be difficult...

no one can do it all... but all can do something... including the pastor....

I don't know if we'll see such a shift in thinking and action on the front lines of ministry...

it's so easy to just go the corporate america way...

delegate, delegate.... dance to the (worship) music...

by the way... can we meet for coffee... I want to talk with you about.... uh... didn't you get my note?... why haven't I heard from you?...

you know me... I can't help myself, Jared

: - )