Friday, July 15, 2011

Mark Galli on the "most risky profession"

Christianity Today editor Mark Galli has written a spot-on analysis in response to the C.J. Mahaney leave of absence, etc. I believe he pinpoints many of the unhealthy things that are bound to occur when we expect our pastor to be a CEO/charismatic motivational speaker, instead of a shepherd, which is in fact how the New Testament describes the office. Galli's basic point is that these expectations leave pastors much more vulnerable to the sins of hypocrisy and pride -- sins that Jesus most vociferously condemned.

Here's an excerpt:

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. Alexis de Tocqueville marveled in the 1830s how American Christians seemed so blasé about doctrine compared to their enthusiasm for good works. 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. This is an audacious and unprovable statement, I grant, but given human nature (the way motives become terribly mixed in that desperately wicked human heart) and personal experience, I will stick to it.

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. Pastoral leaders are judged mostly on their ability to enlarge their ministries. It's not long before we have to rely on "systems" to track and follow newcomers. It is the rare church now that can depend on members naturally noticing newcomers, or on their reaching out to them with simple hospitality. That has become the job of a committee, which is overseen by a staff member. With increasing size comes an increasing temptation to confuse evangelism with marketing, the remarkably efficient and effective if impersonal science of getting people in the doors.

With the longing for size comes a commitment to efficiency. 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. The large church pastor may not personally tell the nursery volunteers to repaint the 2–3 year-old room, but when he notices a spot of peeling paint as he passes by, the pastor will tell someone who will tell someone, and it will get done in short order.

I think you'll find the whole piece thought-provoking. I'm thankful to be part of a church where the pastors still spend a good deal of their time visiting the sick and shepherding individual members of the flock. Nevertheless, the temptation is still there -- even in smaller churches -- to succumb to the imperatives of worldly success. Which is why Galli's other main point is so good -- we should be praying, praying, praying for our pastors! The enemy is just as happy to take down a pastor thru pride as he is to take them down thru sexual or financial scandal.

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