Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Problem With Pastoring

I've noticed in the Christian blogging world there is endless debate about how church "should" be done. Various models are examined, debated, and (mostly) rejected as being too traditional, too modern, too postmodern, too wedded to the surrounding culture, too divorced from the surrounding culture, too impractical, too unbiblical, too rigid, too wishy-washy, too masculine, too emasculated, too focused, too dissipated, too structured, too loose, too authoritarian, too consumer-driven, and too trendy.

This occurs because it's easier to type than to do.

I think we need to take a step back. Regardless of the model one chooses (and one always chooses a model--if you don't choose consciously, then you're unconsciously choosing the one you grew up with), ministry is always done by real people with real frailties who are trying to give what they can to other real people with real problems and real issues. I have heard horror stories about abusive pastors who have wrongfully wielded authority and deeply hurt people; I don't deny that this can happen. But most of the pastors I have known--both those of similar and those of different theological persuasion--have been people who have sincerely and honestly tried to minister to their congregations, and most have gone through very tough times in doing so.

Pastors generally have an ideal of how they believe church should be. They want to have an impact on the areas in which they minister; they want to see people saved and lives touched; they want to see hurting people healed and sinful people moved to repentence and restoration. They want others to know the power of God that they've found in their own lives. But all too often, their efforts are frustrated.

This generally doesn't happen on purpose. Few people get up in the morning thinking, "How can I block my pastor's vision today?" But there are people who are extremely needy and can't see beyond their own needs. There are people who can't be motivated to do anything beyond sitting in a pew. There are people who feel that it's their duty to critique the pastor on everything he does. There are people who are engaging in flat-out sin and have to be dealt with. And the church, by its nature, is usually a very conservative institution, fiercely resistant to change. All of these things, and many others, get in the way of what the church should be. And because of the confidentiality that is routine in pastoral ministry, very few people ever know more than a small percentage of what a pastor is having to deal with at any given time. In many ways, it's a very lonely job.

To some degree, it's a pastor's responsibility to get beyond his idealistic perceptions of what he wants the church to be and to do the ministry that actually presents itself to him. But often, in the process, pastors often tend to feel like glorified spiritual babysitters. It's not surprising that some pastors end up with a "Get with the program or leave" mentality. I'm not saying that this is right, but it sometimes seems to be the only way to get beyond the entrenched interests that stifle the true mission of the church.

This is why endless debate over methods and models is misplaced. When people advocate various models, they usually have in mind an ideal group of people, all seriously interested in working toward a common goal, and if the pastor would just implement the right model, the inherent self-motivation of the people would be unleashed and the church would be everything God wants it to be. But this is seldom, if ever, the real situation.

It's okay to discuss various approaches to "doing church," as long as we remember that it's much easier to theorize than to implement ideas in the real world. Cut your pastor a break. He's probably doing the best he can in a situation that's tougher than you think.

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