(Read part one here)
I once heard a bonehead preacher rant about lonely people. “If they had a good relationship with God then they would never be lonely because God is our best friend!”
It was his way of telling randy university students that boyfriend/girlfriend relationships are not the epicenter of the known galaxy. “You don’t need a boyfriend,” he spewed. “All you need is Jesus. Let Jesus be your boyfriend.”
I guess he missed that part of the creation story where it said that it wasn’t good for the man to be alone. I’m guessing this applies to women as well.
But Gnostic heresies aside. I often hear the same sorts of things coming from pastors as it relates to their work.
“Don’t worry about results, just preach the gospel.”
“I don’t play the numbers game.”
And my fave:
“Jesus didn’t call us to be successful; he called us to be faithful.”
In other words, don’t blame the tree if it doesn’t bear fruit.
Of course, there’s truth in all these statements. We preach but it’s the Holy Spirit who convicts, numbers don’t tell the whole story, and Jesus does call us to be faithful.
But I know I’ve said each one of these things to justify ineffectiveness in my work. If the church is declining I can say that it’s God’s fault, not mine. More Gnostic heresies.
But as Lutherans – or Protestants in general – we’re stymied by our theology. Our theology tells us that salvation is by God’s grace, God’s initiative, God’s forgiveness. And we’re simply passive recipients of God’s saving love.
And while that’s true and I whole-heartedly affirm it, I also wonder if we inappropriately push that theology into our jobs. If God does everything, what does God need us for?
But if our churches are growing, we’re accused of selling out the gospel and buying into the consumer mindset that says that bigger is better. We must be telling people what they want to hear instead of proclaiming Jesus' hard road of salvation. It seems that for some church folks, the best churches have no people and fewer Christians.
The way I see it is that pastors, especially those of the mainline variety, are doing the wrong things. I think our job is to model the kind of discipleship we want to see in our congregations. But spend our time doing things that don't bear fruit. Endless committee meetings. Administrative trivia. Surfing the internet.
Instead, we should be visiting, connecting church resources to community needs, teaching our people how to use their gifts for God's glory, doing personal evangelism and prophetic witness.
But too often, our sermons are hastily thrown down on paper on the way to bed on Saturday night. We put our iPods in our ears as we walk down the street so we won't be accosted. And our people's gifts, our best resources aside from the Holy Spirit, go unused.
I know I all this because this describes me. There are folks in my church who are better Christians than I am. And God bless ‘em.
But that’s the challenge, nonetheless. As pastors we cannot abdicate this responsibility. It’s not that we are the most holy or spiritual. It’s that God has asked us to shepherd God’s flock. God has asked us to be leaders.
And we lead best with our lives.