The Glass House
Reason 2: The Pastor
One of the principal reasons our churches do not grow is the pastor:
a pastor who either does not know or understand biblical
principals of sound doctrine, or a pastor who is either too weak
or too vain to put an end to this nonsense. A pastor who can
see, in everyday functions, his church perpetuating unbiblical
practices—whether in the name of tradition or otherwise—and who
does nothing about it, needs to be fired for he is not a pastor
at all. He is king of a rude coffee shop; a guy who has either been
seduced by money and power (perhaps finding both only in the
pastorate), or a guy scared of his own shadow and afraid to
stand up to people he’s supposed to be leading. Which
conjures up this vision of a frightened shepherd, standing with
his back to a precipice, being pressed on all sides by angry
sheep and afraid to make a move because the sheep might push him
over. This is how ridiculous many of our pastors are.
Pastor: you cannot follow people you are supposed to be leading. If they won’t let you lead, go. Get a job at Walmart or wherever. If you’re hanging around for the money and benefits, if you’re staying in place just to keep your title or because you’re afraid of how it might look if you left—you are an utter disgrace to the ministry; a stench in the nostrils of God. You are a phony, and you deserve a phony’s reward.
If it says “pastor” on your door, then be a pastor. Don’t let the sheep push you around, and don’t allow the stupid stuff to go on on your watch. Don’t be petty, using passive aggression to irritate everyone around you, but be decisive and take responsibility. Lead by example, in humility and with restraint in the fear of God Who holds you directly responsible for the nonsense going on on your watch.
Many successful churches have become insufferably corporate, with a snobby, haughty tone of voice bristling with icy formality. The Reverend Dr. Theodore Ellis Randolph Jackson, Sr. The prosperous pastor, usually the white prosperous pastor across the way, is Ted. Ted Jackson. Though he may have an advanced degree, his measure as a pastor is not based upon it. The degree helps, but his pastorate is based upon his being surrendered to God’s will for his life. He doesn’t have folks bowing and scraping around him. He doesn’t need the overlong, formal title, and his name rarely appears painted on the side of buses or on every piece of paper with the church’s name on it.
For Ted, the church is the important work. For many if not most of our black pastors, their own vanity is key. Far too many of our black pastors, even those with only five members, insist on listing their name, in egregious formality, all over everything. The Reverend Dr. Theodore Ellis Randolph Jackson, Sr. Ted is not concerned about his ego. Ted knows that, when God lifts him up, everybody will know who Ted Jackson is. He won’t need to tell them. He won’t need to plaster his name all over everything. Everybody knows Ted and everybody knows Ted is the pastor of Grace Fellowship. Ted is not insecure or ego-driven.
But Ted also comes from a different tradition. Ours is a tradition of oppression and abuse, society stripping black men of the simple dignity of being human, entitled to the same inalienable rights as white men. The formality of The Reverend Dr. Theodore Ellis Randolph Jackson, Sr. is steeped in that tradition of black men needing to underline themselves and demand respect of those around them. While I understand the roots of this tradition, the tradition itself is not biblical. And many, if not most, of our black pastors conduct themselves in egregiously unbiblical ways, starting, first and foremost, with such sinful and unnecessary self-promotion; the haughty formality, acceptance and even encouragement of congregants to worship the pastor more than they actually worship Christ.
There's a lot of snobbery in the black church, the leadership—typically well-off people with time on their hands who can buy their way into leadership, and folk with advanced academic degrees. Assessing the worth and value of people based on academic letters or material worth is simply not biblical, but this is what we do. It's what we've always done, these terribly vain church ladies with outrageous, huge, silly hats, wearing fur at the first implication of fall. The haves parking their freshly detailed Benzes out front, while the have-nots circle the block in Hyundais looking for parking spaces.
This behavior, besides being childish, immature and cruel, is specifically not biblical (Romans 2:11). God doesn't respect one man any higher than another. We are all His children, joint heirs in Jesus Christ. The viciousness of this behavior is evidence of a poor spiritual life. How many degrees did Jesus have? Jesus was a blue-collar worker who owned nothing, had no money in the bank, and relied on the faithfulness of believers for food and board. His followers were day laborers—fishermen, a tax collector. Only Luke, the physician, had advanced schooling. None had a lot of money.
None of which is meant to denounce education or prosperity, but to move them from the center of our focus. Most black churches wouldn't even consider an applicant without a college degree, which is just stupid considering Jesus didn't have one. Peter, the first pastor, was all but completely unschooled in doctrine and mau have been illiterate. He was a blue-collar day worker, a fisherman. Peter made egregious, terrible mistakes all through the Gospels and the New Testament. But he was God's man, the rock upon which the Church of Jesus Christ was founded.
90% of the pastoral selection processes I have observed have been unbiblical, run by the wrong people looking for the wrong things. The anointed leader of their congregation is often sitting in the very next room, but they're spending thousands flying pastoral candidates in from Timbuktu to audition—having learned absolutely nothing from 1 Samuel 16, running their pastoral search like a casting call for a high school play. These lettered academics we bring in, time and again, lead our churches in circles. Their diplomas hang on the wall but these men lack vision and many of them are using your church as a stepping stone to get to one bigger.
I believe this conduct is a stench in the nostrils of God. I believe the pastor should be respected because he is loved, should be loved because he is trusted. We should call him “pastor” because he behaves like a pastor, not because we’re afraid of him or intimidated by him. I believe our pastors should trust God to elevate them and not elevate themselves. I believe our pastors should be humble enough to be embarrassed by this constant name-dropping. I would never, ever, approve of having my name painted on a church van. I wouldn’t need my name plastered on every inch of church paraphernalia. Bottom line: if I’m doing my job as pastor, people will know who I am.
The fact is, many of our pastors require all of this obeisance because they’re not doing the work of a pastor. They're running the rude coffee shop. They are, in fact, the church CEO. Many of these guys are simply insecure. The pastorate is no place for an insecure individual, for anyone who requires external validation, for anyone who spends even a fraction of their time worrying about themselves, about their name recognition and all of that. There is no biblical model for this childish, immature self-promotion. The worship of the pastor offends God, which places the pastor at great personal peril, Aaron melting gold into an idol.
Respecting the pastor more than we respect God
Many, if not most of us, will do, say, or certainly think of the
most heinous, filthy things imaginable when we are alone or
among people we trust. I know of only a handful of Church Folk,
for instance, who don’t cuss. And I don’t mean the occasional
slip, I mean cuss like drunken sailors. And, though, by now,
nothing should surprise me, I am frequently surprised to
discover the rampant sexual immorality going on among Church
Folk. I mean, it seems like everybody’s screwing. There’s so
much screwing going on that, when Church Folk are told someone
isn’t screwing, they refuse to believe it. They classify the guy
as either a liar or gay. Or a gay liar.
It fascinates me how these same folk straighten up when the pastor enters a room, or when they bump into him on the street or when they get that rare phone call from him. From my experience, black pastors rarely call their congregants unless somebody’s dead or the pastor wants something from them or is angry with them. In 47 years of church going, I’ve received, maybe, three or four phone calls—in my entire life—from black pastors who just called to say “hi.” When it’s the pastor on the phone, most of us tend to straighten up, police our thoughts, straighten out our act—which is really shameful. Respecting your pastor is not wrong, but most of us have this all backward, policing our behavior in those fleeting moments when the pastor is around, while acting like morons the rest of the time in front of God, Who is always around. Most black Church Folk show more respect to their pastor than to their God. And many of these pastors just drink that up—the awkwardness, the genuflection and submission. Power can become intoxicating and, therefore addictive. Many of our pastors have gone astray, drunk with your hero worship. Even sadder, many of us know this, see the man becoming an egomaniac right before our eyes, but we’re too scared or too intimidated to speak up; to save our pastors from themselves.
There’s this curious tradition of putting the pastor’s name on everything. I mean everything, no matter how trivial. Second Baptist Church of Meadowland Heights (as if God keeps score of who's first), The Reverend Dr. Theodore Ellis Randolph Jackson, Sr., Senior Pastor. I’m not sure where this tradition started, and I’m even less sure of why pastors not only allow it to go on but actively encourage it. In biblical times, if the chief priests had their names inscribed on the temple walls, they’d have been stoned to death, their houses burned, their children killed. People would have gone nuts if the priests dared to equate themselves with God by scrawling their silly little names on God’s house. This is how wrong we are. This is how blind we are. This is the consequences of not knowing God, not reading God’s word, not hiding it in our heats: we buy into traditions that are not only unbiblical, but which are borderline sacrilege.
Pastors: get your name off the building. Off the signs. Off the side of the church bus. It makes you seem small, a pitiful man in need of external validation. Vanity undermines your leadership, and all of this name-dropping is like a severely insecure and jealous woman insisting on knowing where her man is every second of the day. Pastors: if you are doing your job, people will know you’re the pastor. You don’t need to tell people you’re in charge. You don’t need to promote yourself.
man (or woman) deserving to be called “pastor” should denounce
such blatant hero worship, and should warn their flocks
that their first love must be God. If they can’t love God enough
to stop acting a fool in front of Him, then what good is the
accolades and cheers of people who are lost? People to whom the
pastor has failed, and failed miserably, to impart the most
basic fundamentals of Christian conduct? I mean, the very first
commandment: I am the Lord thy God, I will have no other Gods
before me. Yet, there they are: little Tin Hitlers, impressed with
themselves, blinging, haughty, isolated, in love with the sound
of their own voice. Competitive, obsessed with numbers. Leading
a congregation either too weak or too ignorant of God’s word
to realize they’re being exploited. The are two truths at work here: (1) an alarming number of our
pastors are not, in fact, called to pastor. (2) Most of us
simply don’t know God well enough to tell the difference.
It’s really easy to know whether or not your pastor is, in fact,
called to pastor or whether he just got tired of working at Home
Depot A pastor has a special anointing, a pastor’s heart. A
pastor is kind, a pastor is loving, encouraging, positive. A
pastor is an under-shepherd who guides his flock with a loving
hand, going after those who wander astray and correcting those
who need guidance. The thing about shepherds: shepherds get their
hands dirty. Shepherds lead the flock, but just as often walk
among them and, when necessary, behind them to gather up strays.
Shepherds don’t live in splendor but are blue-collar workers.
They don’t live in ivory palaces or drive luxury cars. Farming
is hard work. It starts early in the morning and goes late at
night. In the rain. In the heat. In the icy chill.
Our pastoral tradition has evolved largely to a pantheon of arrogant demagogues more concerned with their reflection in the mirror than with their flock. Many of these men spend most of their energy jockeying for position and looking to move up to a bigger church. The bigger problem, however, isn’t them, it’s us. It’s ministers and laymen who simply don’t know Jesus. For, if we knew Jesus, if we truly knew Him, we’d be just as offended by these vain, arrogant men as I am certain God is. We would hold our pastors accountable and not cower or, worse, look the other way.
Pulpit search committees are usually staffed by some of the least spiritual people among us. People with no demonstrable spiritual life are cloistered together trying to discern the will of God. They behave like corporate headhunters, using corporate rules to fill a spiritual vacancy. Usually without prayer, usually without fasting. Motivated, more often than not, by personal criteria of finding a pastor just like the guy who left or died or was fired. These folks usually wear blinders, having a kind of tunnel vision of what a pastor should look and sound like. Or, they’re looking for a puppet they can control, a man of few principles and fewer scruples whom they can manipulate.
Needless to say, both approaches are wrong. But this is the 99% of pastoral searches going on. This is the way we’ve always done it. And, after sorting through résumés looking for a doctoral candidate or a patsy or a clone of the last guy, these folks line up one candidate after another as these men fly in to perform until the church finally says yes to somebody. This is where these unspiritual, unprincipled guys come from; men vulnerable to the temptations the pastorate brings. Men who are inevitably seduced by all of the pageantry and pastoral worship. For, if these men were sold out to God, were as qualified and as spiritual and as anointed as they claim to be, they wouldn’t be available in the first place. They’d be locked into some work. Churches should greet with suspicion well-established pastors who are either looking around for a new church on the down-low, or who are “between” churches. A pastor who is available to hire can often take on the mindset of a hireling, and he usually brings his luggage with him. But these are the guys who get passed on from church to church because they do not or cannot properly equip God’s people to make better selections. It is a terrible and vicious cycle, and one of the chief reasons our churches are not growing.
A friend called me last week
from a regional Baptist conference, saying he
was walking along the road back to his hotel after the
conference, watching as bus after bus after bus zoomed past him,
fogging him in diesel fumes, the names of pastors—in long,
formal, drawn-out eloquence—The Reverend Dr. Theodore Ellis
Randolph Jackson, Sr., Senior Pastor, Deacon William James
Harrison Boyd, Jr, Chairman—writ large on the side of these busses.
Not one of them offered him a ride.
The saddest part about all of this: these pastors don’t seem to fear God. Their own arrogance having gotten way out of control, like Kobe Bryant, they feel like they can do whatever they want without any consequences. Like Saul, these guys are weak kings. Petty, jealous, vain, clinging to power over their folks. When I see guys acting like this, I have to question their motives, their faith, their purpose. And I have to wonder how dumb these guys have to be to tempt God the way they do, and how dumb we have to be to follow them.
Christopher J. Priest
22 June 2008