Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Persecute Pastors for Being Relevant..Please! Part 2

(end of part one in small colored text for continuity)

And I still believe...more intsensely than ever..that persecution is a holy word.

But now I do believe...more intently than yesterday.... that persecution happens on a daily basis in USAmerica.

Wow, I cringe just to get that sentence onto the screen; typing it violated my conscience and offended my theology.

But "persecution" of Christians, especially pastors...occurs; to an insidious degree I never fathomed.

No one less than another veritable evangelical icon ..Eugene Peterson.. says so.

So the title is true, but only in the limited but large scope and context of the prophetic pastor's quote.

The context at last:

Pastors have an extremely difficult job to do, and it's no surprise that many are discouraged and ready to quit. Though it may not seem like it at face value, pastors are perscuted in North Ameerica. I don't believe I am exaggerating to say it is far worse than in seemingly more hostile countries. Our culture doesn't lock us up; it simply and nicely castrates us, and replaces our vital parts with a nice and smiling afce. And then we are imprisoned in a "mesh" of necessities that keep us from being pastors.

The Russian poet Irina Ratushkanaya was imprisoned in the Gulag for writing poems that were not so much anti-Communist but simply true....While she knew the desperateness of her situation. most North Ameican pastors are fairly oblivious to their own. We've been treated nicely for so long that we've forgotten we are in emeny territory..

...Contrary to popular opinion, pastors are not jacks and jills of all trades.. Everybody and his dog has a job description for the pastor...That's a problem, but what complicates and compounds it is that it's so nice to be needed, nice to have culture and congregation alike interested in defining our work....But virtually none of the people who (do) write our job descriptions seem to have erver read or even heard of the Text, the Holy Scripture, that orients our work...

(p. 183, "The Unncessary Pastor")

Now, it could certainly be debated whether or not "culture and congregation alike are interested" in our "job" at all; it may well depend upon our community. In the 1990's, I pastored a downtown mainline church in a California town of 30,000; so downtown and mailione that it wsa literally across from City Hall ( I could actually wave at the city manager in his office from my office in the parsonage). In this sort of mileu, with many older Midwest-transplants, that the pastor of such a church was automatically on the fast track to be president of the Rotary Club; invited to offer prayers (even in Jesus' name) at City Council meetings, write a column for the newspaper, etc...

...But now I pastor in a city of half a million; a setting more urban and urbane. Christendom isn't so deafault here and now. In fact, what may have changed is not primarily my setting, but the ensuing ten years. Postmodernism is now so entrenched, even here in the Bible belt of California, that pastors are no longer guaranteed the invitations and respect that came to me in that other church...and era.

Not that I'm complaining.

What better place.. and time... to be?

I need a healthy dose of "persecution" classically (and falsely, I have maintained) understood by culture-wars conservatives. It may well just refine me as much as or more than the darker and deeper brand Peterson paints.

I propose that we pastor types must re-imagine who we are to be; biblically and culturally speaking. I proffer and prefer that we move unabashedly towards these desirable traits; may be find ourselves increasingly:




4) immoral


Any questions?

Good. The remainer of this essay will address each in turn.


"These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self - the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things - and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.

I am telling you all this because I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life. " (Henri Nouwen, "In the Name of Jesus")

Nouwen's "completely unpretentious people" were the residents of a community of mentally-challenged adults that he chose to live among for a season, in order to detox from pastoral ministry and expectations; and relearn (as the subtitle would have it) "ministry in the Name of Jesus."

His clamant conclusion , "I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant" rings heretical out of context; but heroic when "irrelevant" is redifined as "vulnerable."

Doesn't that simply mean we can just be ourselves? That there is a reason we are not called "human doings"? That we coopt our birthright when we buy the lie that we must be relevant at all costs?

Now, let me stop and encourage any of you who may be unnessarily tripping on the word "relevant." Of course, in one sense, we must be relevant; meaning real.

It may trip you some more, but Jacques Ellul coins this "inutility," suggesting that we have become defined by how "useful" or utilitarian we are perceived to be.

As godly and appropriate a goal as relevancy might sound, as Shane Hipps reminds us, in our current culture, "relevance is a moving target"(154) and any quest towards it inevitablly turns quixotic and idolatrous.

In an amazing article, prophetically recruiting leaders into what I might call "holy irrelevance," and (pastorally) indicting any likely any pastor who has ever left a congregation, Donald Gushee asks,

"Are Christians also human beings? Are we permitted to talk about our lives the way other humans do? Can we admit mistakes, confess uncertainty, and be honest about conflicts? Is it okay not to have an airtight spiritual explanation for everything that happens?

One of the greatest causes of cynicism among Christians is the way we lather God-talk over our lives in order to obscure realities we consider too painful to discuss directly.

Consider this example from church life (though such situations are not confined to local churches). A minister is not happy in his place of service. He wonders whether he was right in accepting this call in the first place. He has dealt with painful personality conflicts, constant power struggles, and criticism. Now he is leaving. He is leaving because he can't take it anymore. His future is most uncertain.

But he believes that he can't say any of these things. There is an unwritten Code in the church (and not just this church) that dictates how a minister says goodbye. So he says, "God spoke to me and is leading me to a different place of service at this time. I appreciate the opportunity to be your pastor. I now must move on to wherever God leads me next."

Everybody on the inside of the situation knows what these words really mean: "I am miserable here. I can't take it any more. At this point, I would rather be unemployed than continue to serve here. I'm not sure exactly where God is in all of this, but in any case, I know that I must move on. I sure wish you would deal with the issues that have led me to this point, but I won't tell you what those are, so I doubt that you will actually deal with them."

A departing pastor does a church no favor by not discussing its dysfunctions. How much better to be candid with the leadership group—perhaps bringing in a third-party consultant—in order to equip them to deal in a more health-giving way with their next pastor.

This probing Christianity Today piece actually suggests that "we risk taking the name of God in vain" by our spiritualizing dishonesty and "relevance."

In responding to readers of his "Attack Upon Christendom, " who pressed him with "What do you want?" "For what changes are you asking of the church?, Kierkegaard, denied asking anything but the one thing, the one word, that mattered:



To be continued.

Next: being childlike, worldly, immoral and uncertain

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