Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Honor Your Pastor

Tucked somewhere in the deep and tight recesses of my files are a couple of articles about how the general population views pastors. Twenty different occupations was on one survey list, and a random sample of people were asked to rate each occupation according to things like respectability, trustworthiness, likeability, etc. Sadly, the occupation of pastor was rated eighteenth in most of the areas. Used car salesmen, or as we say now, pre-owned automobile representatives, were listed at the very bottom.

One of those surveys was taken some time in the 1980s and the other in the 1990s. I wonder if things have changed much since then? As a pastor I’ve noticed the same kind of response from the majority of unchurched people. I try to avoid telling people that I work as a pastor. It’s a turnoff, at least where we live. If they ask and I tell, then this invisible barrier pops up. Usually it means the end of the conversation and sometimes even the end of the relationship. So I often hope they won’t ask so I don’t have to tell. Guess that makes me a closet pastor? At least I’m not a closet Christian.

I’ve never found a similar survey of attitudes about pastors in the church at large. My crazy guess is that Christians (and I use that term very broadly) probably give pastors a rating of fifteen, maybe even thirteen out of twenty (1 being the best). Unless they are scoring their own pastor; there you might find very high ratings on the one hand or very low ratings on the other. I suspect that most church people view their own pastors more favorably than they view pastors in general.

Used to be in those “good ol’ days” that pastors were highly respected. In the “good older ol’ days” they were so respected that they were quite revered. Hence the title “reverend.” However, those “good ol’ days” have never impressed me. I don’t believe such days really existed, except in our selective memories or selective historical accounts. No doubt pastors were highly respected and honored in days gone by; at least in Western societies. Such high regard is still found today in other cultures (mostly non-Western). For example, we have dear friends from India who recently returned to their home country. It is very much a cultural thing to show a high honor for people in positions they value. Teachers their are highly respected. Pastors are too, within the Christian sub-culture. When our friends were here, they were always so respectful and seemingly always surprised at the things I would do that appeared to them to be inappropriate. Like doing manual labor or serving others food or drinks. I was always surprised at their amazement and at his unusual respect. As a crude “we’re all on the same level” American, their behavior could be quite unnerving. But then I began to understand the culture of biblical times, and what Scripture says about honoring your pastor (elder) and your brother (and sister) in Christ. My friends' culture is not too far removed from the Biblical one.

There are several places in the New Testament where Christians are called to honor their church elders, just as believers are to honor civil authorities, bosses, parents and one another. No question that believers in Christ show some level of honor to fellow brothers and sisters. We’re called to honor our pastors (elders) as well as fellow believers in Christ. However, this is something that’s hard for us to do. We tend to honor pastors conditionally – if we like them or if they do what we like then we honor them. If not, well then we don’t.

What does God say? First, there are different ways to honor someone. To honor someone is to give them glory deserving respect, attention and obedience. One aspect of honor is a reverent fear (this is very true of God). Another aspect is submission, which involves humility and obedience (such as with God and parents). A third aspect of showing honor is providing time and/or financial support (such as with parents and pastors).

Honor is a major theme in 1 Timothy. Some have described 1 Timothy as a manual on the life and practice of a local church and its government. Believers in Jesus Christ are to honor one another in Christ because of the honor we have for Jesus Christ. Other verses touch upon it, such as Romans 2:10; 12:10 and 1 Peter 2:17. Moreso is the honor we are to have for our Christian elders and pastors.

Elders/pastors are deserving of honor (except under certain conditions). Godly, Christian elders/pastors should be treated with honor (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-7) because of their God-ordained position and character in Christ. We show them honor because they serve in Christ (e.g.: Acts 20:17,18). Godly elders who serve in Christ by directing, managing and leading the affairs of the local church deserve honor; especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17, 18). This passage (1 Tim. 5:17,18) assumes that the godly elder/pastor is busy laboring in the good news of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:10; 16:16; 1 Thess. 5:12). His is an honorable service that comes from and flows through the Word of God (Eph. 4:11ff).

Since God’s people are called to honor their godly elders, then just what does that mean? How so and in what way? Again, the New Testament plainly tells us. First, we honor our elder(s) or pastor by having a high estimation of their role and work (Phil. 2:29). We also honor them by imitating their faith in Christ (Heb. 13:7). Like a child mimics her or his parent, so too are we to actively mimic pastors who model the life of Jesus Christ. A third way we honor them is by obeying them in Christ (Heb. 13:17). This does not mean that we are to obey anything or everything the elder or pastor tells us. Rather we obey anything and everything the elder or pastor tells us to do that is a clear directive from Scripture. For example, if the pastor tells us not to steal, then we obey because God’s Word is more than clear that stealing is sinful. On the other hand, if the pastor tells women they must not have their hair shorter than, say, seventeen and seven-tenths inches long, then he is out of line and women don’t have to obey.

A fourth way is to show a two-fold honor. This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy 5:17. Those who exercise pastoral oversight in God’s church and minister the Word of God should be financially supported by the local Christian community (1 Cor. 9:7-14; 1 Thess. 2:7; 2 Cor. 11:8-9). We are to count them worthy of such financial or material honor when they work well and as unto the Lord (Deut. 25:4; Luke 10:7). This is not saying the elder or pastor is to be well endowed with money and material possessions. That would violate what God tells us in other places, such as in James. Instead, it means that the elder/pastor who dedicates his time, talents, gifts, etc., in serving God by serving God’s church is worthy of enough remuneration to support his basic needs.

Honoring the pastor isn’t conditioned upon whether we like who he is or what he does. It isn’t based upon his personality, his vision for the church, his charisma, his charm, his philosophy of ministry, and so forth. Rather it is based upon his life in Christ, his godly character, and his work and position as one who is called and ordained to the office. Now, at this point I must say that not all who are called elders or pastors are indeed so, or are even worthy of honor. But I’ll save that for another blog.

Don’t just honor your pastor when you feel like it, or during a special season. Honor your pastor all the time. Honor him in the clear ways God says to honor him. This is God’s will for your life. Honor him so that he might do his work with joy, which will be to your benefit (Heb. 13:17). Honor him so that you honor God.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Xulon Press has a newly released book, The Perfect Pastor? The Perfect Pastor? by D. Thomas Owsley, D.Min.., is an engaging new book about the realistic, humorous, and poignant life experiences of a fictional pastor. More than just a wonderful story, the book is a tool for church members and pastors alike. It equips laypeople with the insights to relate to and support their pastor while providing pastors with a solid understanding for how to address the various expectations of church members.

Paperback: 428 pages
Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.5 x 0.9 inches
ISBN-10: 1602666563
ISBN-13: 978-1602666566
$21.95 retail + shipping and handling.

Order your copy at The book is also available at and other retail outlets.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Some time in the not so distant past, someone came up with the idea of a pastor’s appreciation month (P.A.M.). October became the designated month. It’s a good idea; yet it’s sad that we would have to come up with such an event and time. But that’s the nature of our American culture; and I’d rather have P.A.M. than not.

Some churches don’t observe P.A.M. I’ve had the opportunity to ask the leadership of a few of these churches why that is. Their reasons vary. Here’s a short list of what they’ve said:
· “The pastor knows he’s appreciated.” (Oh? Does he now? Have you asked? Have you been demonstrable in showing appreciation for him?)
· “We show appreciation throughout the year.” (Well, that’s even better and I hope that is true).
· “We made a big deal when he first arrived.” (That reminds me of the husband who explained why he never tells his wife he loved her is because he had told her on their wedding day, and he would let her know if there was any change).
· “We don’t go for anniversaries like that.” (Implying it’s too unspiritual or unbiblical. I’ll wager a dollar they celebrate birthdays).
· “It would only spoil the pastor. We don’t want to contribute to his pride.” (That’s old school thinking; you know - keep the pastor humble and poor. But that’s such a ginormous pile of fufu dung! Thank God the Lord doesn’t treat us that way).
· “The Bible doesn’t tell us we have to do that.” (Uhhh…pardon me, Pharisee, but would you please slither back down that hole with the rest of your brood while I go vomit?)
· “Our pastor is not worth appreciating.” (Maybe that is the case. If he is not worthy of honor, then what is he doing in your church? If it’s a matter of your personal dislike, then someone needs a major attitude adjustment).

P.A.M. was created out of an apparent need. Contrary to popular opinion, pastors are people too. They need “attaboys” and “thank yous” and “we love yous” just like others do. I appreciate our church’s appreciation for me as pastor. It’s an uplift. It contributes to a sense of satisfaction and joy. And, it’s biblical! Of course the Bible doesn’t have an explicit chapter or verse about appreciating your pastor. There isn’t the eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt appreciate your pastor.” But there are commands to love others, to respect, honor and highly esteem your elder(s). In fact, Hebrews 13:17 tells you that you should bring joy to your pastor, and tells you how you can make your pastor’s work a joy. It says he should be enjoying the ministry and not groaning because of it, and for your benefit!

Paul is such a great example of how a church leader shows appreciation for the church he serves. Paul not only showed them by giving his all, and sacrificing his life for them, but he told them. He sent them love letters. Romans, Corinthians , Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are reservoirs of the love of Christ that cascades down through Paul and into the hearts of men, women, boys and girls. Paul thanked them for their demonstrations of love and appreciation for him. It’s a rather lengthy catalog when you read through those letters: they provided for him, prayed for him, healed his wounds, gave him hospitality, listened to him, obeyed him, communicated their affection for him, supported others when he asked them to, treated him with respect, visited him when he was jailed, suffered with him when abused and persecuted…

Notice something here: they didn’t do these loving things only during a special month. They practiced pastor appreciation moments. Or, you could say, they practiced a good kind of S.P.A.M (Spontaneous Pastor Appreciation Moments)! The church I serve does that. Oh sure, they surprised me last October with a special P.A.M. event. But that was more like the topping on the proverbial pie. These folks are SPAMmers (of the good kind). This elder will tell me he appreciates what I’m doing. That lady sent me a thank you card for my service. A young lady sent me a birthday card. Another elder prays out loud and praises God for me and my family. The music leader often asks how I’m doing or gives me a big hug from time to time. Deacons have told me they’re grateful I’m here. One man signs his short info emails with “Love, _____”! An elderly man tells me often that he’s glad I’m the pastor. Women express thanks for how I am with children or for the sermons. Children of all ages will converse with me; some will even hug me or give a kiss or two. Couples have us over for supper. And on it goes.

I commend them for being an example of biblical love. They know how to appreciate their pastor. I wish I could package it up and send it off to churches where pastors need the same. These dear folks don’t show appreciation merely because it’s a P.A.M. thing or because they have this duty-bound compulsion to do so. They didn’t stop after their first display of appreciation when my family and I arrived, showering us with baskets of essentials, food and treasures.

You know what else? They are not spoiling me. In fact, if anything their S.P.A.M. is humbling! Over the years I’ve been around too many who thought it was their God-ordained mission to humble me. What they did wasn’t humbling. It was humiliating. And unkind, unloving, unbiblical and un-anything-good. Like Paul, I thank my God in my every remembrance of the people he has placed me with now. Their methods of appreciation are so much like Jesus – gracious, merciful, gentle, and kind. I don’t deserve any of it, but like Christ they show mercy and grace. And that’s humbling.

If you’re involved in a local church, take a cue from Scripture and from the example of this church body (Cornerstone PCA). Make a conscious effort at showing spontaneous moments of appreciation for your pastor(s). And if your church doesn’t have a special anniversary to formally appreciate your pastor(s), then start one. It will make a big difference in his life, and more than that, you and your church will reap the residual blessings!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nice is Not Enough

Dominic Aquila, president of New Geneva Seminary, sent me this excerpt from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

“Niceness—wholesome, integrated personality—is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even it we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content with their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save. For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.”

Lewis, as ever, is spot on; and I want build on his excellent insight.

From what I’ve been told, generations ago the term nice would have conjured up images of a person with the cognitive ability of a lobotomized shrew. Apparently, if one was said to be nice, he was being labeled as stupid. But that is the nature of language. Perhaps the evolution of the meaning of nice-stupid to nice-sweet came about because certain mentally deficient people in those good ol’ days were also gentle and sweet? In any case, the word now conjures up images of sweet, passive, and harmless people.

However, does God turn creatures into his children to be nice? Many think so. Maybe this is one reason why some find Christians repulsive – Christians aren’t always nice. Indeed, some self-declared Christians I've known have been among the most vicious, vitriolic and venomous people to stalk this planet. I would suggest that God does not redeem and transform people into sweet and squishy gummy drops, or even halo-laden marshmallows. Rather he redeems and transforms people to be like Christ. Christ was gentle, but not really sweet. Christ was kind, but not really nice. And as Lewis alludes to in his Narnia series, he's not even safe.

True believers who have trusted in Jesus Christ and follow him in word and work are called to be gentle and kind. The difference, mind you, between nice and kind is that niceness conveys passivity whereas kindness is active. Most of the time when I’ve heard someone label another as nice, what she means is that the nice person is a sweet thing, quite receptive to all the garbage thrown at him or her. Never upset, never vengeful, never …well, anything. If that were true, then I’ve got niceness tucked under my kitchen sink that needs emptying every couple days.

I used to be nice; back in the day when I was more stupid. I inherited the nice gene from my mother, so it was second nature to be that way. Of course I could have a mean streak, especially as a nice kid. Just ask my sister. As a pastor, niceness nearly killed me. The idea that pastors are supposed to be willing, and even happy about, being flexible, stretchable receptacles for other people’s garbage is both stupid and unbiblical. It took years for me to understand that. Like Robert Glover’s No More Mr. Nice Guy! I’m no longer nice; but I am learning more and more how to be kind like Christ.

Christians are called to be gentle and kind. Kindness is active. Kindness is a proactive demonstration of true love. St. Paul says that love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:7). The original Greek word comes from a term that means “being well adapted to fulfill a purpose” (BibleWorks 2002). When the term is adapted to people it can mean better or more pleasant (Lk 5:39), or someone who is obliging and benevolent (Eph. 4:32). God is kind, which is to say he is gracious and good (1 Pet. 2:3).

We read about Jesus in the Gospels and we see his kindness all over the place. He was definitely kind to those he helped and healed. He was kind to those whose sins he had forgiven. He was kind to his followers, even when he rebuked them. He was even doing his enemies a kindness by confronting them with the truth about their bad theology and irascible behavior. So we see many vivid examples of kindness in the King of the universe.

As Christians, we are also supposed to see vivid examples of Christ’s gentility and kindness displayed through pastors and elders (and other leaders of the church). They are to be godly models for God’s people (Psa. 101:2; 1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:12; Ti. 2:7; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:11-25; 5:3; Heb. 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:6; etc.). They are to be examples of gentleness and kindness. A gentle Christian leader (2 Sam. 22:36; Psalm 18:35, 1 Tim. 3:2,3) is not:
*Pugnacious (1 Tim. 3:3; Ti. 1:7)
*Quarrelsome (1 Tim. 3:2, 3; 2 Tim. 2:14)
*An overbearing bully who lords it over God’s people (Matt. 20:25; Mk 10:42; Lk. 22:25f; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Pet. 5:3)

Instead, the Christian leader (pastor, elder, etc.) is:
*Kind and gracious like Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:29; Acts 24:4; 2 Cor. 10:1; 1 Thess. 2:7)
*Firm, but diplomatic even when correcting opponents (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:23-25)
*Wise, exercised in gentleness (James 3:17)

Just as Jesus and his godly leaders are kind, so too are all believers to be kind. Now, I don’t need to go through identifying the thousands (millions?) of ways Christ’s disciples are to be kind. Scripture is quite clear on those ways. Believers are called to be kind, even to their enemies (Matt. 5:43ff; Rom. 12:20). No less is it true that we are commanded to be proactive in kindness toward fellow believers. As we have seen, Christian leaders are to be kind to church members. So too are church members to be kind toward their pastor(s) and elders. Therefore, I’ll close by suggesting ten out of the thousand (million?) ways Christians can show kindness to their pastors (and other church leaders):

1. Live with him in the love of Christ, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and might.
2. Love him in the Lord.
3. Pray for him all the time.
4. Let him rest.
5. Honor and esteem him (Phil. 2:29; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13 cp. Acts 28:9-10, 2 Cor. 7:15).
6. Do everything you can to pump life into his soul.
7. Be loyal to him in Christ.
8. Give to him as he gives to you.
9. Speak the truth in love.
10. Follow him as he leads with his fellow undershepherds.

Ten suggestions are excerpted from D. Thomas Owsley. The Perfect Pastor? Longwood, FL: Xulon Press; pp. 323 -326.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Model Pastor for Church Growth?

In my devotional message to a group of church pastors and elders a couple of Saturdays ago I mentioned that I had read a number of articles in a popular Christian magazine about “successful” pastors in different parts of the country. The articles gave glowing reports about how their churches were flourishing, even though they were new. Of course the articles don’t give the story behind the stories. Like a dozen years ago when I heard and read about a church in our small city that went through phenomenal growth in just a year. Turns out the real story was they had a huge revolving door. They had a core group of faithful, regular and active members to support the 87% of the people who came, stayed three months and left. All they were really doing was attracting spectators, and hundreds of them! Any way, rather than encouraging me, those articles had the opposite effect. I was very disheartened. Questions came to me, such as: “Why isn’t our church growing like that?” “Why doesn’t God bless the ministries I’ve been in like that?” “Why does God prefer those men over me/us?” “Does it really have to take the latest church growth fad or craze to launch or grow a church?” Note: when it comes to throwing pity parties I'm a pro!

The articles were even more disconcerting when I read the short biographies on these great and wonderful new pastors: they were former, successful businessmen! Contemporary church growth ala Moody and Finney. As I told the men at the meeting, “I did not go to seminary and invest all that time and all that money to become a religious businessman! If that is what it takes to pastor a church then I’m finished.” Hey! I left the world of business to enter into a new kind of service. I’m called to teach and preach and pastor; you know, all those antiquated, outmoded roles for leading a church.

As I reflect on the matter (not a day passes when I don’t reflect on the numerical growth of our church), it can be overwhelming to think of all the things the contemporary (read: postmodern) pastor is supposed to be and do. Maybe God’s gifts and call to Christ-like character and Christ’s work is obsolete after all? Somebody should tell him, you think?

Oh…but wait. If we are living in the postmodern era (lots of debate on that issue, but that’s what “they” say), and the postmodern era has many things similar to the Roman and Hellenistic culture of the early church, then maybe the method for church growth that “worked” then (speaking like a good American pragmatist, because I am trying to be culturally contextual), would work today? What method was that? Reaching one person-family at a time. Their methodology was to build the church one person-family by person-family at a time, primarily in the big, strategic urban areas of the Roman empire. Their methodology was to proclaim the Good News to anyone who would listen in any social context available (the individual, the family, the synagogue, the local marketplace, before civil officials, etc.). Notice, there was no singular, successful model. Their message was to call them to radical repentance and supernatural faith in the new, true Emperor Jesus and to enter into his kingdom. A kingdom, by the way, that was and is not so much culturally relevant as it is counter-culture and often irrelevant. After all, what is so relevant about being morally upright and sexually pure in a society that pushes more and more for immorality and sexual liberty?

We should applaud God for the numerical growth in his church. It comes in many forms, but never with one particular model (remind me to tell you some time about one effective outreach a pastor in Alaska used: church growth by rhubarb picking). However, I’m done applauding men and models. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against finding viable ways to reach and serve our local communities. And I’ll continue to rejoice with those who rejoice over new converts. However, I am saying that all the hype about this new model or that new method is tiring and too often irrelevant for the average local church. Besides, doesn’t anyone find it disingenuous that those who criticize the American evangelical Church for losing people and failing to grow will enthusiastically promote methods and models for growth, while at the same time providing statistics that show the Church is not really growing (defined as adding more new converts than it is losing) but shifting (attracting and collecting converts from other churches and denominations)? The reality is that most of these new-fangled concepts and methods are church shift models.

I want to see great growth in our church. I’d love to see the fruit of talking to our church visitors, our neighbors, PTA members, city officials, clerks at our grocery store, our child’s friends and their parents, and so many others. It would be a life-long dream to see dozens of dozens of people coming to faith in Christ in our church, and having the awesome privilege of discipling each one. At the same time I want to be able to serve God according to the gifts and calling he has given. And do so as a biblical (read: ancient model) pastor. I’m not a computer techie, a creative entrepreneur, a cutting-edge manager, a charismatically talented entertainer, a successful fundraiser, a famous celebrity, nor a brilliant theologian who develops new paradigms and perspectives on old doctrines. I’m not any of those things that it apparently takes these days to grow a church. I’m a simple man saved by the grace of Christ, with a couple of God-given talents and spiritual gifts who regularly pleads with God to use me to serve his church in a diligent and faithful manner, and from time to time to be blessed with the ability to witness deep spiritual growth of our people, in tandem with a consistent addition of new disciples of Christ to our local assembly. If that’s not sufficient, then perhaps I should go back into business?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

There Is a Perfect Pastor! (part 2)

In the previous blog, I critiqued (okay, criticized) a new trend in the world of Church. My ranting was based upon a spoof run by Lark News. According to Lark News there is a trend to replace senior pastors with electronically produced and projected virtual preachers. As a pastor I went through a gamut of emotional responses upon reading the article, from uproarious laughter, to puzzlement, to anger, and then sadness. But wait! You too can have a pastor who has no such reactive emotions. Thankfully, this new pastor will only emote through the messages on screen, with emotions tailored to fit your desires.

In the blog I based my evaluation about this virtual EGHEAD (electronically generated, humanly engineered, adjustable device) from the objective standard of the Bible. After all, that’s what orthodox, Evangelical people do. It wasn’t a purely objective evaluation, nor a complete one; but it was a start. As I began thinking more about it, I also saw some practical implications and problems with this virtual EGHEAD.

By the way, I’ve been trying to come up with an appropriate nomenclature. The congregation in the article had given the virtual thing the name Don Lawrence. Giving the virtual preacher a human name only serves to make it easier for people to believe this thing is a real human (should I say superhuman?), thereby deepening the deceit. Why did they call him Don? And why did they give male qualities to this virtual pastor? Does that mean this particular congregation is still stuck in an antiquated, pre-androgynous and sexist culture? I would have thought the new minister would be sexually indefinable? You know, neutered. As neutered in appearance as it is in spirit.

“Virtual pastor” doesn’t cut it for me. I know pastors, and this is no pastor! What shall we call it? Uhmm, how about PMS for Post Mortal Shepherd? Naaahhh. I like EGHEAD, but I also thought of Automated Simulated Shepherd. People could give it the first name, Jack. But this thing is neither a shepherd nor a pastor. No matter how much one might believe it to be human, it is not. No matter how much one might believe it to be a life-like preacher, it is not. We could call it APE for Automated Preaching Entity. I think a better name might be Simulated Thing that Undermines People’s Intrinsic Design or STUPID. You can think a while about the many reasons why that would fit.

I suppose there is a downside (upside?)to STUPID APE: no God-ordained undershepherd to love you, to pray for you, to counsel you, to encourage you, to exhort you, or to disciple you. You know, all that in-your-life stuff violates too many self-preferential boundaries. What’s worse is that with an EGHEAD there would be no “main man” about whom to gossip or slander, to get angry at, to fight with, to berate, to cut down or to kick out of the church. That, of course, is one of the selling points to this new thing.

Since we are being clever and innovative, perhaps we should develop yet another version of the Bible? After all, the one we have is too out of date with too much of the human element we don’t like. We need a new one that projects the dawning of this new age. This new translation might begin with, “Then Church said, ‘Let us make a pastor in our image, after our likeness…’” But wait! There’s more! To be biblically consistent it should also read, “Then Church said, ‘It is not good for pastor to be alone. I will make a helpmate suitable for him,’” which would require a virtual associate, or virtual elders, or a virtual staff.

Frankly, as a pastor, I really like the idea of a virtual congregation. Granted, it would take much longer than eighteen months to configure just the right kind of congregation. That would be fun, though. Endless hours developing individuals without quirks and problems could be therapeutic. A congregation without abusers, complainers, the lazy, the incompetent, the uncommitted, the half-committed, those who are over-needy and suck the life out of others, the arrogant and proud, the disobedient, the irritating, the angry, the gossips and slanderers, the drunks, and…phew! Such a project could take at long, long time. The virtual church would be like the Stepford Wives, except with Stepford husbands, and daughters, and sons, and brothers, and sisters, and cousins, and neighbors, and strangers. But, there is one major problem with this virtual congregation. You know what it is? No matter how hard I try, I still won’t be able to get it right. Why? Because I’ll be in it.

It’s not too surprising that it takes about eighteen months to fine-tune EGHEAD to fit the desires (read: lusts) of the congregation. It also takes twelve to eighteen months for a congregation to identify the multitude of things they don’t like in a new pastor. That’s usually when the conflicts begin. One of the selling points to this EGHEAD is that by having a congregation manufacture a pastor in their own image they won’t have someone to criticize since they will only be criticizing themselves. Uh-huh. As if that ever stopped criticisms before. Given time, the focus of sinful grumbling and disgruntledness will shift to the associate pastor, a staff member, elder, deacon, teacher, or the team who put together EGHEAD. C’mon! Are we so biblically illiterate that we’ve forgotten what Israel did in the desert? They grumbled against Moses. But their real anger was directed at the most pure, perfect, complete, all-encompassing, super-fulfilling, all-knowing, beautiful entity – God! If a mega-church congregation like that, who witnessed unbelievable live-action, special effects that superseded by a million times the best, most captivating reality show, quickly became fickle complainers, what makes anyone think EGHEAD will do better? Hey! I’ve got news for you. It ain’t a pastor problem! It’s a people problem. And it’s called sin.

The heart of what’s wrong with the virtual pastor is the philosophy behind it. It is clever, but shallow and wrong. It is wrong because it is a sophisticated attempt at creating heaven on earth; and a heaven on earth without God’s involvement. That was the mistake Adam and Eve made. They wanted utopia without God. This virtual thing also attempts to address sinful attitudes and actions of people without the redemptive work of Jesus. For some mysterious reason God determined to work with, in and through sinful creatures to accomplish his redemptive and transforming purposes. He designed and used sinful and imperfect prophets, priests and kings in the old covenant era, and designed and uses sinful and imperfect evangelists, pastors and teachers in this present covenant era. No virtual pastors, just actual ones. That was God's design. How can we think we can do better?

I suspect that if these virtual pastors explored the depths of biblical theology, rather than the breadth of the internet, they would be able to find the mind of God as to why God intends to use sinful but redeemed people to accomplish his purposes in history. I also suspect that if the truth came out these virtual EGHEADs would crash and fizzle into oblivion.

However, I’m not that optimistic. Since this virtual stuff is all about avoiding problems and pleasing people the trend will only grow, and with it will come new and innovative things. This “church” of the future won’t resemble anything of God's Church in history, let alone the Church described by God in his Word. Yet, that’s all right, because throughout redemptive history God has always called forth a peculiar remnant. And peculiar they will be, because they’ll be real.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hey! There is a perfect pastor! (pt 1)

Hey! There is a perfect pastor!

A friend of mine sent me an email the other day. He recommended I check out a news article at It seems an ingenious group of postmodern, computer engineers have developed and now market a perfect pastor. Actually, it’s a virtual pastor. More precisely, a virtual preacher. Now, congregations can be happy. Very happy, in fact. After all, that is the goal of church these days, you know?

Lark News enjoys posting spoofs on the latest church trends and views. This is no exception; and I'm going to run with it.

According to this pseudo-article, there is some soon-to-be very successful company has the ability to come to a church and provide a perfect pastor. The company takes a detailed survey from the members to find out what each one wants in a pastor (hair style, dress, mannerisms, accent, personality, preaching style, etc.). Then they filter the “needs” of the people through a bunch of computers. After eighteen months of fine-tuning their perfect pastor, the church gets exactly what they want: a pastor made in their image.
This is beyond the postmodern. This is post-mortal. This is a post-mortal pastor; actually a meta-mortal pastor. A designer pastor. The future is now, and the Church of Jesus Christ has leaped from church-lite to church-sci-fi, going where no man (or woman) has gone before.
I like sci-fi. It’s my favorite genre for movies. And I’ve thought long and hard trying to imagine what the church might be like twenty, fifty or one hundred years from now. This new fangled virtual pastor, which is really some adjustable, electronic, projection device for religiously itching minds, isn’t too far from what I expected. I imagined something more along the lines of a virtual church, not just a virtual pastor. Perhaps that is coming? Maybe it would be like Star Trek - The Next Generation’s holodeck. The holodeck was a large room with a super computer that projected a virtual reality of one’s choosing. Church by holodeck would provide individuals with a perfect church, a perfect pastor, a perfect staff, and a perfect congregation. Or would it?
However, I tend to think that given our Western proclivity toward narcissistic individualism and penchant for convenience, we would far prefer to put on virtual goggles complete with a sensory suit to get the full experience of a church made in our image, without having to travel. We would wear our suits all the time, and when we wanted to “do church” we would merely hang the goggles on our faces and go for the experience. Church could happen at the office, or in the home, at the Mall, or Starbucks, or, heaven forbid, while sitting on the bathroom throne.
I also enjoy progress: the new, the different, the better. Change is good, advancement is good, improvement is good (of course not always). As an American modernist adapting to postmodernity, I often get restless with the old, the traditional, the repetitive and redundant. This post-mortal, virtual pastor should appeal to me. But it doesn’t and in my opinion this virtual thing is not good. Here’s why:
As Evangelical Christians who hold to the historical truths of the biblical Faith we have an objective standard against which to evaluate things – the Bible. Only secondarily, if we are consistent with the teachings of Scripture, should we evaluate things subjectively. This means we should carefully appraise this new trend against the clear teachings and derivative principles of God’s Word. This is what it means to be wise. To be unwise is to accept or reject this innovative technology merely because it fits (or doesn’t fit) our culture, our era, and our preferences for most things new, different and better. As long as humans race faster and faster into ever-changing ways and times the Church is going to have to continue to learn to live consistently with the unchangeable Word while living with the new ways and times. By the way, here’s one for you: could a future AIE (artificially intelligent entity) be a Spirit-filled pastor?
What explicit things would Scripture say that touches upon the virtual pastor (better to say virtual preacher)? For one, a solid study of Scripture tells us that true preaching of the Word of God is the authoritative proclamation of the will of King Jesus through an ordained man to a community of people. The normal setting in biblical times was face-to-face and to an assembly of hearers, most often whom were professing believers, and often in the environment of worship. The means was by the Holy Spirit through the Word and through the Spirit-endowed preacher to a living audience. The point being is that the ordained servant (a living being) personally engages the assembly through the Spirit-endowed preaching of God’s Word. I argue that if you take the Word of God, the Spirit of God and/or the presence of a living man of God out of the picture it would not constitute true biblical preaching. The artificial preacher, whether mechanical, virtual or holographic, would not be filled with the Holy Spirit, hence this would not qualify as biblical preaching. Merely communicating a good sermon taken from another person who is not personally engaged with or presently engaging the community of people would not constitute the definition of biblical preaching. For example, reading an old but great sermon from Spurgeon would not be true biblical preaching.
A second explicit teaching from Scripture is that God’s clear design has been and always will be to take a redeemed sinner, called, gifted and ordained to service, and place him within a local community to serve up God’s Word privately (discipleship) and publicly (preaching). Whether we like it or not, God has never seen fit to place perfect, sinless, and flawless pastors in local churches; even if that is what people want. (Come to think about it, wasn't Jesus just that? Yet most people rejected him.) That’s one of the beauties and miracles of Christ’s redemptive work: to use sinners to serve other sinners for the glory of God. Aside from saying that no spiritually gifted and anointed person is good enough to preach, it seems to me that virtual preachers also circumvent God’s better plan of iron sharpening iron and sinner sharpening sinner. It also seems to be rather arrogant to assume that a preacher fashioned in our image is superior to one fashioned, gifted, and ordained by God’s design. Apparently God got it wrong all these centuries, but we can do it better.
A third thing, clearly tied into the above two points, is that the philosophy behind virtual preachers misunderstands the purpose and role of God’s Church. We are a community of sinners who trust in Christ as savior and master and are thereby immersed in God’s redemptive work and plan. Part of that plan involves transformed sinners who are in Christ, using their natural talents and supernatural gifts of the Spirit to serve one another. This is clearly taught in Romans 12, 1 Corinthian 12 and Ephesians 4. If a pastor and/or teacher gifted by God and given to the local church is not good enough for God’s people, then what about the evangelist? Or the Sunday school teacher? Wouldn’t virtual Sunday school or VBS or Bible study teachers be better than you? But let’s not stop there. If you don’t like how you are or are not being served, then let’s find a virtual servant, or some virtual device to replicate showing mercy. Better yet, how about if each person or family has a virtual thingamajig to replicate the gift of giving! Since church people are just as bothersome and disappointing as preachers and pastors, we would then have to have virtual church members. That way when we want to feel loved, or when we have a need for someone to rejoice when we rejoice or to weep when we are weeping we could plug into our virtual member. You know, just a few more steps and we’re in a matrix of cyber church! Will we need Neo to save us?
Fourth, this virtual thing, “Preacher EGHEAD” (electronically generated, humanly engineered, adjustable device) takes “having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) to a whole new level. Actually, to a whole new dimension. It’s now about itching minds. One might argue that this EGHEAD can still present sound teaching. However, there is no great leap from accumulating virtual teachers according to our own desires, to gathering to ourselves virtual doctrines according to the our own desires. Let’s play out this scenario: people, who are so fickle, get tired of hearing old truths from the Bible. The Bible, after all, is so….yesteryear. Those truths are no longer true for me, or you, or him, or her, or us. Let’s put together a survey and find out what we all want to hear, make it a little more entertaining, but still relevant to our needs. Right. Like that will last. Soon people will get impatient because this EGHEAD might be meeting your needs, but not all of my needs, and I don’t have time to take a few applicable nuggets here and there. I need as much as I can get and need it now. You see, EGHEADS contribute toward deconstructing the Church; so postmodern. The Church deconstructed is not a Body, a new Temple building. It is something else. It would no longer have Christ as its center or its head, but it would have you. Or worse, me!

Monday, August 6, 2007

An excerpt from The Perfect Pastor?

Chapter 7


Winter was exhausting itself in futile attempts to suppress the emerging spring. This March witnessed a rigorous battle of the seasons, but the brilliant hues of the newborn spring won out like a persistent hatchling. It was Mona’s favorite time of year.

One Sunday afternoon a month the Lee family hosted a luncheon for the new visitors and members. The night before, Melissa, a naturally talented decorator, charmed the usually plain living room with a full bloom of spring. Mona was elated, but had to work hard to keep her little brood from spreading spring color and cheer all over the place. Sunday school could not come soon enough.

Warming temperatures and cheerful buds most likely contributed to an especially pleasurable morning. It seemed everything went well and overall things at church were upbeat. Two new members were formally received. By now the grumpy bunch made it a habit of leaving almost immediately after the service, sometimes before. A couple of the elderly ladies set their watches to ring right at noon. “Since good preaching should take no more than fifteen minutes,” they expected Dan to be finished by noon. If he wasn’t, then too bad – they would just stand up, shuffle to the aisle and leave. Thankfully they sat in the back row. They missed the reception after church for the new members and a special cake afterward to celebrate the new union.
Because the new members brought their friends, and Matt brought a few of his new college mates, the Lees’ living room was filled. After prayer everyone circled their way around the dining room buffet. Mona’s expertise was cooking so she was used to hearing admonitions to open a catering business or restaurant. With brightly colored plastic plates balanced precariously on laps, people sat on the couch, dining room chairs and even on the floor. In the background one could watch Melissa helping Mona feed the children and ready them for their naps.

The format was simple: enjoy the food, get to know each other, and ask the tough questions. Dan enjoyed the tough or theological questions, but nine out of ten times questions were of a more mundane nature. Crystal washed the bite of hoagie down with punch before she spoke up. “I have a question,” she declared almost apologetically and kept her hand raised until Dan acknowledged her. The stylish twenty-something was a regular visitor and friend of one of the new members.
“Go ahead, ask away.”
“Like, don’t get upset or anything. I’m not sure I should even ask this.”
“Don’t apologize; just ask the question,” Dan kindly pressed.
“Uhm, what do you do? I mean, as a pastor. Like, I know you are busy on Sunday but what do you do the rest of the week?”
With a very serious face Dan teased, “Sunday is the only day I work. It’s a great job.”
Most laughed, but Crystal wasn’t sure how to take him.
“He’s just giving you a hard time with his bad humor,” Mona apologized, coming down the stairs. “Dan, shame on you!”
“That really is a good question and I’m glad you asked. I get that quite often. Sometimes people actually believe the pastor only works on Sundays. Maybe there are pastors who only work that day. After all, one could be extremely lazy or a workaholic and get away with it. In some ways it is like being self-employed. You have to be fairly self-motivated and organized to get things done unless you are in a church that dictates what will be done.”
“My old pastor, and he was really old -- older than you, Pastor Lee -- used to say that his job was to study all morning, eat lunch and then knock on neighborhood doors in the afternoons, teach classes and preach on Sunday,” proclaimed a serious college kid.
“I didn’t know thirty-seven was old, Brian. Yeah, what you are talking about was one popular school of thought. A few even hold to that today. So, what do you think I do?”
“I know for a fact that you disciple people one-on-one,” Matt defended.
“Do you do counseling?” asked another.
“Sometimes I offer counsel. Yes.”
“Obviously you have to prepare for sermons and class lessons,” said Matt.
“He teaches then,” surmised Crystal’s other friend looking at Matt.
“Yep. Keep going…” Dan encouraged.
Melissa spoke up. “I know he reads a lot. You should see that library of his! And he visits people in the hospital.”
Scott volunteered, “He also visits people in their home for a spiritual checkup. That’s what my cousin told me.”
“True. Anything else?”
No one offered anything more than the clatter of forks on plates. In the pause three of the young men went back to reload their plates.
“All these things would take up at least two days. Now, what else do I do with the rest of my time?” Dan questioned with a leer.
Mona jumped in right away. “Well, whatever it is, it keeps you busy day and night, practically the entire week.” Turning to Crystal she added, “I know he’s consumed by the work twenty-four-seven. It’s even hard for him to take one day off!” She was a little defensive since she had on too many occasions been the recipient of people’s complaints that her husband did not do enough.
“I really appreciated that page you had in the membership class that showed your average weekly schedule. It was revealing. You really do work ten hours a day?” asked one of the new members.
“Thanks. Yes, ten hours is normal, but sometimes it is eight and sometimes it is sixteen. Depends on the day’s demands. Jane Rubietta says that ‘Most pastors work in excess of 70 hours a week. Seventy percent don’t take a week of vacation during the year, and sixty percent don’t get a full day off during the week.’1 I’m glad I have vacation time that is somewhat mandated by our denomination’s tradition. All right, I have a question for you,” Dan proposed, scanning the circle of guests. “What do you think a pastor should do? And I want you to be honest.”
Again, for a while the only sound was the symphony of the feast. Matt broke the silence with a dribble of mustard on his chin, “Weddings!” Everyone broke out laughing. “What? What’s so funny about that?”
“Got someone in mind, Matt?” one chided. He threw a pillow at his challenger.
“Funerals!” spoke another which provoked more laughter as they all looked at Matt’s target.
“I know you run meetings. What’s that called?” Tom queried.
“Moderating,” Dan taught.
“Do you do the finances too?” Rose asked in her Argentinean accent.
“I suppose some pastors do the finances, but it’s not a practice in our church. Our churches normally have treasurers. In some churches the treasurer is a deacon. The only part I have with finances is when the elders review the budget each month and at the end of the year, and prepare a new one for the next year.”
“Are you the janitor for the building?” Maria asked seriously.
“No. Okay, it’s time to let you in on a secret: pastors do many, many different things and wear many different hats. Because of the varieties of churches and philosophies of ministry you could not formulate one job description for all churches based upon the wide range of views out there. People expect the pastor to do everything from being the church’s CEO to working as its maintenance engineer. Some expect him to be the great communicator, a building architect, the master problem solver, and all around jack of all trades. Excuse me, I’m gonna get something,” he said while whisking off to his home office.