The Struggle of the Pastor

 

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One of my members forwarded me a New York Times Op-Ed piece that talked about the American clergy, as well as the situation with the churches today. I was encouraged because this is what I have been harping on in our church for awhile now.

In fact, due to my bluntness on particular matters, we have lost some people. I guess when the truth is spoken some people cannot handle the truth (I am hearing Jack Nicholson’s voice from the movie, “A Few Good Men” right now).

The Church culture today is drifting further away from the standard that we see in the Bible. People are being coddled rather than being convicted. People are too comfortable rather than being challenged. People are choosing convenience rather than commitment. People are acting like chumps rather than champions. This is weakening the church’s witness as a community of transformed people who desire to transform the world.

So often, pastors are too afraid to speak boldly on various issues that are hurting the Church. Some pastors do not want to “rock the boat.” But the problem with this is that the boat is sinking, so it might be better to rock it back afloat!

The pastors today have a choice – either settle for the status quo, which is killing the church or step out in faith and stick up for what is right. I am praying for the latter.

I decided to post parts of the Op-Ed written by G. Jeffrey MacDonald. You can read the article titled, “Congregations Gone Wild” directly from The New York Times here.

“The American clergy is suffering from burnout, several new studies show. And part of the problem, as researchers have observed, is that pastors work too much. Many of them need vacations, it’s true. But there’s a more fundamental problem that no amount of rest and relaxation can help solve: congregational pressure to forsake one’s highest calling.

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.

The trend toward consumer-driven religion has been gaining momentum for half a century. Americans now sample, dabble and move on when a religious leader fails to satisfy for any reason.

In this transformation, clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy. Church leaders who continue such ministerial traditions pay dearly.

I have faced similar pressures myself. In the early 2000s, the advisory committee of my small congregation in Massachusetts told me to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else.

Congregations that make such demands seem not to realize that most clergy don’t sign up to be soothsayers or entertainers. Pastors believe they’re called to shape lives for the better, and that involves helping people learn to do what’s right in life, even when what’s right is also difficult. When they’re being true to their calling, pastors urge Christians to do the hard work of reconciliation with one another before receiving communion. They lead people to share in the suffering of others, including people they would rather ignore, by experiencing tough circumstances — say, in a shelter, a prison or a nursing home — and seeking relief together with those in need. At their courageous best, clergy lead where people aren’t asking to go, because that’s how the range of issues that concern them expands, and how a holy community gets formed.

Ministry is a profession in which the greatest rewards include meaningfulness and integrity. When those fade under pressure from churchgoers who don’t want to be challenged or edified, pastors become candidates for stress and depression.

Clergy need parishioners who understand that the church exists, as it always has, to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires. They need churchgoers to ask for personal challenges, in areas like daily devotions and outreach ministries.

When such an ethic takes root, as it has in generations past, then pastors will cease to feel like the spiritual equivalents of concierges. They’ll again know joy in ministering among people who share their sense of purpose. They might even be on fire again for their calling, rather than on a path to premature burnout.”