Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Like a tree planted by streams of water

Michael S. Horton [of Modern Reformation and White Horse Inn] in a Touchstone article, "All Crossed Up", argues that too many churches have their priorities messed up:
It used to be that the pastor had an office and worked in his study, but today the pastor has a job and works in his office. Whereas Peter organized the diaconal office so that the apostles could devote themselves to the Word and to prayer, ideal ministers seem increasingly to be managers, therapists, entertainers, and entrepreneurial businesspeople.

Open up the average issue of Christianity Today to advertisements for pastoral positions and you’ll find descriptions like “team builder,” “warm and personal style,” “outgoing,” “contagious personality,” and “effective communicator.” (Catholic friends tell me that something like this affects Catholicism, too.)

I think they’re looking for a Director of Sales and Marketing, whom they may (or may not) call “Pastor.” I’m not against directors of sales and marketing; I just don’t think that this is what we should be looking for in the way of shepherds.

We wouldn’t have had Paul, for example. Who, having advertised for an outgoing team builder with a contagious personality, would have hired a pastor who openly disclosed the fact that he was not a great communicator, suffered everywhere he was sent, was nearly blind, and lacked the natural charisma of the “super-apostles,” who were only too happy to point out these weaknesses themselves? [....]

When churches abandon the ordinary ministry for extraordinary “excitements sufficient to induce conversion” (Finney’s phrase), eventually the innovations become traditions and the insatiable craving for ever-new experiences of spontaneous expressivism, like a drug addiction, leads eventually to the spiritual equivalent of a heart attack. Tragically, the landscape of American religion is littered with successive waves of “revival” (often patterned on American trends in salesmanship) followed inevitably by periods of spiritual fatigue and skepticism.

There are no easy answers to finding the right balance between caring for the flock already gathered and seeking those who are far off. However, the New Testament does, I believe, lead us to a crucial conclusion: namely, that the same ministry that leads us and our children to Christ, in an ever-deepening communion with him and his body, also reaches strangers, which most of us (as Gentiles) were ourselves. The church in its ever-widening and ever-expanding circumference is always a creation of the Word. [....]

When pastors feel the burden of saving people, selling the gospel, or cornering the market through their own cleverness, methods, creativity, or charisma, they eventually burn out. So, too, do the sheep who are submitted to perpetual exhortations to imitate their restless “authenticity.”

According to a recent study of Evangelical ministers, 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month and 80 percent of seminary graduates leave within five years. This comports with another study that found that 80 percent of the youth who grow up in Evangelical churches drop out by their sophomore year of college.

Charles Finney’s “burned-over district” is growing like a cancer. The challenge before us is to regain our confidence in the ordinary means of grace: “to grow like a tree rather than a forest fire,” as Wendell Berry described our relation to our local environment.

Should we not begin with Paul’s list of qualifications for our pastors rather than the average job description in circulation today, and abide by the habits of disciplined growth that we find in the New Testament rather than the consumer habits of the marketplace? [the article]
Touchstone Archives: All Crossed Up

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