“So, what do you do?”
When someone asks me this, I immediately become aware that this is a question pregnant with expectation. When I say I am a pastor how will they react? Will the conversation end awkwardly? Sometimes it does, but less now than when I lived in California. Will the person start to recite to me their religious credentials? This happens regularly. “I grew up Methodist (Catholic, Presby, Baptist) and I go to such and such church sometimes.” If the person says they go to church “sometimes” it inevitably means they will show up at Easter and maybe Christmas if their parents ask them to. If they go to church regularly, they make sure to let me know that I can save the “Come to my church” recruiting pitch by immediately telling me what church they go to. Well, what is really happening in that situation is they are simply making polite conversation and I am too cynical.
Within the church the title of “Pastor” means that I am a mythical figure that has no life outside the 45 minutes I am on stage on Sunday morning. And if I do have a life it consists of praying for four hours each day and spending all my other waking hours reading my Bible and never sinning. Even the people who say, “I do not think of you like that!” would really have that belief tested if they heard me cuss when I stubbed my toe. I mean, if I cussed when I stubbed my toe, which I have obviously never done because I am super holy. Too often a pastor is put on a pedestal that he will never be able to successfully balance on.
This view of pastor within the church is problematic for many reasons, many of which I do not have the space to touch on here. But let’s tackle a big reason it is problematic:
Because there are too many in the Church who want to outsource their sanctification to a pastor.
The disciplines of prayer, being in the Word, fasting, listening to God, and generally pursuing a holy life are for the spiritual elite. You know, pastors. But I hope this current situation we find ourselves in shows the people of Faith Church Statesville that they cannot rely on me.
For most of us, in this isolation, our excuses have been stripped away. Some of you probably have more time now or at least more opportunity to set aside time for God. How is that going? Are you setting aside more time? In your Bible more if you feel more uncertain about what is happening around us? Maybe you have always said you would love to disciple your kids more but they are always at school or involved in activities (that you sign them up for). They have been at home for two weeks now stripping you of every shred of patience you ever thought you had. How is the discipleship going? In your homeschooling have you simply stuck to what the teachers have given you or have you added in some Bible study into their curriculum? Since Jesus ties our hearts and spiritual well-being to our view of money, let me throw a money question out there: Will you tithe on your relief check that the government is sending?
How do we react when all the excuses you and I have had for not pursuing God are stripped away?
Maybe you find yourself on the other side of the coin. You are swamped. You cannot even seem to find a moment to rest because your job has been deemed essential. The temptation to lose it because of the stress is monumental. Now is your opportunity to take everything to God and see that He keeps His promise to give us peace that surpasses all understanding. But will you take the stress and anxiety to God or stuff it down only for it to explode later?
[Warning: These next paragraphs may seem self-serving and bitter. I assure you they are not being written condemningly, but with the hope that we can recognize the places we all need our friendship with Jesus strengthened. There, you have been warned.]
Perhaps you have been the person that has been frustrated with your spiritual walk and have put your pastor in the crosshairs because…well, that is what we do. I obviously know that no one at Faith thinks like this, so I am writing to people from other churches that read my blog.
“I would feel closer to God if my church did this thing that I prefer! I wish my pastor preached this way and never stepped on my toes!”
I pray this time has shown you that you are responsible for your pursuit of God. You cannot rely on your pastor. Good churches and good pastors can help for sure. That is why we have churches and pastors. But if you find yourself stuck in the rut of Christianity even as all your excuses have been stripped away, then maybe you have outsourced your pursuit of God to your pastor or church. Please stop doing that. It is a weight your pastor was never meant to bear. Asking your pastor to equip you to pursue God more through spiritual disciplines, resources, and discipleship…yes! Asking your pastor to become responsible for your spiritual growth…no! Maybe the outsized expectations you have for your pastor have led you to bitterness. If you do not nip those expectations in the bud, then it will become a cycle that repeats itself.
In fact, I can see this cycle in my life in areas not church related. First, I am not faithful to something I should be doing. I feel the consequences of my unfaithfulness. Instead of looking within or asking God to try me and know my thoughts, I blame someone else. Then when I blame someone else, I separate myself from them and break that relationship. Rinse. Repeat. In six months when I am in the cycle again my blame simply shifts to someone else other than myself. This explains problems in marriages, workplaces, and churches. Ever met that person that jumps churches, relationships, or jobs every six months always blaming everyone else on their way out the door? Show me that person and I will show you someone who takes no responsibility for their own pursuit of God. This is real life. This is not milk. This is the meat of our situations.
If you have the opportunity to slow down, then take it. Pursue God with reckless abandon.
If you are maxed out right now then still, intentionally pursue those places to slow down. Seek God and see that He is faithful.
To Faith Church Statesville: I know there are a lot of pastors that are doing daily, weekly, twice-a-week, videos to send out (and I would never criticize those who believe that is how they are called to be faithful during this time). I have not done that yet and may or may not do it in the coming weeks, I have not decided. But for this moment, this is your time to shine. You take the reins. Do not outsource. Stop getting fed solely by Facebook and YouTube clips and pick up your Bible, kneel at your bed, and fast a meal. Be still and know that He is God.
Mood During Coronavirus (NOT 42 though):