February 13, 2009
Pastors as Lovers
An unhappy report from the National Pastors Convention.
I've been suffering for CT at the National Pastors Convention in, uh, San Diego. Yet despite the gorgeous locale and weather, there is, as usual, palpable angst here. The place is full of pastors who are either exhausted, burnt out, frustrated, or missional. They all amount to the same thing: a simmering anger about the church.
For most pastors that anger is directed at stupid lay people, stubborn church boards, or indifferent church bureaucrats. But "the church," and especially "the Western church" or "the American church," is the object of a myriad of derisive and sarcastic comments.
The anger is understandable. Pastors are an idealistic lot, having entered the ministry because they had the mistaken idea that they could make a difference in the world. And the church is standing in their way. I know. I was once a pastor. It's the way this works. I had great ideas for ministering to the community and the world. And all sorts of church people, from laity to church bureaucrats, got in the way. What I could have done in a church without people!
What occurs to very few pastors--I only heard it from Will Willimon and Larry Osborne--is the difficult passion to love the church. To be sure, love can be tough. But love should also be tender.
Not a lot of tender comments about the sheep that these shepherds are responsible for. Lots of desire for transforming the world, becoming a missional outpost, and enough social justicing to make mainline liberals drool with envy. But not much tender love for those people, as Willimon put it, whom Jesus loves and calls into community with him.
As I said, this is understandable. This is a place where pastors need to get their frustrations off their chests. I went to similar conferences when I was a pastor and found them to be blessed weeks of healing and renewal precisely because we talked frankly about our frustrations with our churches. I just wish that at NPC, more of the presenters would not have fed the anger with calls for revolutionizing this and transforming that, which only puts more guilt and even more unrealistic expectations on the shoulders of men and women in pastoral leadership who are trying to love the people for whom Jesus died.