I never imagined when I was in college that it would be this hard. As I was preparing for ministry in the local church, it never occurred to me that I would face the obstacles that I have. Sure, I knew there would be rough times. I struggled with how I would deal with pregnant teens, teens experimenting with drugs and alcohol, teens struggling with appropriate sexuality and other difficult situations.
It never occurred to me that 4 years into my ministry I would wish those were the problems I spent the majority of my time handling.
What I discovered is something I should have been prepared for, I suppose. After growing up a pastor’s son, I’m not sure how I failed to prepare for the ups and downs of dealing with a congregation. Little stuff, always irrelevant in the eternal scheme of things, is what I spend most of my time addressing.
But even more saddening is the effect these daily struggles have on those called by God to lead the church.
From so many pastors I’ve heard the following: “That’s the reality of the situation.” It breaks my heart. They offer this advice with the best intentions. Their experiences have taught them that if a young pastor wants to have a long, effective ministry he shouldn’t “rock the boat.”
I’ve been told, rightly—sadly—so, that I need to decide which issues I’m willing to stake my ministry on. And the others: let them go.
I must be honest, though. I struggle with this. It grieves me to think that in the church, a man called by God to lead the church is unable to address areas for growth in the church without risking his job.
(And why are ministries viewed as jobs?)
The fact is that the Church has allowed reality to be redefined for it. The Church has allowed reality to be redefined as “the way things are.”
Reality, using the stated redefinition, is that the Church gets as upset over the color of the carpet as it does over bad theology taught from the pulpit. Reality, I’m told, is the status quo. Some things have “always been this way.” Ignoring the simple fact that they haven’t always been this way, the more important question ought to be “Should they remain this way?”
But the “reality” is that we don’t ask those questions in the church. Not if we want to have an effective ministry.
(But what is an effective ministry if we can’t ask those questions?)
Tradition is reality. Change is often unrealistic. There is an established—by God, right?—system in the Church. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. (Established by God, yeah, I remember.) And young, idealistic pastors too often walk headfirst into our own demise by simply asking hard questions.
I know I’m viewed as the young, hot-headed, idealistic, emotional kid in a pastor’s body. But with all due respect, I hope I never become a “realistic adult” of a pastor. I never want to lose my passion for asking the right questions.
(But that doesn’t address the real issue.)
The real issue is Reality. Is Reality only an organ and a 3-piece? Is Reality three prayers, one choir, one solo, one sermon and an offering (but not in that order, obviously)? Is Reality the 80-20 rule (80% watch the 20% work)? Is Reality that the money people decide for the church its vision? Is Reality that pastors should preach but not step on any toes? Is Reality that any music written since 1812 should only be used in that youth service? Is it really Reality that things won’t change, shouldn’t change or can’t change?
But young, hot-headed, idealistic, emotional kid in a pastor’s body, why are you so worried about such insignificant things? Aren’t there bigger issues?
(Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.)
These “small, insignificant” issues in the church point to much larger theological misconceptions.
The largest misconception of all: Reality.
Reality is not “the way things are.”
(And the truth shall set you free…)
Reality, for the Christian and for the Church, is Christ. That’s why I recoil so strongly when someone tells me to accept and deal with reality when reality, as they’re using it, is that people won’t, shouldn’t or can’t change their actions or their misconceptions about the Faith and the Church.
(There you go again young, hot-headed, idealistic, emotional kid in a pastor’s body.)
Mine—and yours—is a faith of ideals. Mine—and yours—is an idealistic God. When we accept Christ we expect Him to save us and change our lives. At least that’s what we tell people. Why doesn’t that carry over into the daily life of the church?
If Christ truly is our Savior, our Lord, then he’s also our reality. He’s our way, our truth, and our life. And if we’ve been living with any “reality” outside of Christ, we’ve been wrong.
(Let me add arrogant to the list: young, hot-headed, idealistic, emotional, arrogant kid in a pastor’s body)
(Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee oh, Israel.)
Reality is redefined when we decide that fighting for truth is too costly.
Again: Reality is Christ. His fight was no less painful—most assuredly more painful—than ours. Whereas we fight to guide and lead the church, he bore the weight of the sin of the world.
Perhaps, while we’re redefining, we should redefine what is too costly.
Too costly is forfeiting an opportunity to elucidate truth. Too costly is perpetuating the notion that the Church is supposed to be comfortable. Too costly is assuming that reality is “the way things are.”
(Please understand me. I beg you!)
There is great hope for us! (I’m certainly not trying to be the cocky, arrogant, know it all kid in a pastor’s body.) I want these words to encourage those that have suffered greatly in the fight for truth. I want these words to reenergize those that have been betrayed by the Church they have given their lives to serve. I want these words to challenge those that have grown comfortable with reality redefined:
(Wake up, Church! Reality is Christ! You are the ones that have experienced reality!)
Too costly is the church, the legacy of Christ, distorted, hidden.
I tried to address it here: "Little stuff, always irrelevant in the eternal scheme of things, is what I spend most of my time addressing." I don't spend a lot of time addressing details because then it becomes my personal whining and less useful to someone else. I'm a concepts guy. And honestly, I get more riled up about philosophical issues than how the details affect me. I guess, with this article, I was trying to address the lack of perspective about the importance of spiritual perspectives and the worthlesness of their own traditions and opinions ("The real issue is Reality. Is Reality only an organ and a 3-piece? Is Reality three prayers, one choir, one solo, one sermon and an offering (but not in that order, obviously)? Is Reality the 80-20 rule (80% watch the 20% work)? Is Reality that the money people decide for the church its vision? Is Reality that pastors should preach but not step on any toes? Is Reality that any music written since 1812 should only be used in that youth service? Is it really Reality that things won’t change, shouldn’t change or can’t change?") Maybe that helps?
Once again, my son, you have very clearly spoken truth. How did I get the honor of being your mom? Having had first-hand dealings with "reality" just recently, I completely agree with your sentiments. One thing you forgot to mention--REALITY is stroking those less mature Christians (?) who pout because they can't have their way, spending time making them feel good when what we need to be doing is getting outside the doors of the building and taking LOVE to the streets. Keep preaching, my son. You say it so well. I love you. MOM
Joshua: I must say that your writing this article has reenergized at least one other preacher's kid in a preacher's body. The truth is still the 'truth.' We have preached to the choir for too long. The fact is, and will remain until Jesus comes, the pregnant teens, the addicts (at which I have first hand dealings with) are not running to the church for help! Why? You said it, we have redfined 'truth' to conform to what feels good for us (as a church body.) It is my desire to reach the hurting and the lost with the love of Christ. Quite frankly, how many ways can the choir bake beans to serve the church! Potatoe salad and Baked beans at the church potluck dinner serves the choir, but if we are not reaching those that might walk in (chances are they will not ever enter our sanctuaries the way they currently are today)we might have to go out to the street with our potluck dinner, and get our hands dirty, and take a part our 3-pieces suits and give them to those that need them more than we. Keep speaking the truth! Yes it will offend many, but it is high time that we get over ourselves and go back to the foot of the cross where the blood of Jesus wants to heal, restore and deliver - the addicts and the choir! Judgement begins at the house of God! Your Sister in Christ, Jounda