Calling

Yesterday, I read two posts that came from opposite ends of the spectrum regarding this topic. The posts and comments reflect a wide variety of views regarding the professionalization of ministry.

First Scot McKnight had a post about the informality demonstrated on the pastor pages of some websites. He said:

What annoyed me about these sites was the utter absence of a sense of the sacred in pastoring, of the overwhelming sense of God’s call upon a life that reaches so deep that everything becomes holy, of the profound respect and privilege of the call to lead God’s people, and of the total lack of order. The sense we hear today of being real and authentic doesn’t mean we devalue the pastoral calling of its sanctity. I couldn’t and wouldn’t call any of these folks “Reverend.” If I were a visitor, I’d go somewhere else.

But a church site with pages for pastors ought to reflect the sacred wisdom of the ages and sacredness of the vocation. Some of these folks need to wear the collar for a year, daily.

Scott Williams, still one of my favourite bloggers, has lived on both sides of this role. Be sure to read his entire post.

there is a certain unspoken understanding that what we (pastors) do for a living is slightly, or greatly, more significant than what you do. after all, we are making a difference for eternity, you are only making a living.

i have learned…to appreciate the work a day struggle of the proletariat, the common folk who dedicate our lives to nothing more noble than caring for our families and helping our friends. it seems, at first glance, to not be as noble a calling, but perhaps a calling nonetheless.

from time to time i want to explain to people that i still do the “ministry” thing on a subversive level

Describing an upcoming wedding at his restaurant:

my restaurant, will be swarming with people who i used to pastor (some of whom think very little of me). i am certain that on that day i will feel a little awkward – i am after all still serving them; only this time as their waiter, their chef, even their bartender.

i guess that’s good enough for me.

So what do you think, a collar or an apron?

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30 thoughts on “Calling

  1. I must admit that I don’t read McKnight’s blog, although I know it’s quite popular. So, I don’t really know where he’s coming from.

    That said, the particular viewpoint expressed in the quote strikes me as odd. Isn’t what he is saying true of every disciple of Christ? Every follower? Are not all disciples lives filled with “the overwhelming sense of God’s call upon a life that reaches so deep that everything becomes holy”? Isn’t this what it means to be a called out and sent people?

    But that’s just me – I don’t buy into the sacred/secular dualism that restricts the definitions of “ministry” to a professionalized industry. And I prefer the apron.

  2. It would be worth it to read the comments section on this blog post. There is a significant conversation with many sides. One of the regulars, “T”, leads the push back. I haven’t gone back to keep up with the thread.

    I was unable to comment at the time because I thought it was a little out of Scot’s normal tone, too. Not too long ago, they had a great conversation about the sacredness of work, so I was caught off guard.

    Anyway, I’m thinking of Brother Lawrence here and washing dishes to the glory of God. Collars are too hot…so it’s aprons for me.

  3. I haven’t read either post yet, but I would say apron. I think pastoring is a high calling, but so is every calling. They are all calls issued from the Most High God. We do learn that those who teach are held to a higher account, but again, whatever we are called to do, whatever gift we are given, we are called upon to invest it into the Kingdom by being servants. And, we will be held accountable for our fruit, or lack thereof. We are all called to the Kingdom, submitting to the authority of the King of all kings, and do so wholeheartedly.

    I’d echo the Brother Lawrence comment by Peggy as well.

    As to pastors, I also think that it is likely that there are a great many people gifted as pastors who aren’t operating as a “church” pastor – given the offices/gifts listed in Ephesians 4.

  4. What about pastors who ‘get it’, and have been serving whilst in that role all along? I know a number of pastors who are real servants, and their leadership could be described as “the holy order of the apron”.

    Seperating the two is where pastoring got screwed up in the first place.
    (imho, of course!)

  5. I like what robbymac said,”Seperating the two is where pastoring got screwed up in the first place.
    (imho, of course!)”

    I think that is the big problem..
    I work in a monastary ( wearing an apron) and I hear the things that come out of peoples mouths & have to bite my tongue.
    Many people just seem to accept tradition for fact…
    I guess I was like that too..

  6. I’m with Rob and Shaun. One of the things I love most about “organic” or “missional” or whatever word you like with your church is that many of the leaders of these communities would be laypeople in traditional churches, and so they are not separating these things.

    It frustrates me to no end that many ministers act and are treated as though they have a connection to God that others don’t have or need, and also that laypeople act as though they don’t need to be driven to seek the fullest connection with God possible.

  7. sarah,
    The tone of Scot’s comments seems to indicate that a clergy/laity distinction is desirable.

    peggy,
    This from Scot in the comments, “the priesthood of all believers, however, does not mean that all callings are the same,” reminds me of the complementarian argument that we’re all equal but with different roles. Apparently it is the role or calling of some to be over others.

    bryan,
    I agree with your thoughts about gifts/roles. It is a pity to limit the function of pastoring to a single individual in any group of believers. There is such a greater potential for ministering to one another.

    robbymac, shaun, and jonathan,
    Good point.

    I lean to a more organic perspective of church and the role of pastoring. However, I know that there are a lot of really good people who have given their lives to serving in this role in traditional forms of church. I have a lot of respect for them and what they do.

    Is the idea of sacred vocation, a special class of believers, really necessary in order to have regard and respect for the role?

  8. John 13
    4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

  9. The dangers with the clergy/laity thing is that believers in their 20’s/30’s think that to be at the heart of God’s purpose is to be a member of the clergy/pastorship etc.Sacred is an interesting word that is more to do with religion than the Jesus movement.I don’t believe God sits up there and looks benignly on the ‘sacred’ ones and with wrath on the ‘unsacred’ ( sinners).An arrogance can creep in to the inner psyche of the professional pastor that kills him,his family and his flock.Interestingly many Catholic priests here in Ireland are extremely disillusioned with their vocation and heirarchical setup.They couldn’t find one priest in the whole of Ireland to represent them last year in an official capacity.The Protestant clergy aren’t far behind with many hating the job but feeling trapped by the free house and free car as they enter middle age.These are the poor folk who preach God’s love to their folk but see no evidence of it in their own circumstances.Like cigarettes religion whether profesional or organic is a KILLER.

  10. Grace,
    I think it’s about 90% apron and maybe 10% collar.

    I’ve wrestled for years with the meaning of a “calling.” I’m friends with a number of pastors and 2 in the family. It’s the ones who put on the apron and consider themselves lowly servants who earn my highest respect. Giftedness differs from one person to another, and that shouldn’t be discounted, but when I read Scot’s blog I know that I find more there in his life that makes me want to join with him in service than I do in most of the “collar’ type pastors I know.

    And I personally witness the problems that come with the elevated opinion of pastoral calling in the United Methodist Church. Simply stated, it is used as an excuse for political favoring which can wreck the lives of the servant pastors who are just trying to survive whatever the “higher called” hierarchy decided to do to them.

    In the end, after all of my wrestling, I’ve concluded that I am no less called than those who respond to the calling by going into the profession of pastoring. I’ve just taken a different path in my calling, and I’m not sorry for it in the least.

  11. When cultural tradition is so strong that alternatives place practitioners on the fringe, few are willing to buck tradition. But, there has been a very significant shift in our culture, and believers are feeling more free to question tradition in light of the scriptures. I like it. I have been a follower of Jesus for 30 years, and there were many questions I had regarding traditions such as are being discussed here. It’s finally okay to question them, and there are now culturally acceptable alternatives for those who do.

    When Jesus challenges the traditional leaders of His day, he says, “You are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have only one master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher’, for you have one teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Matthew 23:8-11). For all of the fundamentalists – that is in red letters.

    Sure there is an office of pastor/teacher (Eph. 4). But I believe Western tradition has tragically distorted it. I think (hope) the organic missional model will be refined into the next epoch of His Church, should He tarry. It seems to be a bit messy right now, but organic things are that way. You cannot control organisms to grow into certain shapes and function in certain manners (which is what modernism attempted to do). Somewhere it will get out of control (which is the indictment against postmodernism). You end up with a ‘Jurassic Park’ that turns on you and threatens your very existance.

    Good-bye modernism – flee to safety!

  12. I remember reading that McKnight excerpt and though it to be strange. I think that there is no delineation between the secular and the sacred.. the plumber and the preacher both have sacred callings.. really.. should the eye say to the hand that it’s calling is not sacred because it cannot “see”?

  13. This is all really interesting to me. I am a teacher, but not a pastor (the bible class God has called me to teach and lead comprises roughly 375 women and 75 preschoolers in a separate program). My husband earns the living in our home, and because of his earning power (a gift from God), I have been able to do my work without payment of money.

    On the one hand, that makes my work “less” in terms worldly ranking systems. On the other hand….it seems right and good that we share freely with each other what God has given us to share. I think the paycheck has had a great deal to do with the poisoning of “church” roles (pastor, music leader, counseling staff, and so on). The paycheck seems to legitimize what people do in the world’s eyes. Without it, it’s just “volunteer work.”

    We, as Christians, can delight in that fact. Whatever we give freely is “under the radar,” so to speak. It isn’t official, it doesn’t “deserve” special respect; it is done “as unto the Lord, and not as unto other people.”

    I understand that the current pastor role has to get a paycheck because, after all, seminary costs money (and have to have seminary so you can get that official human document, ordination), and all the work that’s expected of a pastor requires time that’s taken away from what could have been spent on earning a living (geesh, how did Paul do it?!).

    But if the work of a pastor were to be spread abroad among all the believers in the church, and seminary was something that every believer could participate in (such as the many free seminary-level education courses available through parachurch organizations), and all of us could respect and admire each other’s diverse contributions to the church, our community and our planet….then this whole angst about whether a pastor thinks he (or she) is getting enough respect and honor for the sacredness of their calling would sort of…not be an issue.

  14. “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I (Jesus) am among you as the one who serves.”

    Apron.

  15. I no longer believe in the special “called” status of pastors. Its time for many to step out of the fantasy world they have created and embrace reality.

  16. Yeah, Grace…this is why I just couldn’t comment on the thread.

    We are all called. We are all gifted. We are all sent. We are all to lead where we are. We are to be one.

    The whole idea of “offices” as anything other than descriptors of those who served according to the Spirit’s direction and gifting rubs me the wrong way.

    …haven’t seen many aprons with collars! 8)

  17. Of course, to be fair and honest, perhaps somebody should mention Paul’s words to Timothy:

    The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18, emphasis added)

    I’m not a big fan of clergy/laity or sacred/secular divides either, but dangit, the Holy Spirit inspired these words too. And since ignoring the Bible isn’t really an option for followers of Jesus, we have to grapple with how these verses fit, as well.

  18. Scott McK’s quotes are funny to me because I have the exact same attitude… Only it’s not concerning the clergy – it’s concerning everyone. Every believer should wear the collar for a year, daily. There is a sacredness to being a believer that most feel is reserved for the clergy.

    I never grew up Catholic and just about a year ago someone explained to me what a “parish” was. I thought it was a church building for some reason – but instead, its a geographical area. It hit me like a ton of bricks. What if I saw myself “priest” over this little geographical area the Lord had placed me in. How would I love and assist those around me? Could that area be some place I could bring the kingdom of God into? Hasn’t the Lord made me the priest of my workplace? Hasn’t the Lord made me the priest in my neighborhood?

  19. Robbymac

    I agree somewhat – if you remove the political maneuvering and the financial conflict of interest – then the waters could get clear enough to really see who the ones doing the “eldering” really are.

    When we (my wife and I) were young – we were very aggressively going into prison and ministering to the ladies there. An older couple took us under their wings and they went in the prison regularly with us. They were so gentle and loving – we were so gung-ho and abbrasive. I think they went with us as much to protect the ladies in prison from us. Anyway – never one discouraging word came from their mouths to us – they just encouraged us over and over and over. They never had a title or position in the church – but they were truly elders.

  20. Jerry:
    “I never grew up Catholic and just about a year ago someone explained to me what a “parish” was. I thought it was a church building for some reason – but instead, its a geographical area. It hit me like a ton of bricks. What if I saw myself “priest” over this little geographical area the Lord had placed me in. How would I love and assist those around me? Could that area be some place I could bring the kingdom of God into? Hasn’t the Lord made me the priest of my workplace? Hasn’t the Lord made me the priest in my neighborhood?”

    Your comment hit me like a ton of bricks too, man. Can I use that comment to lead off a post on my blog? I really think it needs to be repeated.

    Lord make me a priest of my parish……

  21. I believe there is a lot of merrit to the last few posts. A Pastor is not a pastor/teacher because he chose it as his profession, studied how to be one, got certification, and then stepped onto an upper rung of some heirarchal kingdom ladder. That’s called ‘master planning’ – top down formulating. Many Pastors might verbally affirm this, but their attitude betrays them.

    I believe in a much more organic model. I believe a pastor/teacher is recognized and accepted as such by his or her ‘parish’ – whatever that might be. They lead by example, not by edict. Robbymac’s quotes are indeed Spirirt-inspired and valid, but we must never remove them from the context of the narrative. Paul had much counsel for Timothy, and it all pointed to humility and service. There are times when a Pastor is required to apply some discipline, which is why Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to choose seasoned Elders to colloborate with as they process through such sensitive things. But, the focus is always the care of the needs of the flock, not of the leaders. Quite frankly, I do not consider my ‘pastor’ as the man ordained to the position in our church. My ‘pastor’ has never been ordained, but he has taught me more by example than our Pastor has ever taught me through his pulpit rhetoric.

  22. It just doesn’t seem to work to argue for a biblical model for pastors when the North American church is not following the biblical model (whatever that is). We’ve created a corporate structure that by its nature requires corporate leadership. You can’t act like a corporation and then require servant leadership. Conversely servant leadership will not produce a corporation. BTW I’m not overly enamoured with the oxymoron servant leadership. In my more cynical moments I consider it a manipulation.

  23. Jesus is our servant king, our rabbi, our teacher, and our pastor. He told us to get the servant part down, but we like to major on the teacher/pastor/king part.

    For a lighter look at this, see Brant Hanson’s leadership post today.

  24. bajanpoet:

    Go for it. A prophecy someone spoke over me (from a nationally recognized prophetic center) once that got me in a whole lot of trouble at the CLB:

    “You don’t need permission to do what I tell you to do”.

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