Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Thursday, March 27, 2014


One of my favorite movies is Zelig.  It’s the fictional story of a man, told in documentary style, who has a curious ailment.  It seems that he is so desperate to fit in and be liked that he takes on the dominant characteristics (down to facial hair, accent, weight gain/loss and profession) of the people with whom he shares space.  I think the movie, as a whole, is a pretty good metaphor for the pastoral profession.

I think it’s time we acknowledge that we have (at least) two “notebooks full of pastors”.  One is full of professional pastors and the other is full of vocational pastors.

The professional pastor is like Zelig, generation after generation they are defining themselves and what they do by the spirit of the age.  We trend.  And we’ve lived through trends in pastoral leadership that are constantly being shaped by the dominant culture of which we are a part.  We figure out what we do by sensing what our culture wants us to be.  There’s a hunger for acceptance by those in power (the dominant) and for us to gain access to them and the power behind them.  And of course we do all this for the glory of God, our own popularity and acceptance is just for the sake of reaching everyone with the Gospel.

I will be the first to admit how powerful the want to be wanted is.  But I will also say that, from firsthand experience that “want” is really the Siren’s song that beckons us come closer to the rocks.

It’s no wonder we have experienced and continue to experience a pastoral identity crisis.  In the absence of a clarity about who we are and what we do and why we do it, we’re bound to fall into the gravity of the personality of the dominant culture around us.

A pastor is all about building a church and what is a church but a startup business?  And what is a church planter if not an entrepreneur?  And has there ever been a time more conscious of what it takes to make business grow and be successful if not now?  What a rich time for a pastor to be able to use the resources available to become wildly successful at franchising our startups, let’s call them ‘multi-site’s, and generating the revenue that allows us to REALLY do the will of God.

But really a pastor is all about gathering and what is a church if not a brand and church discipleship if not brand loyalty?  People love a rock star and what is a pastor if not a rock star, the lead vocal (bandmates come and go but the lead vocal guides the narrative – Pete Best? never heard of him)? What an amazing time to be a rock star pastor with all of the multi-media platforms over which to promote your brand, the stylists you can hire to tweak your brand and the consulting companies you can pay to research and write your messages, your books and even get your books to #1 on the Best Seller charts.  It’s a good day to be a rock star pastor.

And the beauty of our zeitgeist driven pastoral profession is that we have large publishing houses that will spare no expense, once you are marketable, to make you believe all those things the desert fathers used to fast over to silence the whispering voices: you deserve this.  You’ve earned this.  You are special.  It’s easy to justify our bad behavior now and then (we even have people who take care of that for us) because look how big we've our church has become.

All the while, quietly off in various places, the vocational pastor goes about his or her calling.  They invest their lives into the messiness of the lives of the people among whom God has placed them and commissioned them to guide and feed and guard.  These vocational pastors, year after year, quietly go about raising up men and women (rather than perpetual nurseries) by being with them, sharing life, speaking words that are true with a heart that is moved, not by the Siren’s Song but by the steady, unforced rhythms of God’s Spirit.  These men and women, you will never know their name.  You will probably never see a book they wrote on a best-seller list and they won’t be on a TV chat show.  Their churches will be the size God gives them to pastor, some growing, some shrinking, some holding steady, some big, some small, and some somewhere in between.  But what they need to know, what they absolutely need to be sure of is that they are called by God and the investment they make with their life is never for nothing.

Who are we, pastors?  We have a 2000 year old tradition from which we can know, into which we can anchor our lives, from which we can figure out how to improvise the act in which we find ourselves, with confidence, relying on the stories of faithful men and women who heard this music before we had ears and whose lives call us to join and become and follow and improvise and be.

But there are at least these two choices and every day we decide to be Zelig or to live out our own part in the closing act of this story in which we find ourselves, faithfully in step with the vocational tradition.

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