There might be something wrong with pastors in America. But you could be doing some things that don’t help. And maybe, you could do something to make a difference.
In a recent post by Mario Maurillo Ministries about why American Preachers will not unify against the anti-God White House there were some thought-provoking points made about what seem to be some critical problems with the church in America.
Church For The Big-Screen TV
In brief, Pastor Maurillo mentioned what he thought were 7 specific reasons why church pastors in America shying away from standing boldly as a united front against the godless agenda that seems to be spewing out of the White House and the administration and plowing across so much of what the church holds precious. His 7 reasons, in brief, are these:
- Fear of losing non-profit status – losing status means probably losing revenue;
- Many do it because it is merely a paycheck – apparently, 50% of pastors would do something else if they could;
- Some are as racist as those to whom they preach – self-explanatory, and sad but true.
- Many do not value or even believe in the inspiration of scripture – many do not see the bible as “good news” so much as good advice; so the thorny issues might not be worth dealing with if we can’t even really know they are that big of a deal.
- Many do not value that America is great because of the history of the church – and if they don’t appreciate how America came to be great, they won’t recognize what will take her down.
- Apathy, whether from exhaustion or from self-sufficiency – some feel it’s pointless; some feel there is no problem – we are just all golden children of God, no matter what.
- Competition – sometimes pastors are not in it for God as much as they are in it for themselves.
It’s quite a list. There is a lot to think about there.
For anyone who has heard Mario Maurillo preach, you will have to acknowledge that the man is on fire. He preaches a bold and fearless message about the power of the gospel to save people and transform lives. He has been hard up against challenges, and by walking in obedience, has seen God do great things in his ministry in reaching the lost and the broken and bringing them to faith and transformation through the gospel.
But there are all kinds of churches in America; there are all kinds of preachers. And the one thing that makes them different from everything on your big screen TV is that they are real preachers dealing with real congregations which is so much different than the “church” you see on the big screen TV.
This is not necessarily a diatribe against the mega-church.
It seems that so often there are pictures and memes that show up on the internet taking digs at the millions of people starving and the many millions of dollars that are spent on erecting mega-church buildings. Saddleback, Harvest Bible Chapel, Joel Osteen have mega-churches. They also have a reputation among evangelicals as being soft on the hard issues, preaching an easy, non-challenging gospel. Many people feel the reason they are big is because they avoid the tough stuff. But it is not our place to lay out a charge against any church based on its size. We need to be careful of that stereotyping.
I’ve been to mega-churches that are rather anemic in challenging the deep or controversial things of God, and mega-churches that are bold and fearless in declaring Jesus as the only way. Unfortunately, there are sometimes problems with mega-churches; but all too often, people who rant against mega-churches and what they do with their money are among those who give the least anyway. And sometimes, people complain about things more out of a secret resentment toward the injustice that other people can sometimes get ahead by breaking the rules, while they themselves can’t. Frankly, if we see things wrong in the mega-churches, we should be on our knees asking God to move at least as much as we climb on our soapboxes and rant about their failings.
Small churches don’t always get it right either
There are also a lot of small churches that have been and continue to be small for reasons that fall FAR short of being good ones. Sometimes, they don’t want to pay the price to grow. (And there are a lot of good churches out there that stay small because of reasons that have nothing to do with doing church right or wrong.) We need to avoid the labels, the stereotypes. We all tend to do it, and it is a way of sorting and clarifying what we see. But in the end, each church, like each individual before God, is as unique as a fingerprint.
While I understand that there may well be plenty of godlessness, greed and apathy in some of the clergy out there, my reason for writing is not to take shots at any pastor or group of pastors. My reason for writing is more aimed at the person in the pew.
Some questions for the TV-minded consumers of what the preacher is putting out
North Americans have little to no idea how hard it was just to survive a couple of hundred years ago. They have no idea how hard it is just to survive today in many third world countries. And when we turn on the TV, we get glimpses of the best examples of what we want (and what the advertisers are perfectly willing to make us lust for). We can scan 435 channels on TV in an instant and zero in on “the best of the best” preachers. We can tune in to the most satisfying, charismatic personalities preaching the most eloquent and inspiring messages.
The polished, produced packages of preaching and teaching we want are available in the comfort of our own living rooms without having to get up, go out to a church, or even to be involved. And it is so easy to compare our pastor to the best of the best that we can instantly access on TV and find how they come up short.
But another reality that we don’t adequately consider when we compare the preaching on TV to what we get in the pew at our local church is that we can hear this preaching divorced from the affect, the reaction, the back-pressure and opposition it might have in the context of it being delivered to a local church congregation.
What your preacher has to deal with that a TV preacher does not
First of all, let’s try to see your pastor, first and foremost, through the lens of a guy trying to do a job; trying to earn a living; trying to juggle the demands of people in his church and the needs of his own spouse and kids; trying to do the right thing.
As a preacher, he or she is still human. Looking at the list of issues Mario raises in his article; and then, let’s see who this person you call pastor really is (I will say “he” but you can read “he or she”):
- he might well be tired. He might be in this out of sheer willpower or out of a sense of commitment but in a rut
- he is, for better or worse, in a ministry that is entrenched in the business of being a business
- he might may have lost focus on why he is there; in fact, he may have never clearly had it in the first place
- he has to deal with the realities of what happens to his flock if everyone decided to stop supporting the machine financially
- he is human and has to deal with his own inconsistencies, failures, prejudices, shortcomings and possible resentments toward those who have done wrong by him
- he may sometimes be vulnerable to the tendency to measure his success by numbers
- he may feel like one of the most misunderstood people in the world
Your pastor may or may not be struggling with the types of issues that Mario mentioned in his very well-written piece. In fact, your pastor might be a perfect person; the epitome of faithfulness, Godly Character and reason. But most are still human, though probably in the upper half of the character scale. One of the issues for many pastors is that they feel if they were to be transparent with their congregations about what they struggle with, they would cease to be looked at as a good role model and a man to follow. They often feel alone in their struggles and their weaknesses.
Your pastor is not preaching for the TV – and you need to realize that you are part of the dynamic.
One of the reasons that affairs are so deadly to a relationship is that when a third party steps into a marriage relationship, the third party can afford the luxury of agreeing with all of the hurt feelings that the misunderstood spouse is venting about without having to accept or own any of the consequences of what agreeing with all of those feelings will have to mean. If a wife feels misunderstood by her husband, mister wonderful can step into the situation, offering a consoling, listening ear, and make her feel so good – so well understood, so listened to, so appreciated for who she is. But it is an understanding in an artificial environment. Her husband can’t compete against mister Theoretical. He can agree how unreasonable he is for not letting her spend money on a new dress or a new car; but then, he doesn’t know what the budget is, and he doesn’t have to pay the bills.
In a similar way, the real preacher at your real church is dealing with a real congregation with real people, real responses to his message, real interactions with each other over that message, and real feedback into this system called the local church that your favorite TV preacher won’t ever have to know about, let alone deal with on an ongoing basis after the message is preached.
So, for the sake of you, your church and your pastor, I’d like to ask you a few questions here. Please think about these things and pray about them. The dynamic between you and your pastor is not like that between you and Joyce Meyer, or Joel Osteen, or John Hagee, or Rick Warren, or John MacArthur. Your relationship with them is really a relationship between you and your big-screen TV. The relationship between you and your pastor is REAL.
Do you see that we are ALL called FIRST as worshippers, and the pastor’s calling as secondary to that?
Do you recognize that your pastor’s first and primary role is not to prepare sermons to build you up, meet your needs and generally make you feel good about yourself? Do you realize his primary calling is not even to preach and teach to make you holy and to conform you to the image of Christ? Or do you see their primary role to give you what you want or need, as if you can hit the right button on the remote and expect him or her to put out the right program for you to consume on your big screen TV?
Your pastor’s first and primary role, before he or she does a lick of ministry, is to worship the Lord in truth, holiness and righteousness. The Lord wants a relationship with your pastor more than he wants ministry to people. Do you understand that the person who stands before you on Sunday morning will never be as good in that role unless he can fall on his or her knees before God at night?
Are you more focused on what is good or what is not good in the message?
When you’re sitting in church on a Sunday morning, are you more interested in focusing on an awareness of the spirit of God as being present in the midst of the congregation, seeking him to manifest in a more clear and convicting way for those who have hear it? Or are you more focused on the points that the pastor is making in his sermon that you might not agree with? Do you pray into those things you disagree with, asking God to enlighten your pastor and to help him to see more clearly? Or do you merely keep track of those points to be able to carve your pastor up for lunch Sunday afternoon at the local feeding hole over lunch?
Do you realize that the pastor is in a God-designed role?
You might actually be more qualified than your current pastor is to lead your local congregation. But the problem is that, at least up until this point, God, in His sovereignty, has not seen fit to make this adjustment to bring this to reality. The hard part for some people in the congregation is that they don’t understand that God is the one who is in control, and has chosen to set up this organism called “the church” by putting people in complimentary and supportive roles.
In the current moment, your pastor, qualified or unqualified, like it or not, for better or for worse, is in the driver’s seat. He is the one who bears the responsibility for the direction of the teaching, the preaching, the encouraging, the rebuking, the growing and the pruning of the people in his or her flock. Maybe you feel you should be doing the fishing but you’re stuck cutting the bait. If so, then perhaps you need to ask yourself if your heart is for how many fish are caught rather than who gets the fishing trophy. Tony Kemp, a great man of God, often speaks of how he had to work faithfully in a support role in another man’s ministry for almost 20 years before God raised him up and put him in his own. And, having met the man and heard the strength and anointing of his preaching and the working of miracles that occur partly because of the fruit of his faithfulness in blooming where he was planted, I can tell you that if he had to do it again, he would, because God knows what He is doing.
Do you see your pastor as someone who should be perfect?
Your pastor, for better or worse, is in a position of being the leader of your congregation. But you always need to remember that he is, first and foremost, a sinner saved by grace. He or she is a human with a fallen nature, (hopefully) saved by grace, needing the constant mercy and grace of God flowing in his or her life. If you have an expectation that no one deserves the right to think of him or herself as a leader if they’re not perfect, then it just might be an attitude that speaks to your own lack of self-honesty. If you’ve never been in a position where you’ve had to make executive decisions for more people than yourself, and in those moments, you’ve never felt inadequate, unprepared or not good enough, then odds are you’ve probably never just been very much involved in real life. Remember that your pastor is, first of all, a fellow sinner saved by a grace such as you.
Can you accept your pastor as human and fallible while honoring the office he or she is trying to fill?
David spent many sleepless nights and difficult days running away from Saul (you can read the story in 1st Samuel, chapters 19 thru 24). Saul hated David, who was God’s anointed; and furthermore, he hated him without cause. And yet David, even when he had Saul in his cross-hairs, had him with the ability to kill him while he was sleeping, chose not to do it, because he had such a firm conviction that he “must not touch God’s anointed.” By this point, David had already been anointed as the one who would next be king. But he also saw the importance of honoring God’s timing and God’s authority structure. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to recognize that your pastor might be in an office for which, for whatever reason, he or she is not completely qualified?
Do you pray for your pastor?
When you see your pastor failing, or falling, or reacting badly, or carrying prejudices he or she might not even be aware of, do you judge them or pray for them?Understand what Paul meant when he said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24) or in Galatians 6:1-2, where he said “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Do you realize that sometimes, the reason the Spirit of God will make you aware of someone’s shortcomings and failures is because in that moment, God is trusting you with a commission to pray for that person? Do you realize that sometimes, God is looking for someone He can share the burdens of His heart with, so that He can enjoy your carrying that with him?
If push came to shove, and your differences are irreconcilable with your pastor….
What would you do? What could you do? If you decided that you cannot, in good conscience, support a minister – perhaps he or she is too controlling, or self-centered, or self-absorbed, or just a lousy teacher and preacher, could you decide to part company on good terms, finding somewhere else to plant yourself, free of the controversy that might even be fun to perpetuate, and try to blend in somewhere else, without having to sing the song of why you left the other group behind? If you went to a new church, could you be honest enough with the new pastor to tell them why you felt, in good conscience, that you had to leave the old church? Could you keep quiet about it among the sheep in the new flock? Could you make a commitment to God to keep praying for the pastor at the other church even after you left?
There are all kinds of church situations out there that are far from perfect; they are not good enough to be “Big-Screen TV” quality. But they are REAL. And while you might get some good food from good TV preaching, you are called to have real interactions with real people in a real congregation. And your prayer and support for your real pastor might be the difference between that church growing and thriving, or merely leaving everyone in the pew wishing their pastor looked and sounded more like that guy on TV. Because the stuff on TV might be good; but in God’s eyes, there ain’t nothin’ like the real thing.