Michael B Linton

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Narcissistic duplicity or, as I like to call them, preachers.

I'm tired of self-serving pastors.

Narcissism is rampant. The idea among most pastors is that it's all about them. "How can I make a mega-church? How can I get on TV? How can I get my name known? How can I be impressive?" These are not the questions pastors are called to ask, but they are increasingly the goals to which pastors aspire. I've seen pastor after pastor start ministries, put themselves on the radio, and make their names on the church sign nearly as big as the name of the church. All in the name of evangelism? Yeah, right. All in the name of promotion--and not the promotion of the gospel. Seriously, what does http://www.pastorsname.com/ do to spread the gospel? I dare say, not much. Now, promoting a narcissistic agenda? Well, then it works quite well.

And when will pastors learn to just be a person?

Why must we put on our plastic face every morning and attempt to present to the world an idealized persona? The world isn't ideal. Life isn't ideal. Sometimes it sucks and we need pastors that will say it. We need pastors that will say we lust, that we struggle with our own finances, that we need help, that we often seek (and enjoy) the power and recognition, that we often succumb to narcissism, that we question whether or not God really knows what He's doing, that we are huge fans of Aerosmith. Pastors are only regular sinners, saved by grace, and called to a specific and special task. We are not special. We have no anti-sinning cream. We have the same responsibility to live the life to which Christ calls all Christians and we struggle just the same. And luckily, we don't have to preach our lives, we preach the inerrant Word--that which greatly surpasses and completely overshadows our failings. And besides, our sins and struggles as pastors help the flock to see that everyone's flesh is in constant struggle with the spirit.

I'm not saying that pastors should sin in order to give better object lessons. Nor am I saying that our sin is excused out-of-hand. I'm saying that we must be real. We cannot lead the lost to Christ by our holiness. We lead the lost to Christ by showing people Who is truly holy. People cannot relate to and will not follow a wax dummy. They will follow someone they know has been and will continue to be in the trenches with them.

In my life I have known two pastors that were real. To the best of my knowledge my childhood pastor, Pete Evans, was real. He was just a guy. The other one that I know was real was Pete Jory, the pastor under whom I served at First Baptist Galveston. Other than that, I've seen plasticity and I'm sick of it. I'm mad as Gehenna and I'm not going to take it any more.

Pastors, say it with me: narcissistic duplicity is bad and, if we ever learn to say it, we are taking it out of our vocabulary. It has no place in the church and no place behind the pulpit. We are turning people away from the gospel because of our conniving and hypocrisy and it has to stop. As pastors, it's high time we were honest with our congregation.

As fearful of this subject as we are, we have to have authenticity in the pulpit. I want people to ask me how I'm dealing with sin. I don't want them to be fearful of judgement because I portray myself as perfection personified. Because we are nowhere close to perfect. Hebrews tells us that we have a high priest that understands our struggles intimately and has overcome temptation. It is ludicrous for pastors to work so hard to convince the congregation that they can't relate to sin and give the impression that they've conquered it. Regardless of the many God-complexes out there, pastors aren't Jesus.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

And still we learn.

We still wonder sometimes (read: most of the time) why God seems to be stretching out the church planting timetable until we are ready to break. And then He does something to let us know why.

Etta, except for a few college years in Arkadelphia, had never been just a church member. She had always been part of a staff family, even after we married. I started in the ministry when I was 20 but was not real knowledgeable of church goings-on prior to that. So, for both of our most vivid memory banks, we had been on the inside of decision making and saw all the behind-the-scenes activity that translated into church decisions. That all changed when we joined the church we attend. Now, though we occasionally hear some reasoning for decisions, for the most part, we are as in the dark as everyone else.

Then there is the whole “upset church member” thing. As part of the staff, as long as it wasn’t immoral or unbiblical, I supported the decisions of the pastor/staff and I never had to blow the whistle on immorality. I saw what was done and why and said, along with the rest of the staff, that it was what was best and folks could go along or get along.

But now, we understand how that feels to a church member:
We now know what it’s like to hear a result of an event spun to fit a particular mold or expectation.
We know what it’s like to have staff members fired (or asked to leave or given an untenable choice or whatever) and miss them and think they should still be here.
We know what it’s like to not be happy with a particular part of the church but love enough parts of it not to leave.
We know what it’s like to sit in the congregation some Sundays and be so prepared to hear from God that every word of the pastor is directed right at us.
We know what it’s like to sit in the congregation and be so blasé that it seems the pastor is mumbling in Swahili for all the effect it is having on us.
We know what it’s like for the actions of one or two to ruin the entire worship experience for us.

In short, we know what it is to be church members. Thank you, Lord, for the lesson. I pray it makes us better ministers when the time comes to lead a congregation. I’m afraid so many of today's ministers started when they were 20, never sat as an active member of a church (only as an air-headed teenager), and then have attempted to lead congregations with no real knowledge of how their actions effect the people in the pews.

I pray that other ministers, along with me, can admit that still God teaches and, I pray, still we learn.