Over two decades ago (1987) Eugene Peterson wrote the following in the opening paragraphs to Working the Angles:
“American pastors are abandoning their post, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have been doing for twenty centuries.” (p. 1)
“A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted. Most of my colleagues who defined ministry for me, examined, ordained, and then installed me as a pastor in a congregation, a short while later walked off and left me, having, they said, more urgent things to do. The people I thought I would be working with disappeared when the work started. Being a pastor is difficult work; we want the companionship and counsel of allies. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect to share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.” (pp. 1-2)
Peterson’s rebuke is strong! Sadly, it is accurate too. When we find a shepherding shepherd we must stop to admire (e.g. here) because so many pastors seem to have forgotten their calling.
It appears not much has changed. In 2010 Timothy G. Gombis wrote very similar words in his book The Drama of Ephesians (p. 120). Listen to this:
“Idolatrous values have also infected our contemporary notions about ministry. We envision strong and decisive leaders, people who will give us a measure of prestige in communities. We want our churches to grow, to expand beyond the capacities of our buildings so that we need to build bigger, shinier monuments to our success. Surely then God will be honored—look at our building! In the face of such expectations, pastors often feel inadequate and overwhelmed. They need something, perhaps the prestige of a professional degree. Enrollment in doctor of ministry programs in seminaries has never been higher, and there is no sign of slowing down. There is no doubt that many pastors embark on such programs to be equipped for ministry in contemporary contexts. But I wonder if the range of motivations in our contemporary climate has produced idolatry of professional prestige.” (p. 120)
For Gombis it is not things like a D.Min that are wrong in and of themselves. But it is the pastor after pastor who feels like s/he is not legitimate until s/he is “successful” like leaders in the world are “successful”. Gombis continues:
“Contemporary ministry has been hijacked and recast in the image of the professional, the executive, the decisive leader, the chairman of the board who oversees a large budget and plays golf and lunches with other influential and powerful people. Many of our churches are comforted by the presence of such pastors, since they become an image of power, stability, prestige and social honor that is familiar to us from our culture. But isn’t this a sign that our vision has become corrupted? We have let worldly values seep in and overpower our sense of being God’s people in the world. We have become so conformed to this world that when we begin to conceive of playing roles in the gospel drama of God’s triumph, we can only conceive of triumphalist performances.” (p. 120)
By “triumphalist performances” he means “the notion that God is magnified through human power, prestige, political influence and outward success”. (p. 119) This is not God’s way. God is glorified through weakness (remember the cross?) of his people. O that more pastors would heed to these words of these two wise men! O that more pastors would not gain their models of leadership from CEOs and CFOs, from billion dollar companies and successful entertainment ventures, but from the Christ who washed his disciples’ feet and the apostles who died for the gospel! Reclaim the pastorate! We, the church, need you to do it.