Church Culture Politics

Called to Be A Celebrity

The lust for power, wealth, and influence often becomes a dangerous church game.

The ordination of a pastor is a big event. For black Adventists, it is probably the equivalent of the Emmy Awards. I often laugh during the ordination processional every year at camp meeting. You know, when all the pastors line up with their wives for the biggest fashion show of the year. Er, I mean when new pastors are consecrated and set apart for ministry and preaching of the gospel.

All the pomp and circumstance just cracks me up. I’ll never forget watching first ladies decked out in all white with hats that need their own zip code, pastors waving to the crowd with big smiles, and the church members who gaze on in adoration mixed with jealousy- all while the echos of what sounds like Dracula’s theme song (it’s really just the organist’s take on Bach) linger in the air. I’ve watched my parents participate in the ceremony year after year and I laugh at them every time. I’m sorry but the whole display is utterly ridiculous.

These days its appears as if many have become obsessed with the illusion of power and prestige that comes with pastoral ministry. Just look at the group of preachers who sacrificed their influence and integrity for what ended up being just a photo op with a president who will use their acceptance of him to endorse evil. It seems to me that many pastors and other church leaders have become more concerned with fame than actual ministry.

The deference, honor, and respect given to pastors is nothing new. In the black church, its roots go all the way back to slavery.

Now don’t get me wrong, the duties and the responsibilities of pastors are not something to take lightly. Church people are NOT easy and it’s important to show gratitude and respect to those who lead us. But a call to ministry is not a call to celebrity.

The advent of Facebook Live and other live streaming services might have you believe differently though. In a world where likes, comments, shares, and followers determine content, where does genuine ministry fit in? In a culture where power and influence reign supreme, why should Christian leaders avoid the almighty photo op? After all, how can we influence change if we don’t have a seat at the table?

As American Christianity has begun to age, so has its leadership. The average American pastor is 54 years old.

Yikes.

Now I know there are plenty of young theology students and seminarians out there. Why aren’t they entering traditional pastoral ministry?

I’ve heard a lot of theories but I think it comes down to this- they aren’t interested.

When a seasoned pastor can say that the church belongs to its members because they “pay the bills” and pastors should just do whatever makes the saints happy and collect the check, it’s clear that something has gone horribly wrong.

It is important for pastors, leaders, and members alike to remember that the church doesn’t belong to any one of us. The last time I checked, the church belongs to God so no proclaimed Christian should be molding any church after their own image.

But that’s what happens when people try to force what they haven’t been called to do. Preaching and pastoring are not one and the same. They are also not always lifetime appointments. However, if members will shower you with money, gifts, and praise as long as you let them run the church, how can you turn that down? Once you’ve had a taste of popularity, who can resist the desire for more?

There is often only one career track for “successful” pastors. In the Adventist church it means working your way up through the conference, union, division, and for a lucky few, the General Conference. It’s why, very few people ever go back to pastoring after entering administration. But why is local ministry seen as a step down?

Perhaps it’s because real ministry is not glamorous. It is hard work, rarely fun, and the results are not always tangible. Isn’t it easier to go around preaching at different churches every week than rebuilding a dying church?

Jesus never fought to take over the Sanhedrin nor did he try to cozy up to the Roman Empire. So why do we have pastors and leaders organizing coups to take over conferences and unions? Why are there pastors claiming the only way to make a difference is by sitting down with the most bigoted and dangerous president of our time without ever speaking truth to power?

The lust for power is dangerous y’all.

In a time where many Christian leaders are just as morally bankrupt as our politicians, there is a growing group of people who are leaving the ministry to do…well, ministry. They are tired of the politics, bureaucracy, and ineffectiveness of organized religion and are turning to a new model.

As Christians, we haven’t been called to dreams of fame, we’ve been called to explore the mercy God offers us. We’ve been called to have courage to stand for what’s right and bring hope to a society that is often filled with despair. We’ve been called to serve, care, and love in a way that shows we to belong to Jesus.

 

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