Monday, July 12, 2010

SEVEN LIES THAT CAN TRAP A MINISTRY----PART SIX


LIE NUMBER SIX...THEY WON'T RESPECT ME ...UNLESS I'M ON A PEDESTAL.

Pedestals create problems. There is no doubt about that. The dictionary definition for 'Pedestal" the way I'm using it is.."A position of high regard." Granted, this is somewhat connected to my first article that talked about having heroes. But here I'm looking at a different sort of lie that people and pastor may believe that can effectively ruin a ministry if not addressed.

I'm fully aware that people in a church may put a pastor on a pedestal and that's very unfortunate. But my issue is more with the pastor who tries to place himself there or tries to maintain that position if others have put him there.

Pedestals are not the best position for real people and to be on one takes too much hiding or being secret about ones self to effectively remain in that exalted position. When a fall comes, and it will, the pain is great and often disillusioning.

I know there are those who don't like knowing of the struggles of ministers because, their argument goes, if THEY [ministers] don't have it together how are we to trust ANYTHING they say? It's almost as if they [ministers] are that person's last bastion of hope for everything to be as it should be in somebody's christian life.

It might should be mentioned at this point that only our Lord deserves to be on a pedestal anyway because He is the only one who has it all together in terms of life.

In fact, to look at a pastor in this manner could make an idol of him were one not careful. [Or maybe just the pulpit or position of pastor is the idol in that person's mind. Who knows!!]

Those who do wish preachers would remain silent about their own struggles sometimes use Ephesians 5:12 as a biblical basis for their objection. This is a verse that says it is a shame to speak of those things done in secret. So, their argument goes, preachers should keep their mouths shut about their own secret struggles or failures. It's a shame for them to mention them from the pulpit the bible says.

It would be good for those folks to actually understand that verse in context I would think. It's speaking of the secret things unbelievers [those in darkness] are presently [present tense] doing and how those things should not be spoken about with affirmation but confronted with light [as children of light] giving direction out of such things.

So unless you believe your pastor to be an unbeliever, the things he might share about his struggles and how God has given grace in them are not the subject of that passage at all.

I believe a major weakness of the modern pulpit is the LACK of identification of the one in the pulpit with those in the pew anyway. [This is that pedestal thing] This weakness may be the single greatest failure of the pulpit. The only greater failure would be to NOT preach the text of scripture itself.

So..how was this pedestal thing corrected in my own pulpit through forty years of pastoring? Whether I was successful in correcting it may be for others to say, of course, but I can give you what I used in my attempt to correct it. Several things were involved and this isn't a complete list at all.

One...I made a commitment within myself to be truthful and express what I really was, not what people wanted to think I was. An example is when I would preach/teach on having intimate time with the Lord, I would be honest about my own struggles and failures in doing so with any solid regularity. This was before I realized the truth that every moment of every day I'm in union and fellowship with Him and special times are good but not essential for fellowship. That is an atmosphere not an activity.

In the same manner when teaching on not letting the sun go down on anger in James, I would honestly confess that anger was a problem area in my own life. My control struggles were in that category as well. So when I would teach about God being the blessed contoller of every event, I would use my own struggle with a need to control as an illustration of the battle that often takes place in a believer.

Earlier in my ministry I was honest with struggles about impure thoughts or actions that were debilitation to my walk with the Lord and I shared how I learned, as a result, ways of focusing my attention on Him during those struggles that led to cleansing and even hope.

So you can see that, in my ministry at least, the people were aware that their pastor was, in reality, a fellow struggler, as evidenced by control issues, anger issues, impure thought issues and a general inability to practice ALL I preach about what a Christian should be and do.

You say, "But doesn't Paul say that the Corinthians should imitate him? Doesn't that mean Paul HAD to live what he preached if he said such a thing?" No , it doesn't have to mean that at all. In fact, remember that Paul regularly told of his struggles personally [Romans 7-8] but always found in the Lord what was needed and we ARE to imitate him in that. I say the same to those I pastor. Follow me as I deal with my issues of the flesh and learn to see the work of the Cross of Christ as it does it's true work in deliverance and victory. That's the ONLY way any person other than the Lord can ever recommend himself as one to be followed.

Remember, no one is speaking about details that are salacious in nature. I've found that is really more a matter of a choice of words and an overall willingness to recognize the nature of an audience. On the other hand some people think the word "sex" IS salacious and should never be spoken in public. You can have peculiar people both in the pulpit AND pew remember.

Two...I made a commitment to drop the pomposity and self-righteousness that can come from thinking I'm better or even different than the people served. So I quit using the personal pronoun "you" and replaced it with the word "we." Too much preaching/teaching, IMHO, is crouched in words like...God wants you to know you will have no victory over sin if you play games with it privately... instead of...God wants us to know we will have no victory over sin if we play games with it privately. [If you don't believe the first is often used listen to sermons on the Internet.]

Let's face it, preachers are ordinary people and face the ordinary problems and challenges that other people face. I haven’t “arrived”; I don’t have an exclusive path to God; I am a student of life and not a graduate of life, just like other ordinary people. To pretend otherwise by leaving myself out of the pulpit language used is unworthy and simply the height of spiritual arrogance it seems to me.

Three...I made a commitment to practice what I preached. It was my desire to convey to the people my own hope of BEING what was taught scripturally about behavior. This is NOT a retraction of what was previously stated but a companion to it. I would often end messages with the prayer that God would deliver me from preaching to others what I refused to have built in my own life.

The key here is "presently being built." No one of us has arrived at what the Christian life is all about and we're on that journey together. Let's just be honest about that and people will not likely be as tempted to place a minister on a pedestal or a minister will not be as likely to try to climb up there himself.

Besides..spiritual "Acrophobia" [ἄκρον φόβος meaning fear of heights] might be a good phobia to have for any Christian leader.

17 comments:

debbiekaufman said...

Good posts Paul. I tend to trust the leader who is open about their struggles. I can trust a person who can be honest enough to speak of struggles. It gives me a chance to see God work, allows us in the body to pray for those struggles as well as our own, and to see God work in spite of those struggles.It lets me know that God will do the same for me and that I'm not a failure as a Christian because I have struggles.

The Apostle Paul spoke of his struggles and his inadequacies in scripture.

Paul Burleson said...

Debbie,

You've given a solid accounting of the value of a teacher who shares personal struggles. Well said.

The flip side of that is if a teacher DOESN'T share, they are fooling no one but themselves AND people who don't have a clue about real life or Christianity.

I'll take my chances by talking about what is real with people like you anytime. Thanks for commenting.

Aussie John said...

Paul,

Again, I have greatly appreciated your words.

I am thankful that I had several years as an elder before being called into pastoral ministry that was to last until ill health forced our retirement. Those years of eldership were a good training ground, enhanced by the fact that the pastor I served with was of a similar mind to yourself.

When I was inducted into our first pastorate, the denominational "official" urged the congregation to build the pedestal high. It took two years to demolish it, but what a difference it makes when ones brethren realize they are able to have a conversation knowing that we are equally cut from the same cloth of our Adamic heritage.

"No one of us has arrived at what the Christian life is all about and we're on the journey together."

Amen to that!

And I thought I was the only one. Seems like I'm in good company

Rex Ray said...

Paul,
You seem to express there is NO limit to the amount of ‘dirty laundry’ a pastor can tell without loosing respect from the congregation. Insult to injury is if the congregation is told they do it.

I like what Bishop Alfred Quayle, American Methodist Bishop (1860-1925) said:

“Preaching is the art of making a sermon and delivering it. Why no, that is not preaching. Preaching is the art of making a preacher, and delivering that. Preaching is the out rush of soul in speech. Therefore, the elemental business in preaching is not with the preaching but with the preacher.
It is no trouble to preach, but a vast trouble to construct a preacher.
What then, in the light of this is the task of a preacher? (or of anyone sharing his or her faith).
Mainly this, the amassing of a great soul so as to have something worthwhile to give. The sermon is the preacher up to date.”

I agree preachers are not to be put on a pedestal, but neither are they to preach ‘do as I say and not as I do.’ It goes back to the old saying of something like “Your actions are so loud, I can’t hear what you say.”

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

As always, your journey is a trip worth sharing. Thank you for doing so.


Rex,

Your comment by Bishop Quayle when he said...“Preaching is the art of making a sermon and delivering it. Why no, that is not preaching. Preaching is the art of making a preacher, and delivering that. Preaching is the out rush of soul in speech. Therefore, the elemental business in preaching is not with the preaching but with the preacher.
It is no trouble to preach, but a vast trouble to construct a preacher.
What then, in the light of this is the task of a preacher? (or of anyone sharing his or her faith).
Mainly this, the amassing of a great soul so as to have something worthwhile to give. The sermon is the preacher up to date.”..is an absolutely superb illustration of what I'm speaking about.

What I've conveyed is simply the making of that preacher and bringing the people along in the journey. Good stuff. Thanks.

Bob Cleveland said...

Lots of stuff to wax on and on, in this one.

First, to put the pastor on some pedestal is to deny that God calls different people to different roles. When I was in the insurance business, I was as called to do that as our pastor was to do what he does.

Second, we're a bunch of humans, and to put you as a pastor on a pedestal, is to hold you to a standard you can't keep. And when the pastor tries to be something he can never be (perfect, and everything to everybody), he's apt to end up doing things he oughtn't, to try and keep up the impression.

I suppose some day we'll learn that we really are a body, we really do each have our part to be, that all the parts are interdependent, and start acting like it. But I fear it may not be in THIS life....

Ah well.

Paul Burleson said...

Bob,

It is true that the "glass darkly" seems to be more "darkly" about some things than it is about others. Bodylife is one of those don't you think? :)

Hope your trip went well and glad you're back. Great pictures.

Bob Cleveland said...

Paul;

"Bodylife"? Right on, brother.

At that, one's involvement in the body should be keyed to one's God-given giftedness, which is .. in my experience .. woefully under-taught in our churches. So I really do have to say "no wonder".

Paul Burleson said...

Bob,

Could not agree with your assessment more.

Anonymous said...

Paul, why then as a pastor did you feel the need to be always called "Brother" Paul? No one else at the church was called brother, except for you. I would have understood calling you pastor, but I never understood brother. If we had called each other "brother" it would have made sense. But it was only reserved for you. It seemed like a way around Mt 23:8-9 - and it set you apart and above the rest of the church.

Paul Burleson said...

Anon,

Good thought about this "brother" thing. I'm glad you raised it.

Early in my ministry [I started pastoring when I was seventeen] I assumed everyone SHOULD call THE pastor "brother." I guess as a show of respect although I can't remember motives that far back.

Years ago I came to be uncomfortable with titles including "Reverend" as the scriptures tell us to let the name of the Lord be reverenced and that became my motivation for divesting myself of that title.

Several years ago I came to a personal preference of being called Paul. My name. But through the years I found an unusual thing. The older generation felt a need to call me "brother Paul." I have board members who still do after thirty years of being on the board of directors for VTM, my ministry. I've tried to not make it an issue with them. I'm not their pastor by the way.

Seminarians insisted back then on calling me "Pastor Paul." I didn't make it an issue with them either.

I have to admit that my understanding of multiple elders and the equality of the body has been a process of growth in me that started in the early eighties and has progressed since. It has been only the last twenty years I've come to a full understanding of preaching/pastoral ministry NOT revolving around one man. In fact I've come to see the text of scripture showing anyone gifted and anointed for a ministry in the New Covenant is to be free to excercise that gift in the church...including women.

I just told someone a few days ago I would love to have a reunion retreat where Mary and I are able to show folks we've pastored, especially seminarians, from where we've come and how we've come to where we are today.

This comment.. "why then as a pastor did you feel the need to be always called "Brother" Paul?"..doesn't apply and hasn't for the past twenty-five years.

This comment.."it set you apart and above the rest of the church."..is exactly the problem that had to be overcome in my own life and is the problem I'm attempting to correct at the present time in the Body of Christ.

I hope this helps in your understanding. Thanks for asking.

Christiane said...

An old song from the sixties goes

". . and Jesus was a sailor and He walked upon the water, and He spent a long time watching from a lonely wooden tower . . . "

sometimes if a Christian leader feels he needs to 'be raised up' in the eyes of his flock in order to be respected, all he has to do is to imagine how Christ was raised up.

Then he will quietly walk away from thought of pedestals;
because he knows that the Only One who ever deserved to be on one,
chose the Cross instead.

Paul Burleson said...

Christiane,

Your knowledge of history, the Church fathers, poetry, and life in general gives you a unique way of saying things that are profound but stated so simply. This is no exception to that. Thanks.

Christiane said...

That is kind of you to say, Paul.

For me, the most beautiful and profound communication I have ever encountered was when I witnessed the kindness of my Down Syndrome child to someone less fortunate than himself . . . and not a word was spoken.

My non-verbal son is a resident of Eastern Christian Childrens Retreat in Wyckoff, NJ.
Patrick got up and picked out a musical toy from a shelf and carried it over to a stretcher-bound resident and very, very gently laid the toy into his hands.

The staff tells me that my son will frequently show kindness in this way. They are always moved when they see this.

I am fortunate, by the grace of Our Lord, to understand what 'profound' really means in the Kingdom 'cause I have learned about it from a Down Syndrome child of God.

For me, Paul,
'There is no exception to that.' :)

Paul Burleson said...

Christine,

A case in point to my comment about your comment.

Ken Colson said...

Paul,
As a student under your ministry, I appreciated your honesty in stating that many times you were only a step or two ahead of us in sharing truth. We could see that you were in the school of hard learning and it made you special to us. You were one of us! Thanks, again, for sharing yourself.
Ken Colson

Paul Burleson said...

Ken, Thanks. You're one of those who made it easy.