Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Holy Club

"Church is a club."

I have heard that statement made numerous times and did not want to believe that it was true. The church often has a club mentality with dues, membership roster, roll call, taking of minutes, doing of "business," yet rarely a plenary session. The members are part of the club not for the benefit of the club itself but because of the vanity of its members. Being part of the club is something that looks good or makes the member of the club appealing because membership is based on what that club offers; this then becomes how the church also is evaluated.

The attitude of the Christians who are part of that church then becomes, "How do I make my church (club) appealing?" Hence, why many people will ride past eight to ten churches to get to the church that is "right" for them. I am not saying that it isn't right to find the church that fits. What I am saying is that this fosters an isolationist mentality that is neither healthy nor biblical.

Often clubs become an ideal place for bragging on one's accomplishments. Clubs can be mutual admiration societies, more concerned about how well one has done at a particular thing or preening over goals having been met. Rarely are struggles ever discussed because that would make one look ineffective or sub-standard--not worthy of the club. Struggles and pain are virtually non-existent in clubs, unless you're part of a club that celebrates failure.

I've never heard of one of those. Failure however is a very real part of life. I have failed on numerous occasions and I have also lived through making up for those failures. The fact is, the church isn't very welcoming to those who have failed. We need a Gospel that speaks to failure and a church willing to embrace people whose lives have been shattered by failure.

Lay down my life for someone else? Esteem someone better than me? Look out after another's interests rather than my own? Owe a debt of love to someone? Not in a club. The club is all about self-congratulation and self-aggrandizement. But the Christ that spent all calls us to spend all as well. That won't get us any accolades or pats on the back. Probably more suffering. Probably more heartache, and probably more tears.

Here is what is missing from churches: relationships. However, in our self-righteousness academies, we are too quick to point the fingers, assign blame, and start issuing the "bless his hearts" and allow the one who has failed to continue on in their failure--quite hypocritical. While we continue on, congratulating ourselves for how righteous we are and tickled that the "evil one has been purged from our midst."

One of the radical truths of the Gospel is that Christ is not so much a personal Savior, which we often emphasize (to the detriment of the Gospel itself), but a Savior of people. Individuals. With hopes, dreams, and failures. Placing the emphasis on Christ as a personal Savior leaves the potential believer with a sense of isolation--a sense of "what do I do next?" The marriage supper of the Lamb is not going to be a private affair.

But if we emphasize Christ as a Savior of people--real, live people, then the possibility of community exists--the possibility that someone will be with me in this. Someone who has failed cannot strike out on a new venture alone. They don't have the wherewithal. They need someone to commit to them in the same way Christ commits to them--sure, their eternity is secure, but what about the present? Not so much.

We all rejoice when the man who has failed miserably in life joins the church; when the mom who aborted her child makes a faith commitment to Christ; when the AIDS victim comes to the altar. Yet where are they in a few months? Christ is their portion, but no portion they have among the Body. The message that is often sent is one that Christ is your personal Savior and Christ can get dirty cleaning you up and fitting you for Body-life.

What then happens to that abandoned person when the time of testing and trial comes? Like the man who fell among thieves, he finds himself broken and bleeding hoping a Good Samaritan might come along.

My wife was in the hospital having had her third surgery in three months. Her back was sliced open, her kidney invaded, and an ultrasonic wand inserted to vibrate apart a stone the size of a quarter. But what a sad lesson we learned. Who from the church showed up to check on us? No one. Who followed up once we got home after two days of kidney spasms and muscle-relaxer induced stupor? Fixed a meal, offered to look after the kids? Not a soul.

We need each other. The Gospel is meant to be lived out in community. I want to conclude with this question: who out there is willing to walk with a heavily ladened, hurting person until healing comes in God's time? Who?

They will fall inevitably and we will lament, "Oh, what little faith so-and-so had!" "Oh, she must not have really been saved!" "How deceived the poor soul must have been!" "Bless her heart."

The question probably won't be, "Well, what did I do to keep this from happening?" That just demands too much.

44 comments:

JoeG said...

Wow. Powerful post, Tony.
This is one of the things I like best about the Unitarian Universalist church to which I belong. We are a community, a society. We look out for each other. Right now, the husband of one of our elder members is on his deathbed, not expected to live past today. She is in constant contact with another member, who in turn is keeping us all posted. And the support she is getting from this network is giving her comfort. No doubt, when her husband passes on, many of us will be there to lend support, love, food, and a helping hand.
My wife and I renewed our wedding vows during this past Sunday's service to celebrate our 10th anniversary. One member volunteered to put together a team of people to make food for a reception afterward. (We normally have a coffee hour after service, but we wanted to make this a bit bigger and longer since we had family visiting for it.) Within days, she had a team of 12 volunteers to make or buy food and drink. They asked us for nothing, and they would accept nothing from us but our thanks and undying gratitude. And the party was fantastic.
We are there for each other in bad times, and we are there for each other in times of celebration. And everywhere in between. That is the way it should be.
I am sorry to hear that nobody was there to support you and your wife. I am at a loss for words as to what to say or do about it. Take your last three paragraphs and turn them into a sermon. It would be most appropriate, and the people of your church community need to hear it.

M. Steve Heartsill said...

Tony,

Been there and done that, my brother! I was a pastor for too many years. The first call made when members went to the hospital was to me. And, I went. At all hours of the day and night, weekends, holidays, it mattered not. I went because I loved. I went because I was expected. I went because I was paid.

Yet, during my own personal struggles and failures, no one came, no one called, no one loved. And, I hurt. From whatever the physical or mental or spiritual failure was, but also from the lack of Christian love and care back to me.

Not over it, I guess. Can you tell? Not sure I ever will be.

Can't figure out why, in the church, we often kill and eat the wounded rather than nurse them back to health..

Unlike what joeg said, pocket that sermon. You'll be preaching to deaf ears anyway.

Tony said...

Joe,

It sounds like you guys have a good group there. Perhaps we Christians could learn a lesson from you pagans, huh? I just don't understand the mentality that keeps us from being real with one another. Relationships are messy and need a lot of attention. Perhaps that is our problem, we just don't relate.

And, we all spell love f-o-o-d, don't we? :)

Steve H.,

You said, I was a pastor for too many years... Are you no longer in the pastorate? If not, would you mind sharing with us why not?

I have always gotten the impression that the pastor is "not one of us."
It bothers me terribly and I honestly do not know what to do about that.

And I detect a bit of cynicism in your comment--don't mean to get too psychological on you, but if you wouldn't mean teasing those thoughts out a bit further, I would like to hear some of your story...or if you want to post on it and drop a link here or just email me! Whatever you would like to do (and that may be nothing!). Thanks...

JoeG said...

Tony -
I wouldn't limit it to pagans. There are people of over 20 different religions in our congregation. We come together each week (and then some!) on a basis of mutual respect and understanding. It is part of the seven UU principles - to honor the worth and dignity of every human being. Once you come together on that level, it is easier to come together for everything else.

And UU's spell love
c-o-f-f-e-e. :) Food just happens to come along for the ride!

Karma Shuford said...

As I read the OP and subsequent comments, I was reminded of some things I have seen the church do right, and some of the things I have seen them "wrong."

I wish I could say it was all right, but, sadly it is not.

Early today, I was reading a blog by by a pastor who had been "working with" the guitarist from Poison, who has recently gotten saved. One of the comments on the post was something to the effect of, "He's saved? Has he stopped singing all of those "sinful" lyrics? Has he stopped all that bad stuff he does?" Ouch. Someone else simply said (again paraphrase), "Is that the preacher's job? Or the Holy Spirit's?"

I've also heard it told that Bob Dylan got saved, and some less than wise church leaders stuck him in a high profile, high stress position because of his talent. Suffice it to say, you don't associate Bob Dylan with Christianity, today. :(

Another larger problem of this nature is that we tend to associate "the church" with that building we go to on Sunday morning. We get comfortable in those four walls, and forget to look outside them for opportunities to care for people.

And I'm going to split the difference on sermon or no? If it is something that the Holy Spirit is already teaching or leading in some of the congregation's lives, then it will not fall on deaf ears. If they do not want it, then it will seem like it is.

I know there are some churches that have never been taught how to care for others. That sound crazy, but especially in this region, they literally go to church because moma did, and grandma, and great- grandad, and so on and so on.

Somehow going to church became equal with serving God, and associating with sinners became equal with being a sinner. I don't know what turned it upside down, and I am even more clueless as to how to rectify it -- other than just walk in the light I know and server others when I can.

Karma Shuford said...

I have always gotten the impression that the pastor is "not one of us."
It bothers me terribly and I honestly do not know what to do about that.

That bothers me, too. If you figure it out, let me know. I don't want my preacher to feel "excluded" from our congregation.

And I can tell you are all men.

Love is spelled C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E

duh.

M. Steve Heartsill said...

Karma, you are a brave woman to hang out with us men!

Alan Knox said...

Tony,

Excellent post! So, how does a group move from being a club to a church?

-Alan

Alan Knox said...

Tony,

I almost forgot what urged me to comment in the first place! You said (in your reply to Steve H.'s comment): "I have always gotten the impression that the pastor is 'not one of us.' It bothers me terribly and I honestly do not know what to do about that."

I realize that my answer will not be accepted by all, but I would say that if you want the "pastor" to be "one of us", then treat him like "one of us". Don't expect anything more or less of him (them) than you expect of other believers.

-Alan

Karma Shuford said...

alan, that is very true for someone like me (a layperson), but what can the pastor do to change that attitude of his congregation? short of preaching in boxers and sandals (which I do NOT recommend under any circumstances), or showing slide shows from his most recent battle with the intestinal flu?

I ask those tongue in cheek, obviously, but it is similar to what Tony posted a few days ago (and got derailed, badly). Just because he's the preacher, etc.

I've thought on it some, and I reluctantly believe that some people keep their preachers at an arm's distance for a couple of different reasons.

1. They believe, "Don't let the preacher get too close to you or your family, because then they might learn about the skeletons and think I am less than super-spiritual."

2. They believe that if they get to know the preacher as a "real person" they might actually see and know his struggles. That is scary for them. How can they "succeed" if the preacher can't even do it.

3. They believe "Why bother? In a couple of years they will just move on to a "bigger and better" church. (Youth pastors are especially prone to be a "victim" to this thinking.)

I'm sure there are other reasons, but those are some I am "familiar" with, either because I've heard someone say it, or because I'm guilty of it. :(

I guess the danger of any of these is that then it is even easier to make your church into a club, and even worse, the pastor is not a member.

I don't know that there is an *easy* answer; there rarely is, but it is something that I think congregations need to be aware of and pro-actively dealing with.

wwwmommy said...

Oh goodness. I so wish I had been there to help out when Camilla was in the hospital! :(

Tony said...

Karma,

I know there are some churches that have never been taught how to care for others. I think this is the crux of the issue. I have a hard time getting my arms around this one for several reasons.

First, it is an innate desire that we care for one another--we need that--yet we find ourselves caring for those in our tight little circle and seldom does it extend beyond that.

Also, Scripture says so much about caring for one another. Are we really reading our Bibles? the polls say we do, but we aren't living the truth. "Faith without works is dead."

And then we make it generational. Uncaring parents breed uncaring kids. And that one hurts the most, I think.

And we flounder in the area of discipleship. Because we think caring comes naturally we don't teach or train toward it.

But I must respond that we are all sinners and those things that should come naturally just simply don't. So we need the Holy Spirit so badly. So badly.

Alan,

Greetings! It has been a while. Thanks for joining the discussion.

I don't disagree with your assessment in your second comment at all. It would take a radical reorientation in the lives of a lot of believers for that to happen, though I think it is happening, step by step. If what I read at your blog and Dr. Black's is any indication, then many believers feel this way.

I think where I falter the most is where folks want to treat me "greater than" any other believer and though their motivations are sincere, I still have that nagging feeling.

You asked, how does a group move from being a club to a church? The $64,000 question, huh? I think it begins with relationships. From there, I'm pretty clueless. :)

Karma second comment,

#1, See here.

#2, See here. Eeek.

#3, See here.

Muchas!

wwwmommy,

Us too. But TX sure is a long way from VA...

Karma Shuford said...

Like I said, of the three reasons, some I have "heard", some I have experienced. ;)

Bernard Shuford said...

One thing I love about Crossroads is that the night Daryl (the pastor) went to the emergency room with chest pain, virtually the entire congregation loaded up after service and went to the emergency room to check on him.

When he was out of town and his wife's windshield wipers tore up, it was quite the scene as a half dozen of us worked to fix them.

As far as things we do RIGHT goes, I think we do a good job of "letting the pastor into the club". I know, there really shouldn't BE a club, but I hope you see my point.

Karma Shuford said...

I think I figured it out -- people are hesitant to treat preachers as normal people because they are afraid they will end up in a sermon illustration at some point.

:) (I'm joking; I think.)

Alan Knox said...

Karma,

You asked me, "[T]hat is very true for someone like me (a layperson), but what can the pastor do to change that attitude of his congregation?"

As someone who has been recognized as a pastor/elder, I can tell you that whatever I do I will not change everyone's attitude. Some people will put pastors above other believers and hold them responsible for things that Scripture doesn't hold them responsible. However, I've found that for the vast majority of people, pastors can make changes that help others recognize that pastors are "one of us". Here are a few suggestions:

Stop parking/sitting/standing/etc. in special places and places of honor - this includes when the church meets. Allow and encourage others in the congregation to speak during the meeting of the church. Allow and encourage others in the congregation to teach/preach while pastors are present (not just when they are on vacation). Stop taking responsibility for everything. If no one else is doing something, and the Spirit is not directing you to do it, then let it die. Be yourself when you teach. Don't use methods, words, and techniques that someone has to go to seminary to learn. Don't be "the" pastor - if you are, then surround yourself with other mature believers and give them EQUAL roles in decision making. Don't think of it as and don't allow others to call it "your" church. Take your name off of the sign and any publications.

And... the best way for pastors/elders to be "one of us"... pastors should get a job and live as "one of us".

-Alan

Karma Shuford said...

And... the best way for pastors/elders to be "one of us"... pastors should get a job and live as "one of us".

I'm not sure I follow. How is this going to help -- other than make the preacher extremely tired and spread thin?

Tony said...

Alan,

The pastor of the church Karma and her family are part of works full time for the town of Waynesville. Though I don't completely disagree with your statement And... the best way for pastors/elders to be "one of us"... pastors should get a job and live as "one of us" it isn't true 100% of the time as "best" in your statement suggests.

M. Steve Heartsill said...

I think we pastors are guilty of causing some of this, if not most of this. How many times, at fellowships, will you see the pastor working his way to the head of the line? It's that a perk of the job? How many times will the pastor have the special parking place, the closest one to the door? How many pastors get free tickets to games, trips, etc.? How many pastors get free usage of condos at the beach or mountains?

How many pastors give back to their members like that?

There's definitely a balance in being the "leader" and being "first"...one is good, the other is just arrogant.

Tony said...

Steve,

Your statement here is key: How many pastors give back to their members like that?

Pastors are all too willing to receive but very seldom give. I think many fall into the mentality of thinking, "Well, I have given all week, certainly receiving this measly portion cannot hold a candle to what I have done all week for these people."

Some pastors I have known have the worst sense of entitlement I have ever known. All they do is complain about how bad "their people" treat them. So when opportunities come up to get something out of "their people" they jump to take it.

My family and I have been intentional in this area (we hope) and when we are given to, always acknowledge with a thank you card, and not one of those little, pat, "instant response" cards. We try to get cards that match folks' personalities.

If we are given a dish of some sort, we try not to return it empty. We repay kindnesses as far as we can. I always go last at fellowships. I know it means I don't get first dibs on the mac 'n' cheese. We host church folks in our home and we are trying to do so as well with other folks in our neighborhood.

And I am trying to sit with my family in service as much as time will allow. I want to move to sitting with them up to the point I should preach.

So, I am trying to strike a balance between arrogance and leading, and I pray the Lord deliver me of all my arrogance.

M. Steve Heartsill said...

Tony, your servanthood and humbleness is evident in what you write and how you write it.

I always went last in line to eat. Many members said they had never seen anything like it. I tried not to make a big deal out of it, I would generally work the line, shaking hands, talking to people, hugging a few children along the way. And, before you knew it, I was at the back of the line and it just seemed normal, I think.

I like the idea of returning dishes that aren't empty! That's a great testimony and action. I'm sure you are giving your kids a great witness for how to be appreciative.

If I were in your parts of the world, I'd love to visit and worship with you guys! Sounds like a blast!

Karma Shuford said...

I remember one incident early in Daryl's tenure at Crossroads. We were having a dinner, and they had done the "preacher and family first" thing. Daryl and his family kindly waved the older people through, and the next time I saw Daryl, he was fetching drinks for people, sitting out extra chairs, etc.

I honestly wondered if it was a "I'm new and I want to impress you" type of thing, but he STILL does that.

Not saying we always treat Daryl as we should, but to see servanthood modeled was incredibly encouraging.

Alan Knox said...

Karma,

You asked, "How is this [pastors/elders getting a job] going to help -- other than make the preacher extremely tired and spread thin?"

I don't know if this is a rhetorical question or not. If not, there are a few blog posts that may be helpful. For example, see "How do you find the time?" and "How do you find the time to pastor?". You also may be interested in a post called "Advantages of non-hired, local leaders".

Finally, I think most pastors/elders feel "extremely tired and spread thin" because they focus on things that are not scriptural responsibilities of pastors/elders. Instead, they spend most of their time on man-made responsibilities that they either take on themselves or are expected to do by others. For a list of these, see "Responsibilities and Expectations of Elders". When pastors/elders take on the God-given responsibilities of others, not only do pastors/elders feel extremely tired and spread thin, and not only does this cause the pastor/elder to seem like he is not "one of us", but it also weakens the body of Christ.

-Alan

Bernard Shuford said...

Not to make this a "brag on Daryl" thread, but you couldn't ask for a man to more genuinely model humility. One of my FIRST comments about him when he preached for our church was "He's called to be a pastor." There's no doubt. He has invested himself so fully in our church and in our people that it is genuinely amazing.

Of course, part of the irony of that is that he came into a church that was filled with people who were VERY attached to the former pastor. Some never accepted Daryl, and the situation had some negative overtones. I think the "negative" of a pastor becoming too much of a "member" of his church is that he might choose to move to another church later, and the members always realize that. Thus, they can't let him "in" without allowing themselves to be really open to being hurt. This is part of my reasoning behind saying a pastor should not take a church that he is not willing to commit to for life. Way too much time is spent searching for pastors in many churches. However, that's probably more the church's fault than the pastor.

Karma Shuford said...

Alan, no offense intended, but I read each of those posts and came away feeling not completely confident that it supports your assertion that a pastor should have another job.

On one of them, I believe it said you were one of four pastors? That is awesome. What about the small church that has one pastor, so there is no one to "divide the duties" with?

When pastors/elders take on the God-given responsibilities of others, not only do pastors/elders feel extremely tired and spread thin, and not only does this cause the pastor/elder to seem like he is not "one of us", but it also weakens the body of Christ.

Not to be antagonistic, but I don't really understand. It almost seems as if you are talking about pastors doing their Biblically assigned "duties" as administrative and what not making them feel tired and run down. I agree. There is a lot of the business of the church that can be done without the pastor.

But, how does that support the notion that being a bi-vocational pastor makes it easier for "us" to see "him" as one of us? Because he works "in the trenches" or "in the real world" with us? Or because it helps him to be as busy as the rest of us?

JoeG said...

Wow, lots of good discussion here! I've got to start checking this site at night more! :)
Rather than comment on all else, let me tell you how our church works. Keep in mind we are Unitarian Universalist, not Christian, but the principle is the same.
We have a full-time paid minister. He receives a salary and housing expenses. We have a nine-member Board of Trustees that runs the business of the church. Part of our job is to keep the minister honest. When he does well, we rally to him. When he screws something up, we hold him accountable. We call him by his first name, and rarely do people call him "Reverend" even though it is his official title. For his part, he participates in most Board and individual committee meetings. Those discussions, as well as the Adult RE classes he teaches, are all round table. Participation is encouraged, and everyone talks. He is truly treated as "one of us". When a member has personal or health issues, he or his wife (our community minister) attends to them, or at least someone from the Pastoral Care Committee. When he is in need, we help him as well. Every five years he gets a 6-month sabattical. He chose to take his in two three-month stints over two years. The church survived without him because we all helped out.
Tony, the best a minister/pastor can do is be yourself, be unpretentious, be a normal human being. Refer to your own life in your sermons, and don't be shy about sharing your own struggles to make a point. Our minister does all the time, and for my wife and I it helps a lot. We can relate to him, and he to us as a married man with a family. I like your idea of sitting with your family until it is time to preach. Nice touch! Don't be hesitiant at any time about showing your humanity. In time, maybe some will come around and treat you likewise. Others will still keep you at arm's-length. That is to be expected, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Tony said...

Alan,

I share some of Karma's same concerns. Further, I would like to say that of the posts you linked, none of them really stated what the Scriptural duties of a pastor are. You come down really hard on what those things aren't. Moreover, are man-made responsibilities bad or sinful? I am not quite sure I am following you and if I am understanding you correctly, then it would be incumbent upon me to step down as pastor of the church I serve, or at the very least get a secular job (which incidentally, it seems you overlooked my comment to you about the pastor of the church Karma and her family are part of working full-time; they and he have the same concerns I have voiced in this post and comment thread).

Plus, your duplicity working at SEBTS and teaching a Greek class disturbs me. If your MO is that a pastor should not be paid, then what about you working toward a Ph. D. and teaching a Greek class to students who are essentially training to become pastors in the traditional sense, as well as working for a seminary who has as its express purpose to train up church leaders (pastors)?

When I graduated from SEBTS in '02, the vast majority of my friends were called to pastoral ministry and intended to serve the local church in the sense you decry. Forgive me if that is bothersome, but it is there nonetheless.

Tony said...

Joe,

We're where its at! ;)

You are always an encouragement to me, my friend. Thanks for the good words.

I do use personal illustrations in my sermons, but not too much--because there is always the danger of becoming Joel Osteenish--that every thing is about me. If you ever watch Osteen, and I wouldn't recommend it, it is stunning how many times he refers to himself when he is speaking.

I just recently started sitting with my family during worship. It does add a nice touch and as of yet, the folks don't really know what to do with it yet. It has kind of wierded them out.

And I probably show my human side too much, if that is possible, wearing my emotions on my sleeve.

JoeG said...

A pagan encouraging a Christian minister. Who'da thunk it? :) Glad to take part here, it is my pleasure.

No such thing as showing your human side too much. You are human, you have no other side.

And I have had the distinct displeasure of watching Joel Osteen on TV. I think you could insert one or two personal anecdotes during a sermon without sounding anything like him!! You'd have to talk about yourself non-stop! :)

Alan Knox said...

Pastors/elders working a job does not solve the problem of them not seeming to be "one of us". However, having paid pastors does perpetuate the problem.

The blog posts that I linked to were not meant to explain my view of pastos/elders. There are other blog posts that could do that, if you're interested. Instead, I was trying to answer Karma's question as to how pastors could work a job and not feel "extremely tired and spread thin".

I have never been part of a church - large or small - that did not have two or more people who were mature enough to be recognized as pastors/elders. The problem was not with their maturity, but with the people's (and their) man-made expectations of what a pastor is and what he is supposed to do.

Man-made responsibilities are not sin, unless they keep the pastors/elders from God-given responsibilities. I would suggest that if pastors/elders do not feel like "one of us", that is a clear indication that they are not living as God would want them to live. But... all pastors are very busy. Busy at what? Man-made expectations and responsibilities.

-Alan

Alan Knox said...

I forgot to answer the question about being a professor. I do not equate discipleship with education. As a professor, it is my responsibility to educate. I do not see my position as professor to be the same as a pastor.

The seminary's official position is that paid pastors are supported by Scripture. The seminary's position is also that the seminary trains pastors. I do not pretend to speak for the seminary. But, I do not think Scripture supports paid pastors, nor do I think education makes someone qualified to be a pastor.

-Alan

Tony said...

Alan,

So what you are essentially saying is that you really do not have a response to the initial problem stated in the original post?

And you avoided my question. I didn't say that a professor, was the same as a pastor, and I think you know that. Neither did I equate discipleship with education. I know the difference.

What I said was it looks highly suspect that you are willing to work for and be paid by an institution that teaches what you are sold out against, as well as receive a doctoral degree from that same institution. Your position would have much, much more credibility otherwise, Alan.

Karma Shuford said...

But, I do not think Scripture supports paid pastors,

Does it not support it by saying, "you shall not," or does it not support it by not saying anything at all about it.

(Genuine question, not being snarky. I'm looking and not finding what I'm looking for).


nor do I think education makes someone qualified to be a pastor.

Indeed. Of course, I know several people/churches in this area that take that to an extreme -- they think that pastors should NOT go to seminary, period, at all, for any reason.

Karma Shuford said...

Hit post before I finished. :/

In the old testament, the people supported the Levitical priests. In the NT, obviously, things change a bit, and I'm not sure if there is an example as clear as that one.

Alan Knox said...

Tony,

I'm simply showing that comparing professors and pastors is comparing apples and oranges. When I started seminary, I was completely on track with the traditional understanding of the church. My understanding about the church has changed. But, ecclesiology is only one part of what the seminary teaches. I've found that many people at the seminary - both professors and students - disagree with the traditional understanding of the church.

One of the great things about seminary - especially the PhD program - is that brothers and sisters can disagree with one another without questioning one another's credibility.

What's interesting is that being a seminary professor is not my full-time job. I work in I.T. I teach one Greek class in the college, not the seminary. My desire is to continue teaching at the college level, preferrably at a secular college.

Actually, I do have an answer to why pastors are not considered "one of us". I gave a long list in a previous comment. The only one that was questioned was the idea of a pastor getting a job.

Levites and priests were supported by the people in the OT. However, pastors/elders are never equated to levites or priests in the NT. Instead, all believers are priests. Scripture supports sharing good things with those who teach (or double honor to elders to teach/lead). I do not think this is the same as a salary.

Thanks for the questions and discussion.

-Alan

Bernard Shuford said...

Karma - Alan is apparently following the regulative principle - if Scripture doesn't command it specifically, it's not allowed. "Sola Scriptura" is the foundational thought there.

Read Alan's post today about "strong church or weak church" to understand his position. He's basically convinced, it appears, that rigid structure of any sort in the church is not specifically commanded by Scripture, which means he believes we should default to a "weak ecclesiology", resulting in "church staff positions" of any sort not being allowed. He's doesn't believe that "pastors" as you and I know them really should exist. He emphasizes that we are all called to evangelize and be missionaries, which I agree with, but in doing so he maintains that we cannot give anyone - such as a pastor - more responsibility in that area than we give anyone else. His apparent conclusion, based on this thread combined with that one, is that making much of a "pastoral" distinction at all is rather unScriptural, thus not allowed at all by the regulative principle that he seems to be following. This is my interpretation of what he appears to be saying, and as such is subject to correction.

It's all in which way you approach the Scriptures - "Regulative Principle (Sola Scriptura)" or "Normative Principle (we can do anything we are not commanded to avoid)".

I think that groundwork needs to be laid clearly, based on the direction this is taking.

Tony said...

I need to be fair to Alan. I believe the position he holds has much merit, much more than many are willing to give it credit.

A lot of that problem lies in what my fundamental problem would be--I pastor a church full-time, believe that God has called me to this place of service, receive a salary to support my family, have invested years of education (and money) into it, have nothing else to fall back on, meaning I have no skills that I could get a job to support my family if I wholeheartedly adopted Alan's position.

In other words, I have nowhere else to go. Purely practical? Yes. But outside the bounds of Scripture? I don't think so.

Tony said...

Alan,

I'm sorry--I didn't realize you were posting.

I still see a tinge of duplicity; I am sorry. You can justify it with that argument, that is fine, though I don't completely buy it. I understand that differing viewpoints exist regarding this.

Sure--they are apples and oranges. But still, you are training men who will become pastors and working for an institution that trains men who will serve churches and be paid for their service (I know Greek class isn't the pastoral ministry dept), and you yourself are getting paid for it.

I am sorry, but I do not understand that. And I'm sorry that I have questioned your credibility in this area but I think it is justified--I'm a pastor who receives a salary from a local church.

Karma Shuford said...

Okay, I am NOT intending argue/discuss "Bible" with an almost PhD, seminary graduate and a graduate of a Christian college. I simply do not have the "background" to do that.

But I believe the "double honor" mentioned could just as easily mean financial support. One honor is the serving of the Lord, the other could be whatever it takes to help him make it.

Do I think the church HAS to support the pastor so he doesn't have to get a full-time job?

No, but I think it is practical to do so, and if the church is able and willing to do it, financially, I think it is probably a wise direction to take.

I wish our little church could pay our pastor what I think he is worth. Technically, we don't even give him a salary. We give him a housing allowance, because we don't have a parsonage, etc. and it, in theory, helps with his living expenses.

Tony said...

Alan,

One more thought on the credibility issue--I think you first impugned my credibility by making this statement, which you claim I am now picking on you about: The only one that was questioned was the idea of a pastor getting a job.

If you did not intend that statement to receive more attention than you thought it deserved, why then did you set it apart at the conclusion of that comment and frame it the way you did; moreover, knowing that I am a full time, salaried pastor? You said, And... the best way for pastors/elders to be "one of us"... pastors should get a job and live as "one of us".

And the funny thing is, I think I haveagreed with everything that preceded that statement in the course of the thread and provided examples of how I am trying to live that out.

So the question I think now becomes not that the only idea I singled out was that the pastor should get a job, but that you yourself singled it out.

Alan Knox said...

Thanks again for the great discussion everyone. Just to clarify a few things, I don't hold to either the regulative or the normative principle. Instead, I hold to something that has been called the "informed" principle - although I don't like that term. Here's a definition:

"A new principle has been recently introduced into this discussion that seeks to strike a balance between the regulative and normative principles. Sometimes referred to as the 'informed principle of worship', it teaches that what is commanded in Scripture regarding worship is required, what is prohibited in Scripture regarding worship is forbidden, what is not prohibited in Scripture regarding worship is permissible, but only if properly deduced from proper application of Scripture using good and necessary consequence."

I believe that pastors/elders and other leaders are very important to the church. I am a pastor/elder and I take that role very seriously. This is one of the reasons that I get involved in discussions like this, realizing that most people will not agree with me.

The interesting thing is, I'm okay with people not agreeing with me. I do not think people are heretical for being paid pastors. I have some great friends who are paid pastors.

Thanks again.

-Alan

Tony said...

Alan,

I appreciate the gracious tone and kindness you have exhibited in this discussion, but you leave prematurely and a bit unfairly--it is as if you are fine challenging but you care not to be challenged.

You have not addressed many of my concerns. If you choose to leave the discussion, that is fine, but your credibility here still remains suspect, at least to me, and will in future conversations you and I have on this and related topics.

I'm sure if you and I were to meet and hang out we would probably be great friends! I appreciate your love for the Lord and genuineness in striving to serve as the Spirit leads. God bless you, brother!

Alan Knox said...

Tony,

I will be glad to continue the discussion. My concern is not with being challenged - I welcome having my beliefs challenged. My concern is with the scope of the conversation. We are getting into areas that are taking us away from the point of this post. Also, the discussion is getting very broad, which is difficult to maintain in this medium.

If you would like to continue the discussion, that is fine with me. I would ask that you pick a particular question or concern about my ecclesiology, and let's begin with that question or concern. Then, we can take others one at a time.

As to credibility, I understand that you have questions about my being a professor teaching Greek and how that lines up with my position about paid pastors. I also have concerns and I am working to change some things in my life because of those concerns.

However, you should know that I am not speaking from theory. I am a pastor - recognized as a pastor/elder (we do not differentiate between those terms) in a church that is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention. I also work full time. I also teach part time. I also take classes at SEBTS. Since this is the main point of our conversation, I would hope that my being a pastor with a full time job would lend to my credibility.

-Alan

Tony said...

Alan,

I appreciate your generosity. I don't know that we can find much agreement here, though I think you would be surprised to know that I would probably agree with you more than you realize.

I really have no problems with your ecclesiology and as I have discussed this with other guys who share the same ecclesiology, much of my concerns stems from what I have already mentioned in one comment in this thread--how do I practically work it out and still provide a decent wage for my family (five kids, btw)? What about my calling? Is that of no consequence?

While I genuinely believe and am comfortable with your ecclesiology, the pragmatics (for me alone) concern me the most.

I am willing to lay aside what I see as credibility issues on your behalf. Thanks for the further explanation.

Oh, and thanks for not thinking I am a heretic. :)