I’d rather be in the Ivory Tower rather than in the pulpit

It all started, as it usually does, with something Daniel Kirk wrote, namely this:

Dear pastor, it is not enough to huddle with your buddies over beer or in your internet discussion room and talk about what a bunch of sexist bastards your fellow pastors are in your denomination.

If you are not working to change what women can do, you are promoting and sustaining the sexism that you deride in private.

If you are not opening up space in your church for women to preach and teach, you are promoting and sustaining the sexism that denies the truth of your women’s identity in Christ.

My liberal-friend-in-hiding Daniel wrote this in reply,

Don’t get me wrong. I agree with Dr. Kirk. This is an issue that needs action. But reading these rants as a pastor, and actually doing something about it, I get tired of the bully pulpit.

My own little ‘Roo wrote this,

Pastors are among the most bullied people of any vocation. Because our roles are undefined or ill-defined everyone and anyone thinks they have a right to tell the pastor what they should and shouldn’t be doing. This subtle form of bullying comes from all quarters (even other pastors)…

…But our job as pastors is to pastor not be activists. Whether it is this or any other issue

The Joker to my Robin, Brian LePort, writes,

What is odd about these two posts is they reinforce the very clergy-laity divide that I assume Thompson and Stevens disdain. These posts assume that pastors do the heavy lifting and someone who teaches in a seminary classroom has no idea what it is like to do ministry.

The downfall of Jim Wallis was when he forgot to be a pastor. We need pastors – but we do not need pastors cramming things down our throat. Now, is Kirk right? Yes, but only broadly so.

What gets me about LePort (LePort!!!!!!!) is that I’m not sure what posts he is actually reading. I don’t get that from the two pastors at all. Instead, their points of easily made – being a pastor is not an active thing, but a passive thing. Seminary professors and others are actively engaging everyone – because they are paid to do so. They are paid to, from time to time, cause a little controversy. Publish a book. Do something different. Oh boy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Seminary Professors are any less any important or somehow deceptive, but their mission and callings are different. While I do not dismiss his role as associate pastor or interim youth leader, they aren’t exactly the same thing as pastor. Indeed, Brian had someone between him and the door. The pastor rarely does not, even in an episcopal setting. Further, he was in San Francisco. Not exactly the same type of people there as in the rest of the world. Further, while class room teaching can indeed ministry, not all ministry is pastoral. Does the seminary professor have the same responsibilities to the student as a pastor does? No. They don’t have to answer to the person if by their actions, they destroy the faith of some and push them out, only to find them later in a gutter somewhere, without hope and without faith. Yes, that does happen in classrooms, but honestly, isn’t that the goal of the classroom? A little bit of deconstruction and pushing into the right direction? Teachers aren’t pastoral – and THEY SHOULD NOT BE – but they can minister. Pastors, on the other hand, must be pastoral.

You know, one the things that I think modern academia has destroyed for us is that seminaries are for pastors and ministers. They should be for nearly every church member, if possible, especially for those taking lay roles.

But, moving on…

One of the things about activism is that it causes enemies. It does, let’s be honest. It is difficult for me, if I’m on a picket line somewhere, to set the next Sunday morning with someone that I was lobbing bottles and road apples at the week before (um, metaphorically speaking, of course). Further, a pastor who is an activist will often times push people out – and they are usually the very people who need the change the post. Why make pastors choose between being pastoral and activist? Let them be pastoral.

So, here’s the thing. Pastors to be a good pastor cannot always be the speaker. A pastor is to guide and protect. Let one of the sheep step in and do some damage, rough some stuff up, unsettle someone’s Christianity (TM) (C) (R)… then let the pastor guide the congregation into making the right decisions.

Pastors do too much – let us, the ones in the pew, the lay leaders, lay ministers and others who do not have to provide care for those that we might dearly oppose – be a little pushy.

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16 Replies to “I’d rather be in the Ivory Tower rather than in the pulpit”

  1. great post. i think we may stay in our current church and shake things up. it will take time, but they need it.

  2. This may come across as a little snarky, but is in no way intended to be disrespectful.

    I am a Presbyterian minister in a small congregation in the Eastern plains of Colorado (for context).

    I think the entire “pastor/sheep” metaphor and model is broken. The people in our churches are not sheep and they shouldn’t be. They were baptized into the ministry of Jesus Christ, which means they have every responsibility to be in the world healing the sick, freeing the captives, proclaiming good news to the poor etc… The LAST thing they need from me is to “protect” them from such horrifying things as “ideas they might not agree with”. How will they ever grow into apostles if we feed them baby formula well into their 70’s and 80’s?

    In Christ there is no Man or Woman. Equality isn’t something we should be patiently and quietly working towards in the church it should be something we flat out live. When I ask women to preach and teach in the congregation I serve I don’t pat myself on the back for making a difference and I don’t waste hours worrying whether someone in my congregation might be offended. They’re adults and they can handle themselves. If the gospel offends them, so be it.

  3. If pastors are responsible for the faith of the people in their flock, as you’re arguing, then they’ll answer for the people pushed out because they can’t reconcile Jesus with a load of patriarchal nonsense. They’ll answer for the women whose gifts went undeveloped, and especially for those who walked out the door without hope.

    Sure, it’s not a pastor’s job to needlessly provoke controversy. It is, however, a pastor’s job to develop the gifts of the congregation. If the very notion that every person in the congregation has spiritual gifts is offensive… well, the gospel is offensive, then. It’s foolish and a stumbling block. It’s not a pastor’s job to pretend otherwise. Pastors (and all Christians) are to contend for the whole gospel, not just the parts that currently go down easy.

    1. Julie,

      I generally agree with your sentiment, however, the pastor cannot be an activist. What issue would the pastor need to stop at? I’m not saying cuddle the hatemongers, but I think that a pastor should try to remain above the ‘fry.’

      And honestly, why is it that we depend upon pastors to do all of the heavy lifting?

      1. We absolutely shouldn’t depend on pastors for all the heavy lifting, agreed. But why on Earth would we want pastors that are above the fray? (I think is the word you meant?) Why would pastors not be called to at least as much honesty, clarity, conviction, and courage as any other Christian? How would it even be possible to be faithful to Christ, to pick up one’s cross and be “above the fray”?

        I’m honestly confused by what you think a minister is supposed to be and do. It appears we have very different theologies of ministry and vocation. Or is a pastor more similar to a deacon in your view? Someone to offer comfort and compassion to the downtrodden. Even Stephen, though, said some pretty fiery words and got himself martyred. I seriously can’t think of any example of ministry that I would want to emulate that could be characterized as “above the fray”.

        1. ‘fry’ – frying pan/fray

          I’m honestly confused as to why everything thinks that the only ministers in the church are the pastors. He said the words as he was being martyred. Let’s remember that he was on trial when he said those words.

          But, this is not about that. This is about allowing pastors to be pastoral. There is honesty that is always required – and if they are huddled together not preaching the truth, that is one thing, but to go in there swinging – no.

          1. I don’t think pastors are the only ministers. In fact, I started my response to this article explicitly saying that everyone baptized into Christ shares his ministry – and for that very reason do not need to be coddled. Indeed, it is ever more urgent that those elected to pastor the ministers of Christ be bold in exhorting them to follow the gospel. It is the pastor who assumes that the congregation is full of “sheep” that need to be protected that most sets themselves apart and diminishes the ministry of the congregation. Starting with the trust that these are the very ones that Christ has called to proclaim the kingdom is what frees a pastor to stop feeding them spiritual milk instead of solid food.

          2. Solid food is different for different people.

            Look, I agree – something needs to be done to push the church in the right direction, but I tend to think that often times, it is wrong to assume that this HAS to be the pastor’s job.

      2. I don’t mean to say (and don’t think I said) that pastors should do all the heavy lifting. I’m a pastor, and I’m able to do my job well because I have some phenomenal elders in my congregation. There isn’t anything about saying, “Pastors should affirm the gifts of the Spirit in all their members, regardless of gender,” that assumes, “Pastors should do this all by themselves.”

        I’m not sure what you mean by “activist.” I have children in my congregation. I’m willing to be quite active to prevent the boys from thinking that they should be crushed under the weight of exclusive authority, and to prevent the girls from thinking that Jesus doesn’t want them to speak. That ‘fry’ would be well worth entering, even if it only pertained to discipling children, which it obviously does not.

        Say I had someone in my congregation who was not Trinitarian, or didn’t believe in the resurrection, or any number of other theological issues that aren’t typically classed (and set on the margins) as “social.” Would you think of me as an activist pastor if I insisted that the Christian view was superior to their heterodoxy? Would you think it more properly pastoral of me to try to care for them without challenging their misunderstandings?

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