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Those Magnificent Young Men and Their Pastoring Machines

Our wayback machine today takes us to the first year of Internet Monk.com, where you’ll find a lengthy essay called “Those Magnificent Young Men and Their Pastoring Machines.” (Excuse the spelling errors. No proofreading in the old days.) It’s my original rant about what was happening to the practice of the pastorate at the time. I could have hardly imagined where we’d be today. (Warning: this was written almost 8 years ago, when I was a self-identified Calvinist in the ranks of the SBC. I am NOT a Calvinist today, but little has changed in my view of what it means to be a pastor.)

I hardly recognize today’s pastors as doing the same job as the typical pastors of my younger days. Of course, expectations were changing at the time, as I could see from what was crossing my desk when I was a pastor and what was happening at the megachurch just up the road.

I have real respect for faithful pastors. I have similar respect for young pastors who are seeking to be shepherds. But I have no respect for those who, under various banners, have turned the church into a business and the calling of a pastor into the work of a CEO and salesman.

There’s a conversation about what it means to be a pastor that isn’t happening in very many places. Instead, the conversation about how to grow a church goes on and on. Contrarians like Eugene Peterson are voices in the wilderness. The field is dominated by those whose churches fulfill the expectations of their entrepreneurial methodology.

I’m sure some will conclude I’m one of those people who have no business talking about this subject because I couldn’t pull off what today’s successful pastors are doing. If you want to conclude that I’m just a whining loser at the game, that’s fine and fair. I don’t want lead a chorus of complaining and badmouthing men who are laboring at one of the most difficult, costly callings in the world.

But as I said, there is a conversation that needs to happen. Confusion is starting to become the norm. Something is being lost in the rush for the next big thing. If that conversation is encouraged here at IM through this essay, then we’ve moved in the right direction.

Those Magnificent Young Men In Their Pastoring Machines
The contemporary pastorate has become a disaster for the church on the corner.

“This isn’t the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: word and sacrament.”

• Eugene Peterson

A senior adult friend says that the preacher doesn’t preach any more. He gives these “little talks.” He also said they’ve quit mentioning any deaths, illnesses or other prayer needs in the worship services, no matter how loyal the person was to the church over the years. The preacher doesn’t visit shut-ins these days; only leaders, prospects and a few new members. Doesn’t even stop in at the funeral home. And of course, they quit singing hymns long ago. The preacher told the senior adults the visitors didn’t like them. He knows I’m a preacher and he wants to know what happened? Why doesn’t his nice young pastor……act like a pastor?

That’s quite a story.

The contemporary pastorate is a mess. With hundreds of books, conferences and seminars touting the benefits of changing the traditional church into the purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, post-modern church, there has been little honest reporting on the resulting awkward evolution of the pastor. In my lifetime, this evolution has swept over the pastorate, replacing what was a recognizable consensus with a maze of models, and an emerging template of the pastorate that would be unrecognizable in most of Christian history.

Historically, the Protestant pastorate has always been under assault from the spirits of the age . During the initial years of the Reformation, many pastors were unconverted, and the pastor who simply occupies the position as a living is still a hazard. In many churches, the pastorate is an unsupervised profession, and so it has been a haven for the lazy and the parasitical. In American history, pastors have ranged from the erudite and educated status symbols of great churches to the ignorant, wild and violent prophets of doom on the frontier. In the modern era, Pastors often seemed to want to be anything but pastors, showing bouts of envy for academics, social workers, psychologists, writers, politicians, business managers and stand-up comedians.

The skills of the pastorate have always been exaggerated beyond the merely mortal. In Elizabethan times, one only needed to be able to read the prayer book. In the classic evangelical model, the pastor was preacher, shepherd and worship leader. As Protestantism succeeded, the pastor needed to be public speaker, administrator, therapist, fund-raiser, scholar, expert on family life, field marshal, television personality, growth expert and guru. Part of the current confusion results from the inability of churches and schools to hone the pastoral model into something that Joe Average preacher could achieve. As most every pastor knows, there is so much room for failure in the modern pastorate that competency seems virtually impossible. Pastors, more than almost any other profession, know what it is to live in constant failure.



Part 2 –



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