Pastoring 101

Often it is hard to figure out why certain readings are put together. Not so today. Today we have a veritable teachers manual of what a good pastor is.

I am reminded that a week or so ago, I watched part of a “Family Values” summit here in Iowa. Of course all the major GOP candidates came to speak.

Each speaker, candidate or local politico, invoked God, acknowledging that first and foremost each and every person there looked to God as their true leader.

They then went about talking against marriage equality, and against universal health care, and against a worker’s right to unionize, and against EPA standards that protect our water and air. God

And I saw the audience nod and look to each other and smile, always reassuring each other that this indeed was God’s will–the things they were for and those they were against.

It probably wouldn’t do any good, but they, each of them, would do well to read and pray upon the words chosen for the lessons of this day.

Our good friends who see themselves as righteous and God-abiding are wont to tell us what God wants. Having talked with a good many of these  born-agains, I know the litany. Paul, they tell me,  (who oddly is quoted by the fundamentalist far more often than Jesus) makes it abundantly clear that the duty of a “good Christian” is to admonish and correct those in error. They would be failing in their duty to remain silent. Silence is acquiescence, quite simply.

When questioned as to the possibility that their truth may not be the truth, they scoff. No way! They assert with all sincerity that God has spoken quite plainly in their translation of the bible (usually the KJV). God does not hide his desires, he states them plainly. There is no need of any learned person to tell them what God says; a person of pure desire will hear the Word correctly. Learned biblical scholars, after all, have a goal: to be paid, and to be held in esteem as better than other interpreters.

Yet, a good deal of biblical space is given over to warnings about false teaching. It is this conundrum that the average fundamentalist faces: how to tell the false from the true. And the answer they have chosen is to trust their own instincts.

Of course that works fine, except that we are human beings who, so psychologists and sociologists tell us, are motivated to believe all manner of things that empirically are provably false. We chose to believe things often because it “works for us” satisfying some need that we may only be dimly aware of.

In Malachi we are warned:

 You have turned aside from the way,
and have caused many to falter by your instruction; (Mal 2:8)

In Psalm 131 we learn how to approach God:

O LORD, my heart is not proud,
nor are my eyes haughty;
I busy not myself with great things,
nor with things too sublime for me.
Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted
my soul like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

In Thessalonians Paul models the perfect Pastor:

We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.
With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you
not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well,
so dearly beloved had you become to us.
You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery.
Working night and day in order not to burden any of you,
we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thess 2: 7-9)

And finally, we have Jesus, the Great Teacher who tells us exactly how to be:

“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt. 23: 1-12)

If we would model the Master, we are humble, we assume that we are but children in terms of our knowledge of God’s ways, and we never presume to “teach” others. We lead by the example of our lives, giving our vision of God as we understand, but not as teacher. Rather we are fellow travelers. We don’t have all the answers, and we perceive the spark of God in all our brothers and sisters and eagerly look to them to teach us as well.

We take the warnings seriously, both those of Malachi and all the others found throughout both the Hebrew and New Testament. Things like, “God’s ways are not your ways,” “God sees to the heart” , “Care for the log in your own eye before worrying about the splinter in your neighbors”. These all reference a warning that we mere mortal humans cannot speak for God.

All we can do is to try to live honestly and forthrightly according to the pitifully small understanding we do have.If we can understand on that one thing, then we will shun any idea that we have any basis for telling anyone else what they should do or not.  Surely we have the right and duty to separate ourselves from those who hinder us by speaking things that seek to harden hearts and justify mistreatment of others “in the name of God.” But, we are on shifting sands when we take that as a license to teach others the way of righteousness.



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 16:56:42

    Sherry, you touch a very raw nerve here that has gone ignored and untreated far too often. You bring to mind one of the last conversations I had with my grandfather before he left this life. Besides being the most magnificent man I’ve ever known–he earned his nickname, “Big Daddy,” in every conceivable way–he was known far and wide as “a teacher’s teacher.” The church he and my grandmother attended in was spacious, with plenty of room for Sunday worship. Finding a seat for the Bible class he conducted in the sanctuary prior to worship was another thing. People from all denominations, some driving long distances, packed the place with dozens lined around the walls.

    Not only did Big Daddy know the Word like the back of his hand. He understood how to present it and what teaching was for. And our talk began with me asking why so many came to his Bible class.

    “I honestly don’t know, son,” he answered. “I just go by what the Bible says about teaching. All it is really is breaking open the Bread of Life and passing along pieces to edify and encourage everyone at the table. A good Bible teacher says, ‘Here’s the meat. Here’s the potatoes. And here’s a little sweet stuff to top things off.’ You do that, the people will be fed and your job is done.”

    Teaching isn’t about telling; it’s about serving and sharing, building one another up in our most holy faith. If anyone leaves the table unsatisfied or disillusioned in any way, they’ve not been taught. And those who abuse the teacher’s title to manipulate and coerce are frauds. Their arrogance belies their authority.

    If what you say here were more commonly taught, so many of us wouldn’t fall prey to the impostors–and we’d all be better fed and healthier for it!

    Thank you for your incisiveness here. It’s spot-on!



    • Sherry
      Oct 31, 2011 @ 12:03:51

      Thank you for such a beautiful story. I was worried that I might be misinterpreted. Surely I didn’t mean that those more learned in scripture should be quiet. They are the teachers, yet, every true teacher knows that helping others to see is the real teaching, not the specifics. One learns from the teacher how to approach scripture, and how to see in different ways. The best teachers have always been to me, those that got the conversation going, encouraging others to open up, think deeper, express more clearly and share share share. That is perhaps why I find your reflections so darned useful to me. You simply help me see in a much deeper and broader way. You go so much beyond the mere words. Suddenly I think that I am transported and can smell and feel the story unwinding before me. Blessings, Sherry


      • Tim
        Nov 01, 2011 @ 21:23:10

        Your kind words honor me beyond measure, Sherry. I guess what I try to do is something of a family trait–and if so, I fall far short of what Big Daddy was capable of. So you inspire me to try all the harder!

        To put button on this, I’ll share one of his many credos about we should feel after a vigorous encounter with God’s Word: “Always filled, never satisfied!”

      • Sherry
        Nov 02, 2011 @ 11:42:07

        Amen good friend, amen.

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