Friday, April 29, 2011

Carl Trueman's "An interesting email".

1. With the rise of the conservative evangelical celebrity megapastor, are we creating a situation where the expectation of the rising generation will be that they will never know their pastor personally at any level at all? That he will simply be the famous guy they see at a distance each Sunday, or, even worse, on some remote television monitor? That is a tragic travesty of what a people should expect their pastor to be. And it is a travesty of what Christians have thought the pastor and the church should be throughout the ages -- from the Didache to Bonhoeffer's Life Together. When I lie dying, I do hope I know the person sitting next to me and praying for me; I do not want some stranger intruding on my family's grief.

We're already there. We already have megachurch pastors who are only seen via remote television monitor. Depending on the church the sermon may be preached at one campus one week, subject to a week delay while the DVD is mailed out to other sites in the network, and then two weeks later you can download the sermon if you missed it. There's even a passle of theological arguments for why this is the best way to do things. There's probably a campus pastor who can do all the things the teaching pastor doesn' t do. This probably isn't what Trueman is hoping for but that is where a lot of the bigger churches are at in evangelical megachurch land. There are already thousands of people at one church nearby who have never actually seen their pastor except through screens, never had dinner with him talking about anything at all, and probably never will.

I admit that though I understand why some pastors see that as not so tragic I can also admit that an important part of the Christian I am today was because an Assemblies of God youth pastor who instructed me in other people in the youth group about exegesis and hermeneutics was willing to have breakfast with me and spend time with me talking about Gordon Fee, Solzhenitsyn, Watchman Nee, Francis Schaeffer, and music. I had a public speaking teacher in high school who was a Baptist who would write me notes so I could get away from those stupid pep assemblies so that he and I could discuss the poetry of Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot and give him time to rip apart my terrible poetry so as to help me write something better. Christian lives come when we give of our life in Christ to others so as to help them share in the life of Christ. Yes, there's all that official churchy stuff, too, but for things to stick requires, as some book title put it a "life together". But seeing as the family is supposed to be the foundation of this does it matter if a Christian family never sees its shepherd? (sarcasm alert, in case it's needed).

2. Do we really want men who represent the kind of ministry described being held up as role models? I warn students at Westminster that such ministries bear no resemblance to that which they are going to experience. That is one reason I love my friend Tim Witmer's book, The Shepherd Leader. It is actually written by a man who does not have the luxury of not visiting the dying or praying with the sick or counseling the broken-hearted.

Once again, in a few places we're already there.

3. Frankly, who wants a ministry where you do not get to know people anyway? Is that not a major part of what ministry is meant to be?

To be fair I don't think the pastors who are in ministries that have gotten to that point ever STARTED there. Oh, I see Trueman gets to that issue.

4. Should conference speaking not be the thing that one does only when one is absolutely confident that the pastoral duties at one's own church are fully covered? Men are called to pastor local congregations and to preach to churches, not to speak at conference venues. The latter is a spare-time bonus.

Well, let me propose for the few people who may ever read this, that the pastors doing these sorts of conference speaking are likely at megachurches that should not be called megachurches. That implies that the thing is a church in a historically comprehensible and sociological sense of the term. It would be more accurate to say these new pastors at megachurch multi-site franchises are de facto denominational leaders. Catholics don't expect the Pope to show up at their door when they're sick. A local priest will do. They wouldn't even expect the regional bishop to show up, either, I imagine. So while the top dog preaching teaching guy won't ever show up if you're sick a campus pastor very likely will. That's okay.

I think that we should keep in mind that if we get past the smoke and mirrors megachurch pastors have about their real vocation and call the denominational leaders that the lack of congregational interaction can be seen as less offensive than it might otherwise be if we bought the self-directed hype of megachurch pastors who call themselves teaching pastor because denominational/spiritual leader sounds too institutional.

I'm being too snarky here but I've seen how a church that was once around 120 morphed over a bit more than a decade into a massive thing across three states with more than 10,000 people attending. Nobody starts off with the idea of never being seen except on a big screen ... not even people on TBN. Sure, pastors who become that sort of thing over time in their 40s might have been seen by their 20-something selves. Their 20-something selves would have had multiple cows. But if we can persuade ourselves that what we used to call "selling out" is for the glory of God then we'll go with that. The transition from avoiding altar calls as emotional manipulation to incorporating them into services despite years of explaining how altar calls aren't something endorsed in the Reformed tradition and are more a product of the Arminian Second Great Awakening can be elided.

I'm being too snarky here. My real puzzle is that I can sorta see both sides. People who have gotten to know me well don't tend to describe me as fixated on black and white, they tend to see me as paralyzed by observing all manner of shades of gray. Maybe there will be a point whre that is useful instead of debilitating.

No comments: