The Most Risky Profession (2)

From Christianity Today:

This is not because the senior pastor is a control freak—or if he is, the church wants him to be. Churches on their way up the growth curve like to know that someone is in charge, that someone is attending to the details, that someone is getting things done. That’s why they’ve hired this dynamic, forward looking, administratively savvy leader. They enjoy being a part of a humming, efficient organization. It reminds them of the other humming, efficient organizations our culture admires, from Google to Apple to Disneyland. It makes them proud to be a part of such a church. That the pastor has to take a heavy hand now and then—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly—is a small price to pay.

(I use the masculine pronoun to talk about pastors precisely because the vast majority are males, and men are particularly vulnerable to these realities. I also speak autobiographically here, having been a pastor for ten years.)

What makes the pastor’s job even more spiritually vulnerable is the expectation that he also be the cathartic head of the church—someone with whom members can identify and live through vicariously. Someone who articulates their fears and hopes, someone to whom they can relate—at a distance. This is key, because the pastor has time to relate to very, very few members. Thus it is all the more important that he be able to communicate in public settings the personable, humble, vulnerable, and likable human being he is.

Thus, preaching in the modern church has devolved into the pastor telling stories from his own life.

The sermon is still grounded in some biblical text, and there is an attempt to articulate what that text means today. But more and more, pastors begin their sermons and illustrate their points repeatedly from their own lives. Next time you listen to your pastor, count the number of illustrations that come from his life, and you’ll see what I mean. The idea is to show how this biblical truth meets daily life, and that the pastor has a daily life. All well and good. But when personal illustrations become as ubiquitous as they have, and when they are crafted with pathos and humor as they so often are, they naturally become the emotional cornerstone of the sermon. The pastor’s life, and not the biblical teaching, is what becomes memorable week after week.

Again, this is not because the pastor is egotistical. It’s because, again, we demand this of our preachers. Preachers who don’t reveal their personal lives are considered, well, impersonal and aloof. Share a couple of cute stories about your family, or a time in college when you acted less than Christian, and people will come up to you weeks and months later to thank you for your “wonderful, vulnerable sermons.” Preachers are not dummies, and they want approval like everyone else. You soon learn that if you want those affirmative comments—and if you want people to listen to you!—you need to include a few personal and, if possible, humorous stories in your sermon.

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One Response to The Most Risky Profession (2)

  1. Nathaniel Ng says:

    I dont get it. Or maybe I do. So everything about this article such as telling some stories of the pastor’s past isnt encouraged compared to just making the text memorable by itself?

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