It is impossible to be a pastor in a world of evangelical hyper self-criticism.
OK, maybe it isn’t literally impossible, but some days these things make me grumpy. And on bad days grumpy and impossible are close to the same thing. Here is what I mean.
Given the proliferation of media, from blogs to podcasts to web-based articles and magazines, the self-criticism of evangelicals has to be at an all-time high. Some historians talk about the phenomena of “self-hating Jews.” I believe in a new category of self-hating evangelicals. If you look, it will not take long for you to run across some free-lance writer or podcaster who is quick to criticize the things they find frustrating or embarrassing about the church, and often in the context of why they no longer attend or are searching for some kind of so-called authentic alternative. Talk about hunting the Snark. But I digress.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have been and will probably be in the future a critic of things I find frustrating within the church. A quick perusal of my blog will confirm this. But I hope this lists helps point out a difference between criticizing issues of theology and practice from within the church as opposed to what is often fired off as quick, dismissive, and sometimes contradictory salvos. Maybe I have avoided the dismissive; sometimes I probably have not. But often I listen to these people or read what they write and think to myself, “I would hate to be that guy’s pastor.”
So, forget the critic sitting in the pew. Here is what I have heard (and implicitly been told) just in the last few months from evangelicalism’s ubiquitous and unblinking critics. None of whom are pastors.
Topical sermons are bad.
So are exegetical sermons. No joke. In one podcast in the span of 5 minutes a grumpy parachurch leader criticized both ways the church has, for 2000 years, preached the Gospel. Neither was good enough for him.
The translation you use from the pulpit is bad. It doesn’t matter which you use.
Pastors need to be leaders. Think “successful professional basketball coach” or “CEO maven.”
Pastors need to be self-help gurus.
Pastors need to be theologians.
When pastors try to be theologians they do a bad job of it.
If you sermons are not long enough you are not taking your job seriously.
People have the attention span of a sitcom. Twenty two minutes to be exact.
You need to be aware of the culture of seekers when you craft your sermon.
You need to be aware of discipling believers when you craft your sermons.
You need to include apologetics in your sermons.
You need to avoid using apologetics in your sermons.
Pastors should be counselors.
Pastors should not waste their time being counselors.
Worship is always wrong. I don’t care how you do it, how good the musicians are, what style of music you play, your worship is just wrong. And bad. You should probably stop trying.
Small churches are uncomfortable and off-putting.
Mega churches are inauthentic and unsustainable.
So, what is the pastor to do? Here are a couple of thoughts.
Strive to be clear in your own calling and comfortable in the skin God gave you. Within the boundaries of learning to live in the Kingdom of God and producing the fruit of the Spirit, maintain the personality and gifts God gave you. Do not drop biblical pastoring for worldly success, but do not let critics tell you that you pastor badly because you do not look like their image of accomplishment.
Develop a biblical theology of the role of pastor. Many of these criticisms arise from current cultural expectations and how people submerged in their own perspectives view your situation. Sometimes that can be a good corrective for pastors. Often it is just sour grapes.
Pray for the gift of discernment. Here, the pastor learns to listen to two voices in particular – God’s and the valid critic. I happen to agree with some of the things listed above, so I am not saying they are all wrong. They are all pressures the pastor hears, so it is important for each one of us to be biblically grounded and courageous in our perseverance.
Strive to be better and more faithful than you are now. I have recently received two pieces of input that have genuinely helped me as a communicator from the pulpit. If I am honestly open to betting better than I am now, then I am open to the right kinds of inputs.