Sunday, January 21, 2018

When a Pastor Succumbs to Vocational Idolatry (The Presence-Driven Church)

Clare, Michigan

(My new book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)

The typical American pastor feels pressure to keep people coming to church. If people don't come, there won't be enough money to maintain the building, and to pay their salary. This pressure can cause a pastor to wilt, spiritually. To succumb.

I have felt this, especially when I was in campus ministry. For eleven years we survived from hand to mouth. We depended on the support of other churches. I traveled every weekend to visit churches, to share what God was doing with our college students, and praying these churches would give us some financial support. Even though we never had more than enough, for the most part we always had enough.

One danger for the pastor is that they will adopt secular techniques of appealing to people to make church more palatable. As this happens the secular slowly displaces the spiritual, the coffee bar transcends the cross, the stage replaces the altar, the clock rules over the Spirit, and performance substitutes for The Presence.

Eugene Peterson writes:

"The volume of business in religion far outruns the spiritual capital of its leaders. The initial consequence is that leaders substitute image for substance, satisfying the customer temporarily but only temporarily, on good days denying that there is any problem (easy to do, since business is so very good), on bad days hoping that someone will show up with an infusion of capital. No one is going to show up. The final consequence is bankruptcy. The bankruptcies are dismayingly frequent." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 3)

When this happens "church" becomes market-driven, and the people are viewed as "consumers." Peterson calls this "vocational idolatry."

"Pastoral vocation is interpreted from the congregational side as the work of meeting people’s religious needs on demand at the best possible price and from the clerical side as satisfying those same needs quickly and efficiently. These conditions quickly reduce the pastoral vocation to religious economics, pull it into relentless competitiveness, and deliver it into the hands of public relations and marketing experts." (Ib., pp. 3-4)