The Pastor: Not One of Us


Blood on the collar?Does the title of this post bother you? It bothers me.

I’ve known pastors in my life who crashed and burned. They flamed-out, transgressed, or a combination of both. In each case, he faded into the ether like some double-agent, either by choice or by his ex-congregation expunging his name like he’d never been in the pulpit.

No vulture-like obsession with the carrion once known as Ted Haggard washed over me, but reports that he’s hightailed it out of Colorado Springs still caught my eye. Made me shake my head, too, but not for the reasons one might think. Everywhere one looks in Evangelicalism, the story’s the same: pastor falls, congegation responds by acting like he never existed, and he’s out of town on the next red-eye to Obscurity.

Time and again the unintended message we Evangelicals send to the world shows that we don’t truly bury our wounded, as goes the common in-joke. Instead, we act is if they were never part of us to begin with. “Our wounded? No, someone else’s wounded.”

You encounter a lot of handwringing in some sectors of the American Church from those upset at a lack of church discipline. Why is it then that this group typically consists of those who fire their fallen pastor, kick him while he’s down, and run him out of town on a rail? They decry the fact the Church can’t seem to discipline, but is it “discipline” for them to toss their pastor’s carcass on the burn pile and wipe their hands clean of the whole mess? What kind of church discipline is that?

The way we operate in American Evangelicalism forces our pastors into a no-man’s land of fellowship. We may crow about our renowned community, our loving fellowship, and on and on, but if we were honest with ourselves we’d have to admit that holds true for everyone BUT the pastor. He’s different. He’s not truly one of us.

Part of the problem comes from our shocking inability to raise up pastors within our own congregations. I would venture to guess that at least 90 percent of churches are pastored by the product of some other church’s educational system. He didn’t grow up in the church he pastors. Has no real familial ties to the church, either. He’s already an outsider from the second he takes the call. This disconnection of history and relationship only further aggravates the tendency to affix him to the pyre the second a problem arises.

In some churches, we’ve also developed this wacky idea that the pastor is Wholly Other, like some enlightened paraclete who transcended to a lofty plane inhabited by the rarefied likes of Paul, Moses, Peter, and Elijah. His decision to leave Abraham’s Bosom to visit us poor mortals is almost shocking in its humble bravura. So when he finally stumbles like a normal human being, we—like some cannibal tribe no longer impressed by our white-fleshed gods who descended to us out of the belly of a metal bird—cook the poor sucker and eat him.

But any quick perusal of the New Testament makes it pretty clear that the Lord Jesus wanted his Church to be brothers, not lords over each other. The pastor is not first among equals; we’ve made the mistake of equating him with Christ Himself. No, the pastor’s a fallen human just like you and just like me.

In that case, why is our discipline for pastors so radically different from what we mete out to others in our congregations?

Perhaps we need an adjustment of how we view pastors. Not that we hold them to some slack standard, but that our dedication to restoration match our swiftness to discipline.

Restore a fallen pastor? What a novel idea! I’d love to see it happen. In truth, I’ve never seen it happen. I’ve seen pastors blackballed from their denominations, but I’ve never truly witnessed one restored to his own congregation.

It shouldn’t be that rare. In fact, it should be the norm—at least the way I read the Scriptures.

As long as we’ve got this pedestal we put Church leaders on, we’ll continue to see assaults on the pedestal and the persons atop it. What happens when the whole thing comes crashing down should be something we address in a healing community. Instead, we heat up the tar and feathers. No wonder these guys vanish like smoke.

Sure, once in a while a real con artist dons a clerical collar, but I suspect that most guys who get into the ministry do so because they genuinely love the Lord and love other people. If all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, then there’s not a guy preaching today who’s not guilty of something. If we blackballed them all, we wouldn’t have a Church. Still, people line up to cast the first stone…

In the end, the messages we send to those in the pews when we run guys off like this should cause us some real soul-searching. I could post on those messages for the next week, but I’ll leave you to think about the between-the-lines preaching we do to the impressionable in cases like these.

Oh, well, why not just one: Don’t you ever mess up or we’ll treat you like toxic waste, too. Doesn’t sound very Christ-like, does it?

I’d love to see a Church that treats pastors as fellow laborers and saints, not grand exalted poobahs. A Church that deals wisely with a pastor’s sin, rather than marking him like Cain before he’s driven off into the wilderness. But to get there, we need a total paradigm shift in how we view THE MINISTRY or else we’ll perpetually fall into the mode of shooting first and asking questions later.