I warned you - I asked you NOT to read this, but here you are anyway . . . . Consider yourself warned!

Ive Got to Get Some things Off My Chest

I’ve gotta say something. It’s going to make some good, Emerging Church folks mad and it’s going to offend “Ex-Church” friends alike. Some “Institutional Church” people won’t like what I’m going to say any better. What I need to say is going to be extremely controversial, and knowing I’m going to stir folks up, I’m going to speak out anyway.

Get mad at me if you must; argue with me if you need to; correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve got to speak my mind regardless of the danger of anger, disagreement, misunderstanding or correction.

So here goes . . . .

I’m as “Post-Institutional-Church” as anybody I’ve met or read about. The organizational system of Christian Religion makes my spirit grieve. I’m all about a “Third Reformation” in the church. I live, eat, sleep and breathe “Emerging Church.” Those who know me know that's an understatement.

I’m also a “veteran” (maybe more accurately, a "survivor") of the Institutional Church. I was born into a strict religious home. My mother was Choir Director and my dad was Church Treasurer in the old Evangelical United Brethren Church. Later, our church would become part of the United Methodist Church. When the churches merged, my folks left. They felt that the church had become too liberal, too soft, and too generic. The strongest memories of my childhood center on Sunday School and Sunday Worship and Catechism Classes.

My parents were close friends with our Pastor, known to us all as “Pastor Pfaltzgraff.” He was a good man – a really good man. His son, Phil and I were best friends, and on many Sundays Phil would beg his mom to ask our family over for Sunday Dinner. Many also were the Sundays Phil’s mom would remind her boy of how little food the Pfalztgraff family had available, and Phil would always counter with, “I’ll share my dinner with Greg” and he did.

After high school, I joined the U.S. Air Force. On Sundays during Basic Training I attended a different “flavor” of chapel services each week. I wasn’t all that religious and I certainly wasn’t spiritually-minded. I had two good reasons to attend chapel services: 1) I was a smoker in those days and the troops were allowed to smoke as we waited in line to enter the service. It was a good chance to get a smoke. 2) I was curious about the differences between the Catholics and the Baptists, the Methodists and the Lutherans and all the other “flavors” and nuances of Christianity available on our base.

Three years later, I met Jesus in a powerful and dramatic way. I was “born-again,” filled with the Holy Spirit and delivered from a three and a half package a day tobacco habit all in the same day. From that first day as a believer, I began to share my faith and to pray with hurting people.

Within weeks after being saved, the Holy Spirit called me into full-time ministry. My energy for ministry was boundless. I spent early morning hours praying, and the rest of the day was lived in the miraculous exhibition of God’s grace in others’ lives.

Following my active military duty, I enrolled in Bible College. I was introduced to the basics – the fundamentals of Theology: The Study of God and of His relation to the world. We learned “Systematic Theology,” starting before the beginning of time and moving through the progressive revelation of God to mankind. We were introduced to Exegetical theology, Historical theology, Dogmatic theology and biblical theology.

We studied Hamartiology (the doctrine of sin), Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church), Eschatology (the doctrine of “last things), Pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), Christology (the doctrines of Christ), Angelology (the doctrine of Angels), Soteriology (the doctrine of Salvation), Anthropology (the doctrine of man).

We learned about Church History and Worship and the doctrine of Stewardship. We studied the origins of the church, the development of the Roman Catholic Church and of the birth of the Protestant Church. (In the process, I decided I am neither “Roman Catholic” nor “Protestant” – I’m just a Christian, a believer, a learner-follower of Jesus. The Church I belong to predates either the Catholic or the Protestant Church!).

We discovered the art and science of biblical hermeneutics which is the basis for the interpretation of all scripture. Understanding this discipline would prevent us from using God’s Word out of context, or from committing the common error of beginning with a position and finding a verse or verses to support our presumption (something I have heard many, many preachers and Christians do over the years). One of the cardinal rules we learned was that “Scripture must interpret Scripture.” Over the years I’ve heard my share of bizarre teachings that originated when someone used a “text without a context” which became a “pretext” (a red herring, in the vernacular).

We studied Hebrew and Greek language and culture. We learned about the Aramaic text and delved into the history and the essence of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

We learned about Allegories and Parables. We discovered the interrelation between Old and New Testaments; we studied biblical archaeology, Christological Exegesis, Prophecy and the Prophets, Symbols and Types and what is known as “The Fuller” or “Deeper Meaning” of Scripture. We learned about Typology. We were introduced to the Prophetic Law of Double Fulfillment. On and on the list goes, and it’s not my purpose here to bore you with every subject covered in the four-year curriculum that culminates in the Bachelor of Theology degree. My reason for listing these disciplines is to make you aware of some of the process of following what in those days we knew as “The Call of God.”

I know that there are those who will vigorously dispute the entire concept of an individual, personal “Call of God.” To them I would simply suggest, read your Bible. God has called out men and women for His purposes over and over throughout history. These men and women were separated from the mainstream of humanity. They were separated to dedicate their full lives, purposes and energies to God, aside from the general “call” to every believer to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” and to “forsake” the world and to take up our crosses and follow Him.

I received such a personal “call” in 1971. That “calling” has been confirmed, affirmed and established through many voices and with many “signs following” for thirty-four years. I know, there is a nit-picker reading this who will quickly cry, “But ‘signs following’ are for every believer!” I know that. I’m not talking about the general principle of “signs following” the believer here. I’m talking about “signs” in connection with a personal, individual calling and confirmation by the Spirit of God.  (See Acts 2:43; 5:12; Ro 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12).

For twenty-five years after entering “the ministry” I gave 60, 80 and more hours per week to the endeavor of “ministry.”

There are those who would argue against the kind of biblical education I mentioned above. To those I would simply ask, “Who then will let us know when we have believed in error? Who will show us the proper means of interpreting God’s word if not those who understand the original languages, the contexts, the harmonies of God’s word?”

Please don’t point me to 1 John 2: I’ve already read it. I also know how to interpret it because I learned biblical hermeneutics and because the Holy Spirit within me helps me to understand His truth. I also know that historically, “anointed” and un-educated people have strayed from proper interpretations. Every generation of believers has been subject to mistakes, misunderstandings and erroneous teachings, including my own. Yes, the anointing in us teaches us, but that is not to say that we don’t need to listen to people who have spent their lives studying God’s word and have communicated wonderful truth to us. Men such as Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Darby and Gill, Nave and Spurgeon, the list goes on and on, have given their lives to enhance our understanding of God’s word and we ought not suggest that since “we have the anointing, we don’t need those men.”

Would you say that the men who studied and gave themselves to learning the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages were unimportant to the Body of Christ, since we all “have an anointing?” Who would have translated the words of John to us so that we could know we have an anointing if not for Bible scholars who gave us a Bible in our own language?

So don’t suggest to me that erroneous beliefs don’t occur – even in our contemporary, highly-educated world. I don’t know how many spurious teachings and false doctrines I’ve come across – even among respected ministries! The Bible exhorts us to “study to show yourself approved by God.” That study sometimes takes the form of formal, structured, systematic teaching. And it always has. There were “schools of the prophets” in the Old Testament. There were rabbinical schools in New Testament times. The Apostles gave “doctrine” to the church, and the church in turn “continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine . . .”

The original Apostles taught and discipled those who came into their ministries. A prime example is that of Timothy, student of Paul. Truths were communicated from one generation of believer to another. And then at some point, two diabolical events happened: First, a “clergy” developed which took the authority, power and rule of the church literally out of the hands of Christ, the true Head of the church. Simultaneously a “laity” was created that had no history or root within either sacred text or in Christian community and experience.

The role of “pastor,” a gift given by God to the church to assist the church in the process of maturation and edification and protection was used by these “clergy” to accommodate their newly fashioned positions. Since then, the role of “pastor” has risen and fallen with the times. One generation of “pastor” was looked upon as a pawn, a pauper, a “thing” to be used by unscrupulous men to advance their agendas. The next generation of “pastor” was dictatorial, controlling and tyrannical. This see-saw of cause and effect continues today, and in the wake of this struggle lay the remains of broken, abused, injured, confused and bleeding Christian people who only wanted to find a church where Jesus and not a man or a committee truly is Lord.

We’re currently living in an hour when the term “pastor” and the “office of pastor” or if you will, “the gift” of “pastor” (see Ephesians 4:11-16) is being attacked, derided, scoffed at, belittled and disbelieved. So much abuse is being heaped upon the title, and those associated with it, one almost wonders about the source, the motivation of those aiming their flaming missiles at pastors. The characteristics of God – of His glory – are mercy, grace, patience, goodness and truth – in that order. (That's another truth for another day, but trust me - or better, check me out - Read Exodus 34). As I have listened to various “emerging churchers” speak or write about the gift of “pastor” in the negative, there is so much venom spewing forth that I want to point out, call attention to and plead with those involved: “Please, for God’s sake, Stop It!

I know a great number of men and women who call themselves or who are called “pastor.” Some of them are maladjusted, almost neurotic, dysfunctional and out-of-control people. Some are in “the business” because they like to be in control of other lives. Some are “on the take,” seeking to make financial gain through their position. And guess what? God knows all about it! And God will deal with such unscrupulous and misguided individuals. But the greatest number of “pastors” are good, fine, sincere and wonderful people who have heard the voice of God directing them to serve His church. These are literally, “servants of God and of His people.” Their hearts break over the broken; they shed tears over the wounded. They long to see healing come to broken families and to see their communities cleansed and purified and touched with the mercy and the grace of God.

Why else would some of the people I know work full time, secular jobs so that they might give themselves to the work of the ministry? Why would otherwise brilliant men and women serve the church at half or a quarter of the pay scale they could receive if they used their talents and abilities in secular employment? (Trust me, some of my friends would have made fine attorneys, physicians, engineers, architects, builders and more. Some of my friends were attorneys, physicians, engineers, architects, builders and more and gave away those positions for the honor of serving Jesus in His church with all their energies).

To paint “pastors” with the broad brush of judgment is doubly dangerous: First, God and not man is the judge of all. Second, may I shout this gently? “You don’t know the hearts of these people!”  I have learned to leave alone what I know nothing about.

I want to encourage you to examine the source, the origin of the gift, title, position, or role of “pastor.” This gift did not originate with man; it began with God.

Has the title “pastor” been misunderstood, abused, twisted? Absolutely! Are there pastors who are little more than “hirelings” in “the church?” Without doubt! Are there abusive, dictatorial control-freaks wearing the label of “pastor?” Definitely! But just because there are crooked lawyers and medical quacks among us does not mean that all attorneys and all physicians are phonies!

Let it be understood, I am not a pastor. I filled that role from 1973 to 1998, that’s 25 years of my life; a quarter century; more than a career in the military. (And by the way, unlike the military, there was no “pension” or “retirement” program and no monetary compensation for those years I spent “pastoring” churches. I live today by faith, trusting that if I “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” “all these things shall be added unto” “us.”

During some of the years of “pastoral” ministry, my family “prayed in” our next meals. We have memories of rejoicing when a farmer stopped by and gave us a bushel basket of sweet corn. (We ate sweet corn and water for a couple of days before realizing this was a medical mistake!) We purchased our heating fuel from a church that overcharged us for that fuel while we shivered in a drafty parsonage that lacked insulation. When we left the church, I had to settle a debt with the church for fuel we had used trying to keep our babies warm in the frigid Midwest winters.

I’ve learned to chisel plow in the spring and to chase sheep and inoculate cattle and all sorts of wonderful pastoral skills in my journey of the past thirty-four years. (I've done these things and more, then had somebody on Sunday morning say to me, "pastor, if you had to really work for a living, you'd understand what we're going through . . . "

I've worked through long nights, cleaning offices and department stores while my wife worked a day job so we could pay for a car that our congregation felt was “appropriate” for their pastor to be seen in and so we could put food on the table and pay for hospital charges for delivering our babies since we couldn’t afford medical insurance. And I could go on, but the stories are boring and the things we learned through those years serve us well today. We are the better for those times, and we’re far from angry because of them.

We do know something of what it is to “sacrifice” for the honor of serving God’s people. And before you yell at me with the accusation, “See! You were out of God’s will or you wouldn’t have had to suffer!” let me point you to Hebrews 11. Some other folks suffered IN the will of God before us and in greater dimensions than we know anything about.

I’ve also had the privilege of being known as “The Senior Pastor” of a modern-day “Mega-Church.” My income was commensurate to the position, and long gone were the days of struggling to pay the phone bill and the light bill and to keep the water flowing.

Amazingly, we’ve learned both how to be abased and to abound. “Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

But I’m not a pastor today. I no longer wonder or worry about a paycheck from the church: I have no paycheck at all! Yet my “heavenly Father” feeds my family and in the moment I have need, God provides.

And I’m not comfortable with the current expression of “pastor” in the church any longer. (Actually, I don’t ever recall being “comfortable” with that expression).

During my doctoral work I focused my attention on the role of the pastor in the local church. I conducted a cross-cultural examination of the modern, evangelical pastoral role, using research in various world regions, including Europe, Southeast and Southwest Asia, the Middle East, Latin and South America, the Pacific and North America. In examining these eight world regions, I discovered that much of what we consider to be “pastoral” roles and duties is actually the product of our particular culture and not the result of  a biblical mandate.  In about 1993 I began to vigorously pursue a more biblical understanding of the position or gifting of “pastor.”

Today I minister mainly to people who have for one reason or another (and there are many) left the “organized” “institutional” church. I know hundreds, perhaps thousands of “out of church” Christians; I am in touch with folks from South Africa to New Zealand and Australia; from Indonesia and Malaysia to Thailand and Germany and England and Ireland and the South Pacific; from South America to North America and beyond - people who love Jesus with all their hearts, but who do not attend organized church services.

Some of these people aren’t injured at all. They just sensed the Spirit’s leading to walk away from organized church one day and haven’t heard Him instruct them to return.

Others have been offended, injured, hurt, abused, controlled, devalued by a heartless “system” of church. Many of these have been given beautiful talents – gifts – that have been unrecognized and unused by the “ruling elite” in the church.

Some of these people brought the injuries on themselves – but they are all people for whom Jesus died, and I, for one will not abandon even one of these, regardless of who is to blame for their pain and suffering. I’m sorry, if you don’t like the fact that I will run to the aid of someone who is to blame for their own hurt, you’ll have to take the matter up with God. In fact, while you’re at it, why don’t you ask Him what He thinks of broken-hearted people who caused their own pain? (I’ll help you – we ALL cause some of our own pain, and He keeps loving us, reaching to us, embracing us, welcoming us even running to us to bring us back into His arms of love).

I also spend a good deal of time with often-frustrated pastors who are seeking with all their hearts to hear God and to obey Him implicitly.

I guess I’m a bit like a bridge – made to be driven over. I seldom notice the Narrows Bridge that connects the Kitsap Peninsula of Washington State with the main body of the continent. I cross that bridge every week that I’m home. Yet when I am approaching the bridge, my only thoughts concern the amount of traffic trying to get across. I don’t ever recall pausing to look at the bridge or to even be consciously thankful the bridge is there. It’s just a means of getting me over the gulf of Puget Sound and onto dry ground on the other side.

And I think I’m a bit like that bridge – which suits me just fine.

Years ago, a guy named Jeff Lucas was visiting us from England. He had carried an almost silly-looking, wooden staff with him across the Atlantic. He told me of his embarrassment when flight attendants asked him what the staff was for, was he Moses or some biblical character come alive again? Yet Jeff felt the Lord had instructed him to bring the staff with him on his flight.

One night during a time of prayer at the altar of our church, Jeff suddenly grabbed his staff, reached out over several people and laid the thing on my shoulders, one after the other. At the same time he began to prophesy, “You are a bridge! Don’t ever forget this moment. God has called you, prepared you, ordained you to become a bridge!”

I didn’t understand his words that night any more than Jeff did. We talked about it, wondering what the words meant.

Years passed and one day I found myself sitting in the home of a pastor as he told me with much pain about several people who had been faithful members of his church who had suddenly disappeared. He had tried to make contact with them, but to no avail.

Later, I went to the home of one family we had discussed. I spent several hours with them, listening to their hurts, their questions, their hearts broken open before me bringing tears to my eyes.

As I left the family’s home, the memory of Jeff Lucas and his staff pierced my mind, and I began to understand the “bridge” the Holy Spirit was talking about through Jeff.

With Judy Collins I can say “I’ve looked at life from both sides now . . . “ I can see from the perspective of the often-frustrated pastor and from the view of the often frustrated believer.

And I agree with both sides! I understand the “old” and the “new.” I relate with the hearts of the “in” and the “out,” of “leadership” and of “followership.”

Among the difficulties I encounter with “pastors” of the “institution” is a fear of those who have left church. There’s also a sense of fear among leaders to examine alternatives to the current structural church  - the biggest fear is probably of the potential loss of a paycheck, which must be countered by the admonition of scripture to live by faith, to trust in God and to remember that His word declares that “a man’s gift will make a way for him.”

Typically, pastors (who may or may not be experiencing a “leak” in the hold of church attendance and membership) will question why we would want to do anything different than what we’ve always done.  But the old adage “We’ve always done it this way” doesn’t cut it in a world that’s been rearranged by modern realities – fractured homes, a transient society, changing morays, fatherless children, time constraints and the need for rock-solid, real and valuable relationships.

People are tired of going to church, Sunday after Sunday only to “stare at the back of somebody’s head” for two hours, then go home feeling “I’ve done my religious duty.” Increasingly, people don't have time to give to a church that produces a shoddy representation of Jesus and a thin veil of spirituality.

Believers are weary of potlucks, church socials and most of all, exhausting programs that do little to win hearts to Jesus or to bring healing to communities.

Pastors are tired of preaching sermons, Sunday after Sunday, feeling somehow that a bunch of spiritually-starved people have wandered into the feeding trough of the church with knife and fork in hand demanding, “Feed me! Feed me!” when they should have been "feeding" themselves all week long without the luxury of a ready-made, professionally designed spiritual diet.

Pastors are weary of spending hours upon hours placating grumpy church members by sitting with them in their homes, listening to their complaints about other church members or other pastors and drinking weak coffee and eating fattening pastries while their cities around them are dying for a witness of the life of Jesus.

I know, I’m being extreme – it’s my nature – you don’t have to like it, but if you want to read this, you’ll just have to endure my extremity.

In the words of my Northern Irish family, “Aye, laddy, we’ve got ourselves in a wee sit-ee-ation here!”

Coming Next: THE CURE, or "Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink."

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