I know many ministers and pastors. Let us call all of them ministers for now. I am a minister myself, so what I am about to say, although generalised, speaks to me as well. I know many ministers for whom what I am about to describe is not true, but are people devout in their faith and whom I deeply respect and admire.
I am struck, listening to many colleagues (and others on TBN), how responsible ministers feel to convince people about God and the Christian faith. Before reading further, stop now and think about it for a while. My question to them is WHY?
The focus on this point is not so much the message that is declared, but the manner in which ministers tend to take responsibility for their hearers and measure their own effectiveness in ministry in numerical terms. A good service can therefore be described in terms of a good numerical response to an altar-call, the amount of tears shed during a moving sermon or prayer, even the size of a congregation.
The way many ministers take personal responsibility for the entrenching of God’s Spirit in the lives of the faithful is done to such an extent that it gives the impression that the opportunity they have been given to testify to their congregations is the only time God is able to speak to that person or group. It implies that God does not speak to the individual or congregation or society at any other point than when the minister flaps his/her gums from a nicely designed wooden- or Perspex pulpit. This is further amplified in ministers’ lack of being able to facilitate counselling sessions. Many of these events are not opportunities for people to discover their own path for recovery, but are made recipients of another sermon, or hear “What happened to me on-the-other-hand…” quickly followed by an invitation to the surrender their lives to the Lord. It is not surprising, as in my own ministerial training we had two 3-hour sessions “teaching” us how to counsel.
My question is this: I wonder if there is a common psychological profile that can be drawn up of ministers? Perhaps that will be the basis of my Psych-masters – studying ministers? It seems quite possible to me that many ministers find a natural place for control and power in the church as they recognize their own histories being riddled by a lack of control or power. This place of religious conviction and the ability and opportunity to address and influence other people then becomes so strong that no external reality to that of the institutional church is recognized or deemed to be acceptable. Prof Wessel Stoker suggested something to the same effect in his book “Is vragen naar zin vragen naar God?” – an excellent and easy-reading book and also available in English.
Does God really only speak through ministers? Further, does God only speak through ministers’ sermons and teaching? What we tend to forget is that even proclamation is a subjective and anthropocentric approach to give testimony concerning a God who is not confined to the limitations of our dimensions. Is it not arrogance to verbally declare that a specific theology or understanding of God is the full comprehension of all truth? For this reason, I struggle to listen to the convicted sermons of many, and am careful in what I say to my congregations. If ministers were the sole custodians of the declaration of the Word, then we should see much more “conversions” at Synods, Conferences, Circuit Quarterly meetings… but we don’t.
My mother is a lay-person who did not know about the two creation-narratives in Genesis until I pointed it out to her. She nevertheless acted as an instrument of God’s self-disclosure to me as a person. Not that God revealed Godself through her, but the awareness of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ was clear in her presence and testimony.
What is impressive is not how many people a person has “won” for the Kingdom, but how “few” people were lost to the Kingdom because of that person. You catch my drift? So what if, for example, either Benny Hinn or John Wesley is responsible for 100 000 commitments at one crusade, but puts millions off from even considering Christianity when listening to that same message? Sorry for comparing Benny Hinn to John Wesley. So, I am not impressed by names such as Webb, Graham or whatever. I may know of a few, or even many who have come to faith through their testimonies, but that is all that I’ll know.
What fascinates me is how responsible many ministers/pastors feel for a particular individual’s soul, when their primary message to the world is that a human being is unable to affect salvation, but that it is an act of grace from God. Ironic.
Do I then believe that ministry is obsolete and that ministers all need therapy. Answer: “No”, and “It wouldn’t hurt”. Ministry is an essential function. It builds community. It creates opportunities for people to be humane, and where they are already humane, even more so.
This is what I believe. I believe in God. I believe that God reveals. I believe that people are convicted of this self-revelation by the power of the Spirit. I believe that all Christians are called to testify to this act of revelation and salvation, verbally and/or non-verbally, but non-judgementally. It is God who reveals, God who convicts and God who saves, God who judges. It is the same God who revealed God-self to Abraham, Isaac and Moses before ministers and the church existed. The same God who revealed Godself through Jesus Christ and convicts through the power of the Spirit.
Then why is it that I hear ministers declaring their feelings of guilt of not taking a day off in order to be the presence of God to others? Can they not be the presence of God to others on their day off? Can it be because of a ministerial God-complex? A powerless childhood? Can ministers allow God to speak for Godself and therefore not having to parade an “answer to all situations”?
I would like to work myself out of a job, so to speak, where people can trust their own encounters with God without feeling the need for it to be validated by a person with a clerical title.
Just some mind-wandering.