Abuse of office

One of the privileges we have as a church is to raise up new pastors. For over two centuries, people who’ve gotten their start in ministry here have gone on to make inestimable contributions to God’s kingdom.

But it’s not getting easier to raise up pastors.

I recently read an account of why churches have been splintering. One phrase seemed to sum up the problem: “Catechized by the culture.”

Church members might go to church for an hour a week, but for the remaining 167 hours they’re steeped in the culture.

How do churches compete?

In many cases, they don’t. They capitulate.

Some adopt the solutions of the culture.

Some adopt politicians as saviors.

The late Eugene Peterson, in his memoir, The Pastor, wrote about how he and other pastors were invited to receive weekly training in mental health by the county health department. The instructor was a prominent psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins. The idea was that pastors would be better equipped to respond to a growing mental health crisis. At first, Peterson appreciated the training. It was heady stuff. But slowly he realized that he was seeing his parishioners as “problems.” Instead of someone beloved by God, he saw “depression” or “anxiety.”

Peterson wrote: “By reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as a pastor. I was trading in the complexities of spiritual growth in congregation for the reduced dimension of addressing a problem that could be named and understood.

“Would I embrace the emotional gratification of solving a problem that could be diagnosed and dealt with head-on, rather than give myself as companion in searching out the sacred mysteries of salvation and holiness?”

This week I took part in seminary training for supervisors of field education students. It was on trauma, something we face in our downtown neighborhood every day. We’ve offered similar training here before.

But this training was solely from a secular perspective. “Meditation” and “mindfulness” were offered as ways to deal with trauma, but not prayer.

When I pointed out that there was nothing about Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, it wasn’t well received. One field education supervisor told me that my comments were, “An abuse of my office.”

When Jesus prayed his great prayer in John 17, it was in the context of the greatest trauma in history, his own. He said, “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

The culture offers lots of tools to help pastors cope with trauma, their own, and the trauma of those they serve. I use them often.

But if I were to leave out Jesus, that would be abuse of my office.

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