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Friday, December 26, 2008

Jesus Loves Me...more

As I reflect upon 2008 and continue to look ahead to 2009 I have begun reading "A New Kind of Christian" by Brian McLaren and it is a veritable ray of sunshine in my darkness at the moment.

I have been out of church now for 9 months and am feeling ready, in early 2009, to begin steps towards beginning a house church. As I have pondered my journey which mirrors that of Dan Poole in the book I realize that one of the sticking points is the pseudo-priestly role of evangelical pastors in the eyes of some church members.

What I mean is that in the Catholic system the priest is called "Father" and you come to church to receive a word from the priest who is God's representative and voice. The priest gives communion as the agent who is able to offer the sacrament and is also able to dispense forgiveness. This is a very terse generalization but my concern is that the evangelical pastor often feels a subtle pressure to be right or more right than the church with which we don't agree. The church member turns up on a Sunday to sing some songs, feel good and then hear what advice and information the pastor can mediate from the pulpit. It is very much a priestly role and one with which I am not comfortable.

I recall my previous preaching engagements which were very well received but I found it frustrating trying to offer challenges and exhortations for people to make a difference in the Monday-Saturday part of life. Many people didn't seem to want to be challenged; they simply wanted to hear me offer a well-presented message that made them feel better about themselves and the next stop was morning tea and catching up with one's friends. I remember many a time when I would sit by myself at the end of the sermon despondent that people didn't seem to be too challenged or touched even though I had put all my heart into my exhortation. Yes, some people responded but the majority of people seemed to have a medium-level expectation which they weren't prepared to give up.

I don't want to be righter than the next man or more loved by Jesus; I just want to explore my own journey of faith and, as a pastor, I want to listen, share, dialogue and encourage others with their journeys of faith.

This is a ramble and a distillation of my thoughts. Any ideas?


Tim said...

Les, first--belated Happy Christmas! I left a response to your comment over at my place about how you've been in my thoughts and prayers, yet I've been so swamped with work, etc., that I've been unable to get over here. Thank God for a holiday break to catch up!

I think you're spot-on in your analysis of the "priest" versus "preacher" diametric. Because we Protestants (thanks to Luther's reactionary stance against Catholicism) resist raising our leaders to the Roman level of divine surrogates--a holdover of Judaic doctrine, by the way--ministers such as yourself feel compelled to "do more" than oversee ritual and administer forgiveness.

We'd be wise to view this drive to overcompensate as a side effect of manmade doctrinal schism rather than the consequence of a divine mandate. On either side of priest/preacher divide, the primary responsibility is identical--it's pastoral. "Feed my sheep" is how Jesus put it. And as a minister of the gospel, I believe that's what you're called to do.

Now here's the thing about sheep. A lot of what our shepherds feel led to feed us can take a long time to digest. And a lot of it isn't as tasty or easy to swallow as we'd like. The shepherd-sheep contract is founded on our willingness to feed on what our shepherds provide--sometimes chewing at it bit by bit rather than eating it up, which he/she hopes we'll do. But those of us who sincerely want to remain healthy and reach full maturity in Christ will seek out shepherds who will provide us a balanced, nutritious diet. We're less interested in exciting meals than growing strong. Those of us who don't care about our health gravitate toward tastier pastures, even though we'll end up weak and bloated and useless as a result.

The best shepherds, I think, are lest interested in serving up "happy meals" to enjoy immediate gratification than looking out for their flocks' long-term welfare. Your concerns reflect the heart of a good shepherd--and a sensitivity to God's Spirit. Follow His lead and lean on His Word. It's your staff. It will uphold you as you guide your flock and provide you the "hook" you need to ensure your sheep's safety and success.

Finally, remember that in the end, you're merely the instrument God chooses to use. The pressure to produce results belongs to Him. Paul put it like this: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." (I Cor 3.6) Feed the sheep God sends to your pasture and He'll see that they grow.

Blessings and prayers always.

Peter P said...

I recommend reading 'Pagan Christianity' by Frank Viola and George Barna. It completely disects the whole priesthood within Christianity and shows its roots.

In my opinion, for the majority of people, house church is the way to go. That does not mean if a church is not a house church then it is doing everything wrong, God uses different people in different ways but a large number of Christians need to be in a house church and don't even know it!

The great thing about house church is that you cannot hide there. Everyone has to participate, everyone has to be challenged and react to the challenge. If a house church gets so big that people can hide in it then it's time to split into two houses!

We started a house Church almost two years ago and if we can offer any help, support or advice, just drop us a line!


Les said...

Thanks Tim and Peter. I will certainly follow up Frank Viola's work. He has been on my radar for a while now but I haven't got to read him yet.

Grace said...

Hi, Les,

Praise God for your ministry, and heart to reach out to the gay community. The house fellowship sounds like an awesome idea to me. I can see how this might be especially effective for people who are turned off toward the institutional church.

You're in a hard place, and definitely in my prayers now. I think all that any of us can do, whether clergy or laity, is just do our best to be faithful to Christ, and to the witness of the gospel, and leave the result to God.

To my mind, it's totally up to God's spirit in how people respond, not up to us. (Afterall, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels.." :)

And, we can only relax into that, and trust Him.

My thoughts, Les. God bless you, and your family!!!

Les said...

Thanks Grace. I appreciate your kind thoughts. I am certainly learning to leave my concerns in God's hands and trust Him to soften people's hearts.

Peter said...

Les, I hope you're as blessed by the NKOC as I've been.

Your comment about not wanting to be loved MORE or to be found RIGHTER really stood out to me. I've often said, I don't need to identify someone else's WRONG to affirm my RIGHT. And I think this is in the same spirit. "Correctness" is a dead end road.

Matt Stone said...

I appreciate the frustrations even if I have no easy answers. I get exasperated with the 'catch up with friends' thing myself. Nothing wrong with it per se but if people can't see beyond it to the mission of God there's a problem. As for Viola, I appreciated some of his book but found his view of church history and our current situation a little one dimensional