An Open Letter to Pastors: Please come down from that pedestal
To start, I’d like to apologize on behalf of whoever it was that first put you on a pedestal. And I also need to personally apologize for affirming your position there. Perhaps that is where our problem began. We, your flock, saw you on a different spiritual plane than the rest of us. You are ordained, you went to seminary, and you get paid to pray. My assumption used to be that these things meant you were closer to God than me. I saw you as my spiritual gatekeeper, the one I trusted to bring home weekly doggie bags of practical application of the scriptures you spend long hours studying.
You enjoyed your position on that pedestal didn’t you? It fueled your ego to have your congregation’s utmost and total respect when it came to things of a spiritual nature. I trust you went into ministry to help people, but isn’t it just our human nature for us to get drunk on power? Don’t we all go into our chosen professions to fulfill some innate human desire to be loved, affirmed and heard? There is nothing wrong with that. For some reason though, because your line of work is “sacred” you like to pretend you don’t have selfish motives, or that you checked your ego at the door. I wish this wasn’t so.
When your congregation sings three or four songs before giving you the pulpit for the better part of an hour, I don’t see humility. I see The Pastor Show. When you preach your interpretation of scripture as the be-all-end-all worldview, I see arrogance and condescension. When you call up your worship band to play behind you as you wrap up your sermon, I feel emotionally pillaged.
It’s really not your fault. I am not sure when church became this model of pastor-as-CEO, but it’s a model that allows for all kinds of abuse of power. You are just a pawn of the larger church landscape.
Perhaps a cocktail of humility and honesty could be a balm on this situation. If you acknowledged that you could be wrong, or treated me as an equal in our faith journeys, not your “project”, I’d be much more likely to respect you.
I can’t imagine the kind of pressure you face. People expect you to be their role model, their final authority on all things of God. What an icky place to be. No room for you to admit your mistakes, or to not Look Godly All The Time. No wonder you fall so hard. No wonder you get addicted to the control.
When you use guilt trips or bullying tactics to get me to volunteer my time, money and resources for the church, I get resentful. I understand how hard it must be to recruit people to serve the body of Christ, but I also wonder how much of this is to advance your personal goal of running a successful organization. Also, when you expect me to attend and volunteer at 3-4 church events per week, you are asking me to carve time out of a busy schedule. Unlike you, I am not paid to attend church events. When laypeople attend a weekend retreat, service project, leadership training, etc., we have to turn around and go to work on Monday. We don’t get to take “comp time,” or sabbaticals. I know you’re not getting rich. And I’m not here to say you don’t work hard. I know you do. All I’m saying is please be respectful of my time, and I will be respectful of yours.
You might just say I have a problem with respecting my leaders, but I say maybe it’s time we redefine how we see respect in the church. Ultimately, I believe by speaking out, I am respecting you more. I am respecting your right to be human, not some higher form of spiritual being. I respect your right to make mistakes and to be wrong sometimes. I respect that you may be a person with needs and interests and ego and desires outside your vocation as church leader. I respect your opinions even when they are different from mine.
You may not like my words today, but maybe you could look at them as the beginning of healing for a very sick church.
I want to thank you for the ways you have prayed for me, loved me and served me. I want to thank you for the way you give of your time, your gifts for the community, the poor, the unloved. Your work does not go unnoticed. I do not write this letter from bitterness, but rather because I believe this is an important dialogue to be had.
Will you listen, or write me off as another person blinded by sin?
The Wounded and the Cynical