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An Open Letter to Pastors: Please come down from that pedestal

joel-osteen-preaching-Bible

Dear Pastor,

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?

Sincerely,

The Wounded and the Cynical

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10 Comments

  1. Kelsie Koch on February 19, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Carly,

    I have enjoyed reading your blogs since you began this site.
    I was glad when you started to write about your faith because it seemed like
    you were going to share an interesting piece of your life that I was excited to
    hear about.

    When you first began posting about your past experiences
    with the Church, I decided to wait and see where you were headed in recounting
    your journey. Some of your posts have given me pause, I’ll admit, but I wanted
    to wait and see where you were going.
    After this post, I really felt like I wanted to give my feedback. Please
    don’t take offense when I say that I am writing to disagree with you.

    I feel really badly about the way that Joe was treated in
    his former church position. That would be so hurtful to your family, and I can
    imagine how hard it would be to heal from an experience like that. I can also
    recognize that for some people, their hurt experienced at the hand of some
    church people, feels insurmountable to overcome.

    That being said, I have to tell you that much of what you
    wrote in this particular blog post hurts my feelings. Not that you don’t have
    the right to write what you feel or what you want. I also understand that
    writing is part of your catharsis. However, as a member, not only of the Body
    of Christ as a whole, but also as someone who works as a director at a church
    and who is married to a pastor, I have to disagree with some of what you have
    to say.

    My husband is the most humble man I’ve ever encountered. He
    has the best heart of anyone I’ve ever met. When God placed upon him the call
    to ministry, Daniel took that seriously and has committed his life to being
    available for God to use. He is responsible for teaching on a weekly basis and
    occasionally preaches from the stage. Each week I see him pour himself out over
    God’s word, sometimes struggling with what to say and how to say it as he seeks
    to convey what God has to say to his people. He is super smart and very gifted
    at teaching and leading and I have seen God use him over and over again as a
    preacher and teacher who allows himself to be available to God. And…I know he
    is not alone. I know, even, that he is not in the minority. I went to college
    with countless other men and women who fit this description. I take offense to
    some of the sweeping generalizations in this blog post as well as a few others.

    I am so sorry that you have suffered at the hand of some of
    those in the church—in church leadership. It is so disappointing when
    Christians don’t act the way they ought to. But…isn’t that why we need the
    church in the first place? As a place where a bunch of imperfect Christians can
    come to find grace from one another and extend grace to everyone else? The problem as I see it is that you cannot
    separate Christ from his Church. If Jesus can’t give up on the Church, how can
    we? Ephesians 5 talks about how the marriage relationship mirrors Christ and
    his Church. Revelation is chock full of this same imagery. While the Church has
    had a far from perfect spot record, we are simply not allowed to give up on
    her. We, as Christians, can be part of the difference. When we close ourselves off
    to the community for which we were created, we lose part of our identity.
    Christianity is not meant to be walked alone. It is meant to be shared across
    cultures, races, socio-economic groups, ages, differences of opinions… We might
    disagree about some things, we might find different methods of doing things,
    but we are ONE in Christ. We are given ONE mission—to seek and save the lost.
    It is a messy process, I agree. Messy and sometimes filled with people who
    misunderstand along the way. But, we aren’t allowed to give up. Jesus didn’t
    give up on the church just like God didn’t give up on his people in the Old
    Testament.

    If you take yourself out of the Church because you are hurt
    or mad, you are missing out on being a part of the Body of Christ. Sure, there might
    be benefits to that sometimes—no one can hurt you, you get to sleep in on
    Sundays, you don’t have to feel pressured to serve in Children’s Church. But
    what is the detriment? You are missing community. You are missing serving your
    brothers and sisters. You are missing the wisdom from those who have gone
    before you or from those whose experiences are different from yours. You are
    missing…such a blessing.

    Please reconsider. You mentioned that you have tried various
    churches where you have only felt guilt and haven’t been able to stand being a
    part of them. Please reconsider. Try again. Try again with the knowledge that
    no one is perfect—the church included. Try again to be part of the difference.
    I am afraid of what you will miss out on if you don’t.

    -Kelsie

    • Carly Gelsinger on February 19, 2014 at 10:29 am

      Kelsie! I am SO glad you responded to this post. I am so glad to hear your husband is humble in ministry. I don’t know him, but I 100% believe you when you say that. Obviously, I know many wonderful pastors and ministers too, and maybe this post didn’t do this justice. I am sorry that this post hurt your feelings. The unfortunate thing is I am writing from only my experiences and I can’t speak for anyone else’s. From my personal experience, this Pastor-As-CEO model is toxic. (Check out today’s news about Steven Furtick’s church for an example).
      Joe and I are in the midst of this journey and it is NOT the end of our story. In fact, just last week we tried a new church and left feeling like a little part of us was healed. More on that later. I may hurt some feelings along the way (and I am truly sorry that yours were), but in the end, I believe we all will be better for it. I have never intended to give up on the church. Take a break for my mental sanity because I have panic attacks at church? Yes. But give up forever? No way. Thanks for your honesty and bravery in writing.

  2. lthompson513 on February 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    When I read this, I read it as the pastor-as-CEO model could be a hurtful one, not as an accusation on all pastors in general. I’ve experienced pastors on a power trip as well as ministers who guide their congregation humbly and peacefully, as Kelsie mentions in her comment. And I have been very fortunate to have found churches in my adulthood with leaders who I feel will change the perception of Christianity in this country for the better. I have to put my hope in that.

    • Carly Gelsinger on February 21, 2014 at 4:30 pm

      You’re totally right, it’s the model that poses the problem… Certainly didn’t mean this as an attack against all pastors. But because I do have anger toward church, sometimes that anger comes out on the page, and I think that is what Kelsie reacted to. What church do you attend? I am heading to Seattle in April, BTW.

      • lthompson513 on February 22, 2014 at 6:58 am

        In Austin we attended an amazingly unique Methodist church that included many people who had been hurt by the church in the past. It is a very special community, and I am technically still a member. They have a big passion for social justice, and we continue to try to support them in any way we can.

        In Seattle we are going to an Episcopal parish with a really strong Godly Play program. I wanted Marshall to know the stories of our Judeo-Christian heritage in a non-fundamentalist context. (I’m making up words there, but you get the point. Ha!)

        Seattle in April?! We should meet in real life! But will that be weird? We can enact a no-awkwardness mandate. (I can be unintentionally awkward.)

        • Carly Gelsinger on February 24, 2014 at 11:08 am

          If we meet in real life, you’ll quickly realize I write because I am SO awkward in person!

  3. Donia Monetha on February 23, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I love hearing someone speak the truth about what’s really going on in the church. It brings me peace knowing that someone else can relate to my experiences and I know I am not the only one. I have finally found who God really is after having left the church and I began to just pray and listen to God for myself. Keep speaking from your heart ~

    • Carly Gelsinger on February 24, 2014 at 11:06 am

      Donia. We’ll figure this out eventually…I’m honored to do it alongside you.

  4. Becky Daye on March 9, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you for the honesty here. My Daddy was a pastor and now I am married to a pastor. We served under several pastors before God lead my husband to a senior pastor position. I have no doubt that God used men that you described here to help my husband see exactly what he does not want to be. I so appreciate your words here, because it is happening in too many churches for us to just turn a blind eye and say it is okay. I have been hurt so deeply by these attitudes you have described and am so blessed to be in a place where my husband is the pastor.
    Thank you. I read your other post first about the grace shown by your husband’s childhood pastor. I love that! May God continue to heal the hurt places in you and use your words for His glory!

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 9, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      So love hearing about church leaders walking in humility. Thank you.

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