Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Pastoral Authority.... in short supply... use wisely
People in the pew no longer are merely consumers of theology. They are connoisseurs, having developed a taste for things and shoppers seeking the best sources of supply for what they want. In addition to this, they have become producers as well -- defining what churches should be, should say, and should do.
Richard Rohr (writing as a Roman Catholic) has suggested that we do not think ourselves into new ways of living, rather, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. In other words, we seek theological and philosophical constructs that fit what we are doing now. So, we can be against cohabitation in general because this is what we were taught growing up and in church, but when we find ourselves living with a partner, the values change to fit the living arrangements.
The authority of the Pastor was once seemingly endless. Why, stories are told of Pastors consulted by farmers as to when to plant crops -- even though the Pastor was not ever a farmer nor did he possess much practical knowledge on the subject. Now pastoral authority is a very limited quantity and it is easily expended (perhaps even completely). This is not a "choose your battles" wisdom here but rather an acknowledgement of the changing circumstances in which we find ourselves and a warning against presuming what you may not have (or have in much quantity).
Pastoral authority must be cultivated by teaching (catechesis) but also by service. The more people can point to as reasons why to trust the Pastor, the easier it will be for this trust to bear when values and choices conflict in the lives of those in pew. Because the issues have changed, doctrinal purity is less relevant and less important to the religious consumer today than it once was. Now, I do not mean to diminish the idea that part of the pastoral responsibility is to be a keeper of the faith and to make sure the faith kept is kept pure. What I am saying is that this is often a secondary value to the lives of the folks in the pew. It is not that they are bad. It is simply descriptive of the shifts and changes within our culture. So the visitor on Sunday morning is not simply listen to what is said, but how it is said, and this whole thing is filtered through the welcoming character of the greeting and the full ranges of services available to them. Underneath it all is the even more elusive sense of happiness, contentment, and joy felt during the worship service (and, especially the sermon). The visitor is only doing preventively what the member has already done (and continues to do especially if something happens to make them question their previous judgement about the Pastor or the parish).
The transformational quality of the church's life is, for most, a much higher value than the faithfulness or truthfulness of its confession and proclamation. For this reason, we Pastors must be bi-lingual as well as the folks in the pews. We must be able to speak to and speak from the current values and thinking of people but we must also be able to challenge and grow our people beyond those often shallow and self-centered values. All of this points even more to the high value of catechesis -- constant teaching with passion and with confidence. The sin greater than irrelevance is to be boring. Let it not be said of us that orthodoxy has ceded the truth to the mundane, banal, and dull! Because our pastoral authority is in short supply, an even greater burden is placed upon our passion for the sake of the Gospel and our passion in preaching the cross -- both Law and Gospel, strong doctrinal preaching. This is not something about which we have a choice.
Just a few thoughts still spilling out from the 2012 Symposia in Ft. Wayne...