Mass Appeal or Pastoral Integrity?
How does a pastor measure ministry success? Is it in the size of the congregation? Is it in the programs the church offers? Is it in how many people are “converted” or “delivered” or (fill in the blank)? Years ago Jack Lemmon starred as a priest in the movie Mass Appeal. In it he counsels an intern that the offering, taken after the sermon, is a bit like the Nielsen ratings – the amount taken in shows how well the priest did in his preaching. Is that how we measure ministry success? Is being a pastor about meeting people’s expectations…about pleasing them…about style over substance?
In his book, The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson discusses pastoral integrity. He writes that “the image aspects of being a pastor, the parts that have to do with meeting people’s expectations, can be faked easily. We can impersonate a pastor without being a pastor.”
The issue is whether we approach pastoral ministry as a job, a craft or a profession. Peterson suggests that a job “is what we do to complete an assignment. Its primary requirement is that we give satisfaction to whoever makes the assignment or pays our wage.” Doing jobs is not bad. But when we approach pastoral ministry as a job, we miss out on something. Pastoral ministry goes deeper than just fulfilling people’s expectations. We can maintain an image and meet expectations without really being a pastor.
Treating pastoral ministry as a craft is a step in the right direction. With crafts “we are dealing with visible realities.” We go beyond pleasing people. In a craft we have an obligation to that with which we work. “A good woodworker knows his woods and treats them with respect.” There is an integrity involved with the materials being crafted.
But even this is not enough for pastoral ministry. Being a pastor, according to Peterson, is a profession. “With professions the integrity has to do with the invisibles: for physicians it is health (not merely making people feel good); with lawyers, justice (not helping people getting their own way)…and with pastors it is God (not relieving anxiety, or giving comfort, or running a religious establishment).”
Most of the time people in the church want a pastor to do certain religious duties. These are tasks we can carry out reasonably easily…without God. But true pastors will not be satisfied by simply doing a job. We don’t want to simply please people. That’s not what we’re supposed to be about. We have a higher calling. It is a holy calling. It is not to please (primarily) people…it is to please God.
Richard Rohr has written, “What is the source of your spiritual power? It’s radical union with God, not just doing good things or holding a role or function. Often we make the basis for ministry professionalism, education, and up-to-date-ism, which are all good in themselves. But in the end, the only basis for fruitful Christianity is divine union. Such people change you and change the world.”
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-4).
Our ministry “success” as pastors ultimately will be measured by our connection to Jesus. Are we in Christ? Are we connected to the vine? Are we remaining in Christ? “The only basis for fruitful Christianity is divine union.” Amen!
May we not get caught up in meeting expectations or pleasing people…but may we be pastors whose hearts are deeply and significantly connected to Jesus. Apart from him we can do nothing!