The Joy That Awaits

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation;  nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Jesus-Luke 17:21-22

In this answer of Jesus to the Pharisees we find what is arguably the most scandalous and dangerous truth ever to confront organized religion.  Note first of all, that Jesus is talking to Pharisees.  He is not talking to his disciples, neither is he talking to interested seekers, nor even to the gathered crowds seeking the benefits of his miracles.  He is talking to the religious authorities, the very ones who pestered him during the entirety of his ministry, always trying to catch him off balance, endlessly aiming to subvert and diminish his influence and his purpose.  And yet it was to these men that Jesus revealed what may be the single most important revelation of spiritual truth.  Why to these men?  Perhaps because they asked.  Perhaps because he hoped that at least some of those who had such profound influence over the poor and diseased would ‘hear’ his words.  Or, maybe Jesus was simply acting on the Father’s impulse, knowing that God is no respecter of persons.

And what is this truth?  Nothing less than the universal human residence of the reign and rule of God.  In terms of the historic religious status quo, it is truly a dangerous truth.  Indeed, it is only we humans who deem to take on the mantle of deciding just who are God’s children and who are not.  It seems that we in our stunning self-attributions of ‘spiritual understanding’, have assumed the ‘authority’ to announce to one another who is, and who is not, going to enjoy the presence, grace, and love of God.  Jesus, for his part, engaged in no such fantasy.  It was Jesus who touched lepers, forgave sexual offenders, invited a thief to join him in Paradise, and told closed-minded religious Pharisees that the Kingdom and Presence of God of which they inquired, already existed, and was alive in their very souls. 

This is problematic.  If God really is no respecter; if the Kingdom is already inside of even the unrepentant religious, then where is the leverage by which the seeking masses may be quieted, corralled, and controlled?  The answer, of course, is that in the Kingdom of God, there exists no such leverage.  In the Kingdom of God there exists no such human ‘authority’; no hint of a spiritually ‘called’ ruling class, presiding over the lives of a submissive and fearfully obedient ‘laity’.  The whole structure of such contrivance is a house of cards, a modern Babel, created once again by the foolish and egoic fantasies of men and women, still believing that we can build something that will reach God.  

Here is the truth of Jesus.  You, whoever you are reading this, I know you.  I know you because I know me, and we are not that different.  You are a container of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom, God, is ‘in’ you (gr. entos).  Everything that you have ever needed; everything that you need right this moment, everything that you will ever need, is already within you.  The answers to your hopes, your fears, and your dreams, resides right now, within your own soul.  This is the radical teaching of Jesus.  The Kingdom of God is not ‘out’ there, it is not ‘up’ there, it is not in ‘orthodoxy’, in church buildings, in sermons, or statements of faith.  The Kingdom of God does not dwell in the hearts of the educated, ‘ordained’, the ‘anointed’, or the ‘called’, in any greater measure of love, forgiveness, acceptance, or power, than it does within you.  

Have you been told you need a church ‘home’, an ordained minister; that you need to pray so many hours a week; that you need to tithe to your local ‘storehouse’, that you need to be sure your faith is ‘orthodox’, or ‘reformed’, ‘evangelical’, ‘fundamentalist’, or ‘charismatic’?  Have you been admonished that the ‘pastor’ is God’s anointed, and that you need to submit to him?  You need none of these.  Jesus was clear in both his teaching and his works.  All any of us need, is the love, power, presence, and wisdom of God.  And these, praise God, we already have.  The rule and reign of God is within; within those Pharisees, within the adulteress, within the thief, and within you and me.  Poet Robert Browning knew this truth:  

“Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate’er you may believe.
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fulness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception – which is truth.
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds it, and makes all error: and to KNOW
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without.”

From “Paracelsus” by Robert Browning

When you realize this; when, by God’s grace, you ‘know’ where God lives, the joy that you have been searching for all of your life, will have been found.

The Glass Pastor 

 

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Published in: on January 5, 2014 at 12:50 am  Comments (5)  

The Pastor Problem

 But none of you should be called a teacher. You have only one teacher, and all of you are like brothers and sisters.  Don’t call anyone on earth your father. All of you have the same Father in heaven.  None of you should be called the leader. The Messiah is your only leader.  Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others.  If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.

Jesus-Matthew 23:8-12(CEV)

This clear statement of Jesus gives background to why you will not find any paid, professional, pastor/teachers in the New Testament.  Not one.  Notwithstanding this clear teaching of Jesus, as well as the unmistakable absence of a professional clergy class in the New Testament, is it not stunning that the central and non-negotiable feature of today’s western churches, the vast majority of which claiming to be modeled after the New Testament, is exactly that: the paid, professional pastor?  

The idea of a resident, paid, and professional full time pastor did not come into vogue until long after Jesus and his first century disciples were gone.  Indeed, it was some 300 years after Jesus ministry on earth that the concept of a human ‘overseer’ in each church was birthed.  The purpose then had nothing to do with New Testament data, neither did it find any connection in the teachings of Jesus.  It was, in fact, a brain storm of the Roman Empire, whose monarchical leaders realized that for the state to maintain influence over the populace, the church must be absorbed under its umbrella of authority.  For this to work, the leadership of each church must be carefully carried out by those approved by the state, and then ‘ordained’, and invested with spiritual authority.  Voila!  The professional and ordained pastor/priest!  This man, along with his superiors, was then authorized to interpret scripture, create and enforce standards of life for the congregations, and of course, receive the obligatory offerings (read that ‘tax’) from each faithful devotee.

Arguments today that such church/state connections have been demolished may certainly be compelling.  What is not so obvious is the fact that while the church may have substantially disengaged from state control in the west (for now anyway) the paternal and condescending reality of a ‘junior Jesus’ in each church survived such progress.  Thus there has remained for over 1500 years, a religious system claiming to have its model in the New Testament, while in reality being, in its organizational structure, thoroughly pagan, political, and frankly, pathetic.  

There is no question that God can and does work in any circumstance, even those that specifically work against His will.  This being true, it remains a miserable fact that Christians can live their entire spiritual lives, 30, 40, or 50 years of believing, and never experience the true marvels of spiritual fulfillment, freedom from chronic conditions of mind and body, and the pure joy of knowing the love and power of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’.  Nowhere in the New Testament do we find Jesus or anyone else suggesting that each Christian needs a human spiritual leader in order to properly live the life of faith.  Nowhere in the New Testament to do we find anyone ‘submitting’ to a pastor, tithing their money at weekly Sunday services, asking permission of a spiritual leader in order to engage in ministry, or being told that unless they have a ‘church home’, and are under the authority of pastors and elders, that they are not being obedient to the call of Christ.

All of this, and much more, is the fabrication of the human ego, desperate to maintain security and control over the human resources of the masses.  It is a serious and historic tragedy.  It has reduced adult believers from living confident lives in the understanding of their spiritual identity, to stumbling along like toddlers, always needing the helping hand of the spiritual parent, from whom they must never stray.

As I have said in the past, when I was a paid professional pastor, I became increasingly convinced that someday my cover would be blown.  Someday, someone would simply point out that according to the New Testament and the teaching of Jesus, I am not only not needed, my presence as a spiritual parent is the single most detrimental influence on the spiritual fulfillment of those believers who are under my hypnotic spell.  It never happened.  Only when I began to say that it should, was I shown the door so that a ‘real pastor’ could be brought in.  Welcome to today’s ‘New Testament Church’!

The Glass Pastor

 

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 8:15 am  Comments (6)  

Please Pastor, Tell Me What Is True!

 Christ has blessed you with the Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit stays in you, and you don’t need any teachers. The Spirit is truthful and teaches you everything. So stay one in your heart with Christ, just as the Spirit has taught you to do.

1 John 2:27 CEV

The Grace of God has placed Christ, the Spirit of God within you and me.  The Spirit stays in you and me.  It is eternal, never leaving, never forsaking.  For this reason, you and I need no human teachers when it comes to truth.  When Pilate asked Jesus, ‘What is truth’, you may recall that Jesus made no answer.  He made no answer because truth cannot be taught.  Truth is not propositional, like your correct street address, or my height and weight.  Truth must be experienced from the inside out, not from the outside in.  Indeed, truth can only come from within.  That is precisely why John, when speaking of truth, made it clear that human teachers have no power to impart it.  Only God can impart and reveal truth.  No human teacher, regardless of how many academic degrees he or she may have; regardless of whether one or another is titled, ‘Doctor’, or ‘Reverend’, or ‘Pastor’; no matter.  No person has the ability or the authority to speak of ‘truth’ for any person but himself.

Is it not clear that the message of Jesus was and is exactly to this point.  Jesus came on the scene to announce to everybody, not the religious leaders only, not the priests, rabbis, or leaders exclusively, that God had come to all of us.  Jesus came to tell the beggar, the social fool, the thief, the prostitute, the philanderer, the cheater, everybody, that the Kingdom had arrived.  He came to announce truly good news; that the days of religious misery and human manipulation were over.  He came to make it clear that there were no longer any spiritual ‘experts’; that truth, life, love, acceptance, and forgiveness, were all now realities that were available to each and every person on earth, directly from God, with no intermediaries needed.  Was that not why he was crucified?  Was he not murdered because the religious and political professionals of his day could not permit his message and influence to threaten their hypnotic psychological and spiritual power over the masses of miserable people?

And yet today, has anything changed.  I listen to ‘Christian’ radio (if you can call what comes out ‘Christian’), and what do I hear?  I hear some person who has invested himself with spiritual authority telling the rest of us what we must do to please God.  I hear someone who has gone to a seminary tell you and me who is going to hell and who is going to heaven.  I hear some person, like the ‘pastor’ that is on every day, talking to his congregation as if they are 5 year olds (‘Just past the big book of Hebrews, way in the back of the New Testament, is James!  It’s really hard to find, but it’s there!’).   When will western adults wake up, grow up, and realize that the reason your faith and your church are so miserably boring and unfruitful is because you continue to be mesmerized by religious and unbiblical fantasies, and have not come to your senses to know that you have been authorized by God to ‘know the truth which will make you free’, one way, and that is from within your own soul, from God Himself.  Truth does not, and cannot come from the lips of your beloved pastor, I don’t care how cute, how funny, how smart he may be.  He knows truth only for himself and no one else.  If you think that he knows truth for you, and that you need to get your truth from him, or any human, I guarantee you that you will never know truth.  Truth comes from one source and one source only.  Truth comes from within.  It is ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’, not ‘Christ in your pastor, your priest, or your spiritual mentor.

When it comes to truth, you don’t need any teachers.  Teachers will not help you, unless they themselves are aware that they have nothing to offer but encouragement; never truth.  And yet we set people up as gods.  We pay them, we revere them (‘Reverend Bob’; ‘Pastor Mark’), and we give them our loyalty and devotion.  It is as if God Himself set these men up and told us that they are His special representatives.  What God really said is ‘The Spirit stays in you, and you don’t need any teachers.  ‘  Is it any wonder that we don’t grow up, and that we are plagued with the same miseries year after year?  Every professional career pastor needs to hear the words of Moses to Pharaoh:  “Set my people free!”

The Glass Pastor

Published in: on December 30, 2013 at 1:53 am  Comments (3)  

The Church Of St Linus

In a classic ‘Peanuts’ panel, we find Lucy sitting next to a giant pile of opened presents on Christmas morning with the caption, ‘Is this all?’  Later she finds Linus joyfully playing with a simple rubber band.  On seeing this, she grabs it away as well.

This precisely reflects my own response(and that of many others whom I meet) when assessing the prodigious pile of flashy programs, technological ‘trinkets’, and marketing manipulations, that have become the stock and trade of the establishment Christian church.  ‘Is this all’?  ‘There has to be something more than just this’!

Like Linus, the earliest participants of the new community of the Kingdom, experienced great joy with the simplest of accessories.  They had the transformative power of the Holy Spirit within them.  They enjoyed the love of God among them.   Nothing more was needed.  They had completeness in the simplicity of Christ.  With just this, newness of life erupted which affirmed each one, while simultaneously birthing a new love and oneness among all.

So, what happened?  How did such a simple, spontaneous, and authentic explosion of transformative experience decay into the impressive, but ultimately shallow heap of religious trinkets that are displayed by today’s church?  Whatever the definitive answer, today’s version of the church has taken on a life of its own; a life which bears little resemblance to its original, dynamic vitality.  The church of today has become a bureaucracy, and with that has come delusion and spiritual decay.  In the process of this decay, western Christians have been pervasively and successfully programmed by the power of bureaucracy, such that the heap of childish toys passed off as spiritual life, has now been fully accepted as ‘church normal’.  How much we have lost, and how little we realize it.

Among its top definitions of ‘bureaucracy, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers these:

Government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority

A system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation.

Within these statements reside a host of terms that perfectly describe the inner workings of today’s church.  According to Webster’s definition, the Church in America, both denominationally, and locally, is a classic, and near perfect example of bureaucracy. At the same time, this definition of bureaucracy finds no example or reference anywhere in the New Testament record.

Consider, for example, the term ‘hierarchy of authority’.  Webster defines this as,

 a group that controls an organization and is divided into different levels; 

a system in which people or things are placed in a series of levels with different importance or status.  

If you are a church-goer, I can almost guarantee that your church’s organizational structure perfectly meets this definition of ‘hierarchy of authority’.  Whether you want to admit it or not, your church is most certainly a bureaucracy.

If your response is ‘so what’?, so be it.  But if your church claims to be ‘Bible -believing’, has it never occurred to you to ask where in the New Testament we find a group of executives with authority over the community?  Where do we find such ‘hierarchy’ and ‘officialism’?  The answer is, nowhere.  Would it surprise you to know that in the entire New Testament record, when it comes to followers of Jesus, there is not one single case of any person being called, appointed, or given authority of any kind, over any other person?  Is it not an irony then, that in spite of this, in so-called ‘Bible-believing’ churches by the thousands, one of the very first rules of appropriate behavior and inclusion (‘fixed rules’), is the requirement to properly ‘submit’ to the ‘authority’ of pastor, elders, and leaders?

Understand that, regardless of the hierarchy of pastor, elder, deacon, or whatever is the structure in your church, there is no hierarchy of authority or privilege of any kind in the New Testament.  None.  This is what makes the true church unique.  Jesus was clear.  For his guys, there is no ‘Lording over’ people.  That is pagan stuff.  And yet the church today lives off of its ‘submission’ rules when it comes to community life.  It matters not if the rhetoric is ‘servant leader’, as so many say in defense of their authority.  It is not a defense.  There is simply no place for human authority, one over another, ‘servant’ or otherwise.  Sound radical?  That only demonstrates how well we all have been trained to submit to our ‘hard working’ pastors and leaders.  The apostle Paul neither required submission, nor  expected support.  If he stayed in a town for any length of time, he got a job.  It is ironic that Paul had time to both work and minister, ‘but our pastor is just so busy that he has no time for anything as time consuming as a job’!

I was one of those pastors, and I have great respect and sympathy for both them and their followers.  I am not speaking of a personal evil or problem.  It is a universal delusion.  It is our own version of ‘church’, which we have created, cultivated, and now devote ourselves to as if it were the real thing.  Everybody, leaders and followers, are the losers.  Everybody  misses out on the joy that Linus found, playing with that rubber band.

The Glass Pastor

Published in: on December 15, 2013 at 9:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Another Great Sermon….!

It is a recurring source of grief for me to hear professional pastors indulge in thinly veiled self-adulation.  Yesterday I was surfing through channels on my car radio when I caught a few minutes of one them.  He leads a large church, and if you are a Phoenix church-going person, I am sure you would recognize him if I told you his name.

This guy, who I assume to have good intentions, was teaching his church about the ‘gifts of the Spirit’.  He was jumping around from two passages in 1st Corinthians to another in Ephesians, trying to build a systematic case for his own believed dogma.  This is normal.  Understand that every professional pastor has a theological background from which he or she has compiled his own version of ‘truth’, and likewise, each has a specific theological/philosophical stream in which he swims with likeminded colleagues.  All of them, regardless of denominational or theological perspective, believe that their version of the ‘truth’ is the most correct one.  That is, pentecostals are pentecostals, and baptists are baptists, for a reason.  The ones who say they have no stream, but are just ‘following the Bible’, are either not telling the truth, or are the most deluded of all, believing that they, above all others, have found the definitive and correct way to understand the Bible, and therefore are in sole possession of undiluted, big ‘T’ Truth.  The United Church of Christ is a perfect example of a denominational movement that claims not to be one(‘We are not a denomination.  We are the Church of Christ’), and yet requires uniformly throughout their associated churches, some of the most rigid, scripted, and legalistic doctrine you will find.  Everybody comes from somewhere; everybody has a scripted position; everybody thinks that they are right; hardly any will admit to any of this.  Woe is the innocent seeker.

But now added to all of this obfuscation is the truly pathetic misery of listening to the professional talker woo his ‘sheep’ as a parent ‘coos’ a baby.  When speaking of the so-called ‘gift’ of pastor/shepherd, our young hero on the radio murmurs humble acceptance of his God-given and selfless call.  ‘We pastors are the ones who just do the day to day work of teaching, loving the flock, and praying’.  ‘We really don’t have time’ he modestly continues, ‘to drive the church bus, or visit lots of people.’  ‘We need to be studying, praying, preparing to preach.’  It all sounds so logical, spiritual, and good hearted.  What a joy to have this great man willing to take on the monumental and selfless task of shepherding the flock.

While I myself was the guy doing the ‘cooing’, I remember over and over thinking, “Someday, the jig is going to be up.  “Someday, somebody is going to stand up and ask, ‘Why do we pay you to do the work that we ourselves are are called to  do’?  ‘Why are we expending thousands and thousands of donated dollars every year to pay for a job that was unheard of in the New Testament Church until the 4th century, when politics and religion joined forces in Rome?’  ‘Why do we pay a professional to be our ‘vicarious’ Christian, reducing the joy of discipleship to the dull and mindless habit of being ‘fed’, Sunday after Sunday, by someone who is no more called to ‘shepherd’ anybody, than we are called to follow anything or anybody, except ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory'(Col 1:27)?

But nobody did.  And nobody does.  Rather, Christianity, American style, is characterized by large and small audiences, sitting in theater style seating, looking up admiringly, listening to their ‘shepherd’, week after week, month after month, year after year, and all the while never thinking to ask why nothing has really changed in their lives, from the first sermon to the 1,000th.  Apparently, that’s the way we like it.  We seem to be addicted to a paternal relationship with our spiritual leader, who stands protectively over us, as parent to child.  

To be sure, growing up, like breaking up, is hard to do.  Growing up is serious and tedious work.  It requires lots of ‘dying daily’  It is unknown, uncertain, and fraught with potential danger.  Growing up means that I don’t have any cover for my continued spiritual immaturity.  Much smarter and safer for my family and me, to file out week by week ‘cooing’ back to our ‘shepherd’, ‘Another great sermon, Pastor!’ 

The Glass Pastor     

     

Published in: on December 13, 2013 at 8:08 pm  Comments (2)  

The Most Interesting Person In The World!

But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go away. When I go away, I will send the Helper to you. If I do not go away, the Helper will not come.

Jesus, John 16:7(NCV)

If this verse was all we had concerning the built-in sabotage of the aspiring Christian by the professional ‘Senior Pastor’ cult that pervades across the American Christian landscape, it would be more than enough.  It was never Jesus’ mission to produce a culture of devotion and dependence toward any man, not even toward himself.  We know this from his own testimony.  Here is Jesus, reported in Mark 10:16-17, responding to a devoted follower:

As Jesus started to leave, a man ran to him and fell on his knees before Jesus. The man asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to have life forever?”  Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. (NCV)

Consider that this man was asking how to obtain eternal life!  Can there be any more important issue than that?  According to Jesus, there was indeed a more important issue.  This man, even before he would get his life-saving question answered, needed to be clearly informed that he was not to look to man or woman, not even to Jesus himself, when seeking the goodness and greatness of God.  

Most often I have heard this passage explained by establishment pastors as a sort of side note, a little expression of the humility of Jesus.  How shallow organized religion can be!  What Jesus was intentionally and unequivocally maintaining was no less than the central principle that the Kingdom of God means the end of dependence, devotion, reverence, or submission to any man or woman, condition, or circumstance, all of which stand between the believer and God.  Indeed, the Kingdom, according to Jesus, is not ‘out there’ at all.  It is within.  All attempts to find goodness, grace, love, and eternity, anywhere but within, where God and His Kingdom reside, are doomed, not only to failure, but to despair.  It is only in the final relinquishing of all devotions and dependencies other than to the infinite invisible God who is to be found within, is there hope.  Jesus was murdered precisely because he came to tell people that their bondage to human authority, spiritual brokering, and religious dogma, had come to an end.  He made absolutely certain that this devotion would not be transferred onto himself.

It is a well documented fact that many long-term residents of jails and prisons learn to live the prisoner’s life.  This is further confirmed by the high recision rates of long-term inmates.  While they may protest to the contrary, the outside life of freedom is for many convicts, too much to face.  How easily we all adapt to, and learn to love our addictions and dependencies!  Jesus came to free us of all dependencies to person, place, or condition, calling us to a new life of private spirituality and personal freedom.  He was careful to not let his followers become dependent upon his presence and leadership, knowing that this dependence would deprive them of any hope of liberty, maturity, and spiritual fulfillment.  

Alas, it took no longer than a few generations after Jesus’ death for human mediation to reassert itself.  Enter the establishment church, with its ‘ordained’ “Parish Priests” and “Senior Pastors”.  This in spite of the late 1st century claim of John that ‘you need no man to teach you, but the Spirit who will guide you into all truth’ (1 John 2:20).  And so we have in today’s church the cult of personality; ‘Our Senior Pastor’.  

He is our model, our example, our teacher and shepherd.  He is the hardest worker, and the pinnacle of spirituality.  Every woman adores him, every man wishes to be like him.  He rides Harleys, hangs out in the coolest coffee shops, and has read the most trendy books.  He is wise, spiritual, and deep, and yet current, hip, and humble.  He is funny and he makes us laugh, but he is also serious, as he weeps over the sin of the world.  He requires solitude so he can pray, meditate, and study, but he also loves company, so he can ‘hang out’ with the rest of us.  He is, in fact, the most interesting person in the world!

In his professional and revered role, he represents everything from which Jesus came to deliver us.

The Glass Pastor    

 

 

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 4:54 am  Leave a Comment  

We Have Met The Enemy…..

Susan and I find great delight in going to the dentist!  For us, going to the dentist is a mini-vacation, wherein we can spend a day or two away together, stay in a really cool resort, and I get to do something that I truly love; I get to speak Spanish in Mexico with Mexicans.  If you haven’t already figured it out, Susan and I do our ‘dentisting’ in Los Algondones, a charming little town just southwest of Yuma, right on the border of Mexico and California.  What a joy it is!

Our personal dentist is actually a two-Dr. team, both young women, and both as charming, skilled, and professional as you could ever desire.  The last time we were there, I engaged one of the sweet Drs. in a conversation about Christ and the church.  It turns out that her husband is a local church planting pastor, with a flock of believers that he, with the help of his dentist wife, cares for.

If you are a reader of this blog, you know my opinion of all things ‘professional pastor’.  I have said on many occasions, and stand by this, that in the American church, the professional senior pastor is the single most detrimental influence toward the growth of any Christian believer.  In no way is this a personal comment toward anyone filling this role.  It is not the person who is the problem.  Any person in the position is doomed to do harm.  It is the job itself; the unbiblical and mutated expression of ‘leadership’ that has taken hold in the western church that, in my view, is the toxicity that does the damage.

My view of this was only confirmed as my dear dentist shared with me concerning her husband.  To begin with, they do not need to both work.  She is a dentist, university trained with a thriving practice.  In the typical American scenario, this would be fertile ground for the ‘visionary church planter’ to justify his ‘full-time’ ministerial status, in order to ‘obey God’s calling’.  I was a full time pastor for 33 years.  I was the denominational overseer of many other pastors for 10 of those years.  I have seen it over and over again.  The ‘visionary’ young pastor, must give himself to the ‘work’ so that God can ‘use’ him for God’s glory.  Here with this couple in Los Algodones, was what I expected to be the perfect example of this same childish and narcissistic foolishness.  I was not prepared for what I was about to hear.

It turns out this dear lady’s husband works full time as a construction laborer; not because he has too-they have enough money, but because he is convinced that unless he deals with the same life issues that those who look to him for guidance do, that he will be both unable and unqualified to act as a spiritual example.  Wow!  Of course the extra money he makes helps with his family, but money is not his object; integrity is.

She went on to share with me that one of the great problems they have in ministry is the growing influence of American church practice, wherein the ‘senior pastor’ is a well-paid executive, and that more and more of the young men in Mexico looking to ministry have decided that they too should be regarded as executive leaders, worthy of full-time compensation.  As a sidebar, this is precisely the same situation that I encountered when I spent some time in central Africa a few years back.  The biggest problem reported by the local Christian leaders, was the growing influence of western concepts of the well-paid pastor, who lives on the offerings of the people, has ‘reverend’ status, and is seduced to believe that by virtue of his ‘calling’ he has the right to live a life of financial entitlement.

Is it that difficult to see that the American church, with its fully compensated, executive status ‘senior pastors’, has taken church structure and practice to a place not only disconnected from anything in the New Testament, but to such an excess as to now be what is possibly the single most toxic and counter productive element of American church life?  When those in other countries, those whom we arrogantly list as suitable targets for our evangelistic efforts, begin to say, “Please stay away.  You are not the solution, you are the problem”; might it not finally be the time to admit that Peter may have been talking to the church of this generation?

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

1 Peter4:7

The Glass Pastor

 

   

Published in: on December 7, 2013 at 5:45 am  Leave a Comment  

The Price Of Leadership

I have a business acquaintance who is a serious and practicing Catholic.  He is, in fact, the treasurer of his local parish, a church of several hundred attendees.  In this role he oversees the church budget, including compensation for the parish priest.  We were talking one day recently, when he revealed his confusion over the professional status of protestant pastors.  I don’t understand’, he confessed, ‘how and why your pastors are paid like executives, and why the most highly paid of them don’t really have to do pastoral work at all.’

I stood momentarily speechless by this remark.  I had sudden flashes of my own compensation experiences, as well as those of the many small and large church pastors over whom I had served as pastoral coordinator.  I recalled in an instant how we were taught by our denomination at what point we could go ‘full time’, at what point we could turn pastoral duties over to staff associates, and how we could devote more and more of our time to our own ‘spiritual’ pursuits, and less and less time attending to the more mundane needs of our ‘flock’, all of this based, of course, on the rapidity and extent of the growth of our particular local church, and the resultant increased revenues.  The formula was simple: as the church continued to grow, the pastor would earn more and more money, spend less and less time with people, and be provided with more and more time for ‘personal growth’.  The bigger the church, the more highly paid and celebrity status is the pastor.  As a sad sidebar, the less accountable he becomes, and thus the many known and many more unknown ethical and moral failures of church leaders

Returning to my acquaintance, he reported, as the treasurer who knew exactly what he was talking about, that his priest, serving hundreds of people, was given a single man’s parsonage apartment, and a salary of $18,000.00 per year.  For this compensation package, this priest says Mass every day, hears confessions for certain hours every day, visits the sick, visits prisoners, and with his spare time studies and prays.  Again, I was momentarily at a loss for words.  What raced to my consciousness at that point was all the ‘smack’ many protestants love to talk concerning the moral failures of priests and the egregious errors of Catholic theology.

How common it is that we fail, all of us, to see the log in our own eyes.There is no question that the Catholic Church has its own host of problems and issues, great and small.  But at least in this one real example of Catholic practice, I was humbled.  I remembered my own foolish notions of ‘success’, and those of so many other of my similarly neurotic colleagues.  I felt again, the discord that was so common among us, concerning whose church had the right to which areas of town; how much more we thought we should be paid, considering the national average, size of church, and self-justified work loads.  All of this welled up in me with a resultant regret for all the time energy and money that I and my colleagues had wasted trying to secure our own place in the market-driven religious landscape.

I was reminded also of something I believe I have previously written about.  One of these afore-mentioned colleagues of mine was on the pastoral staff of a true mega-church.  It was he who told me of his departure from ministry because he could no longer justify to his own soul the fact that the church he was part of needed over $350,000.00 per week in order to operate, almost all of it going to property overhead and staff salaries and benefits.  While I thank God that I still live in a country where a local church can become a financial behemoth, a subculture within society, with a budget that would accommodate many small cities, I confess that I am even more grateful for that priest, who is willing and able to personally serve several hundred people, for an apartment and $18,000.00 per year.

The Glass Pastor

Published in: on December 4, 2013 at 5:52 pm  Comments (2)  

The End Of Your Search For A Friendly Church

Early in my professional Christian career I happened to meet a fairly well-known pastor in my community who was also a general contractor.  In my youthful inexperience, it came as some surprise to me to discover that this man had thus acquired the land and built the church building himself.  He owned the whole enterprise.  So, here was a guy who was a senior pastor and owned the whole operation.  For some reason this arrangement seemed really strange to me.  No longer.

While the norm today may not be pastors who are contractors and buys and thus ‘own’ the business, the political and money arrangements are, at least in the larger churches, pretty much exactly as if they did.  Because of the secular and market driven model upon which the majority of current church projects are based, winsome, multi-talented, and usually well-educated local pastors function as the CEO’s of their congregations.  They earn the highest salaries, have the biggest and and best offices, and have the final ‘owner’s’ say on pretty much everything.  They are usually duly protected by staff gatekeepers, whose job is to make sure ‘Pastor’ is not bothered by people and situations he would prefer to avoid.   The success of such men (and a few women) is measured by whether or not the church grows numerically, with the resultant increase in revenues when the plate is passed.  If these indices continue to rise, the pastor can pretty much do what he wants.  Indeed, In one church I visited, the pastor’s salary was set, except if the offerings were above budget, in which case she got a comensurate bonus each month of this occurrence.

What I have just described is not exaggerated.  In the evangelical and charismatic church today, pastors are unapologetic entrepreneurs.  They are required by the job description to be persuasive and entertaining speakers first, but like the law of love, along with the first rule of speaking skill, they must also bring in the money.  If they do, all else is handled by support staff, paid and unpaid.  Thus, big church pastors normally do not visit prisoners or the sick (except for the occasional photo op), have no time for small groups or Bible studies, and some even do not do marriages or baptisms.  They do not have the time.  Their time is far too valuable to spend on such homely pursuits.  Rather, they must give themselves to meeting with business leaders, politicians, and hosting civic events.  After these, the remainder of their busy schedules are taken up in preparing for the weekly public appearance, and of course, the ever necessary task of keeping watch over the flow of income.

As cynical as I realize this might sound to some, it is based on my own experience in knowing and interacting with hundreds of fellow pastors over a 33-year career.  The simple fact is that the 20th and so far 21st century version of church leadership has nothing whatever in common with anything to be found in the New Testament.  This does not make the current practice evil.  It doesn’t even make it necessarily wrong.  What is so strange though, is that virtually all of the churches that I have known and know about in America, which have the corporate, revenue based and executive leadership structure which I have described, believe and claim, to be modeled on the New Testament vision of the Church.  For the most part even the leaders believe it (though some know the truth), as do the vast majority of the huddled masses who weekly receive with glassy-eyed awe, the offerings of the man with the microphone who drones on from above.  The fact that the entire enterprise is no longer moored to any similar structure or practice in the New Testament, is simply not relevant.

In more of my former naivete’, I actually thought that this discrepancy would be important to church people.  I foolishly assumed that once a serious disciple of Jesus realized that ‘tithes’ (not part of the New Testament) or offerings were never meant to provide executive level professional compensation and benefits, huge mortgages, or extensive staff salaries, that there would be some push back.  Not to be.  The system has been in place for so long, accepted without question or spiritual discernment, that it is simply too comfortable to bother upsetting with serious biblical reflection.  ‘After all’, one gal recently said to me, ‘my kids need a safe place to be with other kids.  I don’t really care whether it’s based on what the Bible teaches or not’.  Thus, the end of your search for a friendly church.

The Glass Pastor

Published in: on December 4, 2013 at 5:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving thoughts from the Glass Pastor:

I am thankful:

That God is neither ‘over there’, nor ‘up there’, nor ‘out there’, but He is within, closer than my breath.

That God has no competitors.  Who can stand before God?

That I need no other person on earth in order to realize all that the Father has and is.  He is my Sufficiency.

That because I am never condemned, I need not, and will never condemn another.

That God does not favor any person or persons over any other person or persons.  He is no respecter.

That all the wisdom, guidance, protection, supply, and healing that I will never need, I already have.  It is the Kingdom within.

That evil, in whatever appearance it displays itself, has no power.  God is Omnipotent.  He has it all.

That spiritual community is a miraculous possibility,  in countless ways among countless people.  It cannot not be structured, planned, or paid for.

That the New Testament refuses to institutionalize the Kingdom.  When someone says, “it is over here”,  I already know they have been seduced.

That truth is not in words believed, but in lives transformed.

That the the mind can never find God.  He appears where ‘thinking’ cannot go.

That what I was taught by the establishment church was not about God.  It was about those who taught it.

That even though I was a perpetrator of the religious charade, God was there too.

That Jesus told us that when we visited a prisoner, we were visiting Him.

That behind the eyes of every person I meet, is the Christ of God.

That I do not need to wait for heaven.  Heaven is already within.  I live in heaven every time I stop, look, and listen.

That every person who reads this is already loved, accepted, and forgiven.

That living this love is my most important calling.

The Glass Pastor

Published in: on November 28, 2013 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment