Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down

Thoughts on Real Influence

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In this edition, we note that it is not only running a church that can make pastoring hard for pastors. Sometimes the demands screaming from every corner of the church are painfully frustrating.

I for one find encouragement in the oft quoted and oft sung (but possibly offensive!) aphorism “don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Pull up a chair and let’s talk about it.


The Mess We Are In

Pastoring in 2021 in America is hard partly because the broader church tosses so many difficulties our way.

On a recent Thursday a fellow pastor told me that he had been accused by someone in his ministry of being too liberal regarding issues of race.

The next day I spoke with someone who had survived years in ministry under a mentor whose leadership was heavy handed, often abusive, and probably narcissistic.

On Saturday I was incredulous, discovering that some in the evangelical corners of Twitter and Facebook were arguing that empathy is a sin.

And on Sunday I read of a prominent Christian camp embroiled in a sexual abuse scandal persuading complainants to sign non-disclosure agreements, artfully dodging the eighth commandment with the tools of corporate law.

Finally, on Monday, I opened my email to find a screed detailing the notion that the denomination in which I serve is marching headlong into heresy.

What a mess we are in.

The Desire for Influence

And so as pastors, we try to do our ministry with one eye on our job while constantly distracted by the chatter of controversy around us. Were we to chase down every idea and seek expertise on every concern we would either exhaust ourselves or neglect more important matters, or both.

Some of us, of course, are particularly equipped and called to engage the issues troubling the church. If that is you, we applaud you. We need you.

And all of us, at times, must find a way to address and/or act on matters of importance. None of us want to be the recipient of a contemporary “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” We pray for the wisdom and courage to act when action is demanded.

But most of us most of the time are not what the world thinks of as “influencers.” Influencers are listened to. Influencers have a platform broadcasting their voices to the wider corners of Christ’s kingdom. We make a comment on Facebook, or tweet something true, because we feel the urge to make an impact, to do something. But we realize that that comment or that tweet has had no real impact. The big questions continue apace no matter what we say or do. We at times feel helpless and useless.

It’s to this that I say, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”1

By this I mean no slam against any one person. Rather, by it I defy all that which distracts me from my primary calling. The job given to pastors is not one of fixing the world’s problems on a societal scale. It’s more mundane, and more beautiful, than that.

The Reality of Pastoral Influence

For pastors, too, have influence. We are influencers in a significant way in our particular place. We are shepherds of a flock that will be shaped by our presence. This is the influence God has given us and we dare not discount it!

The frustration is real when, after doing our best pastoral work, we sense that our people are more shaped by Fox or CNN, or even by a voice online, than by us. Still, I say, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” We can’t let the world, or our own hearts, devalue the job God has given to us.

Your gifts may not be those equipped for the public, or ecclesiastical, square. But God has given you a few dozen sheep to tend. That is a trust with far greater influence than we might imagine. It is in this close community that you will be a presence encouraging the love, compassion, and empathy that is lacking online. There you can model a culture of racial unity and understanding that seems absent elsewhere. There you can shape leadership guided by Jesus rather than the latest corporate fad. There you can be, as Eugene Peterson puts it, marvelously subversive in shaping the way people think.

Your influence is not out there, but here, with your people. You are not useless. Spend time with Jesus, then with people. You will rub off on them.

Do that, and don’t let the bastards get you down.

1

It will not take you long to realize that one of my favorite bands is Over the Rhine. The intro and outro of the podcast is their music. They also were the ones who first exposed me to the helpfulness of this phrase.