Square pastors in round ministries
Thanks for joining us here at Greatheart’s Table. I’m grateful for the encouraging words many of you have sent my way.
I write with pastors in view - so if you know any who might benefit from joining us here, do let them know. But I am discovering that many of you who have found the content thus far helpful are not pastors. I say, the more the merrier. I’m glad to have you as well. Pass an invite on to others you know.
In this post I’d like to think about the diverse square pegs God calls to fit into the curiously round hole called ministry. I’d like you to meet “Pastor Puddleglum.”
Things Are Bad
Puddleglum is a marshwiggle. If you’re uncertain what marshwiggles are, you really should make some room in your schedule to read C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. Upon his first appearance, readers immediately have a sense of Puddleglum’s view of the world. He says,
I’m trying to catch a few eels to make an eel stew for our dinner. Though I shouldn’t wonder if I didn’t get any. And you won’t like them much if I do.
Nothing bad would happen that Puddleglum will not have worried about long before. That things would always end tragically Puddleglum was certain. Puddleglum could outlast Disney’s Eeyore in a woe-fest without batting an eye.
Perhaps you know the type?
Some of us are the type. We wear this wariness like kevlar. If we are persuaded that things will end badly, the blow of eventual disappointment is softened. Of course, things end badly often enough for pastors to make Puddleglums of us all.
Expecting the worst, then, can then lead to thinking the worst. We move from “things are bad” to “I am worthless” with uncanny ease.
Like many things, I suspect that this is nothing new.
You Don’t Fit
Early in my ministry I was encouraged to look hopefully to the history of the Great Awakening, to think that something like this remarkable work of the Holy Spirit in the 1730s in New England could come to my twentieth-century church. Spearheaded by the preaching of George Whitefieldthe Great Awakening was a revival so impactful that even a skeptic like Benjamin Franklin noted that
. . . it seem'd as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro' the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.
What we don’t consider is that not every church in New England was touched by it. What would it have been like to be slogging week after week in an ordinary church when churches in the next town over are exploding? I’m sure I’d soon be asking the question every small church pastor eventually asks: “What’s wrong with me?”
At the height of the revival one influential Presbyterian minister took it upon himself to answer that question. In a sermon titled “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry,”Gilbert Tennant’s answer was clear. In essence, he said, “I know what is wrong with you. You are not converted.” Unsaved pastors are an easy target. I’m guessing that Tennant’s broadside bloodied many more than that.
Every generation has those happy to tell pastors they are unworthy, unfit, and possibly dangerous. We are told that unless we pray more, see more conversions, preach more on the topics of the day, homeschool our kids, or vote Republican we must be unfit for ministry. The church has never been short of those willing to tell us that we are frauds and imposters. Too many of us believe them.
You Are You
Sure, if you are one of those who bully and abuse your congregation, you need to find another career. But the rest of us need to resist these passing and often vacuous judgments.
True, you might not be dynamic or charismatic. You might not be visionary or able to replicate the success of the latest movement. You might not fit the celebrated pastoral personality profile.
But you are you and you are faithful to God and to his church and the church needs you, square peg that you may be.
I identify as a Puddleglum. If I did not declare it, you would soon deduce it, I shouldn’t wonder. I fear I’m too quick to remind my congregation of the hardship of the Christian pilgrimage and slow to speak of its joys.
Happily, I serve with an elder who is my emotional opposite. Jon is irrepressibly bright-eyed. He wears his inner seventh grader on his sleeve. His impulsiveness counters my ponderousness.
I once apologized to Jon, believing that what I called my Eeyorish tendencies must be a real downer for our church. Jon would not accept my apology and the next Sunday I found on my desk a stuffed Eeyore sitting next to a stuffed Tigger. Jon told me how people like him need people like me. Tigger needs an Eeyore, and Eeyore needs a Tigger.
You may not be all that the American Christian world says a pastor should be. But you are you, You are the you God called into this ministry, and his church needs you. Without you, the church does not thrive.
With all his self doubt, Puddleglum was faithful, clear-eyed, and courageous to the end. Puddleglum, you see, saves Narnia.
You’ll just need to read the book.
C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair, (United States: HarperCollins Publishers, 1981), p. 69.
I have an ambivalent relationship with Whitefield in particular and the Great Awakening in general which may explain my rather Puddleglummish approach here. Nevertheless, I commend to you Thomas Kidd’s biography of Whitefield.