The Peasants' Revolt
We all want to change the world
It was a treat a few months ago to have coffee with a young pastor, a man who had studied at Reformed Seminary and had attended my church a decade ago. A wedding brought him back to town and allowed us to catch up.
He was thriving in his ministry, and so I asked him what about pastoral ministry really appealed to him. He spoke about how he loved to preach and to care for people. He glowed as he spoke about meeting with people face to face and how he was seeking training in counseling to improve his skills in that area. But he added, “I know I’m supposed to think bigger than that.” When I pressed him to explain, he said that he felt he was to be more invigorated by strategies and growth.
In other words, the ecclesiastical culture we inhabit was telling him that simply being a pastor was not enough. That makes me both sad and angry and moves me to want to overthrow the entire system. We need a revolution to liberate the vocation of pastor from its bondage to the constraints of American entrepreneurship no matter how difficult this may prove to be.
We’ve been nurtured on the idea that churches are to be slick, growing, shiny things. This mentality is so deeply ingrained as to seem impregnable. Still, there is a faint but growing heartbeat for something other. I hear it from people who show up at my church. I hear it elsewhere as well.
At the end of the episode titled “Demon Hunting”1 in the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, Mike Cosper contrasts current American church culture with the ethos of a monastery. He muses,
“The heart of the community is the rhythm, the desire to place your life before God at a steady pace, to trust he’s doing work over that long, slow obedience. [This] commitment to a way of life, is a provocative contrast to the hype, entertainment, and expressions of power that drive much of evangelical life.”
He said this in conversation with charismatic theologian Sam Storms who noted that this is the kind of vision “. . . that might not sell; that might not fill conferences; that might not get people to listen to your podcast. It’s not . . . sensational.” Cosper comments that this vision, “. . . is pretty subversive, and runs against the chest thumping, guns blazing imagery that is all too common in American Evangelicalism.”
The desire here is for a renewal of the church that calls us to rebel against the image of the church as a well-oiled machine and to once again see it as primarily a well-shepherded flock.
When David French and Curtis Chang interviewed Cosper on their Good Faith podcast2 all three spoke with admiration for the ordinary pastors who make no splash, who simply do their best to show up at hospitals, weddings, and funerals. The church as such a culture, they suggest, is something worth regaining.
“If we could give [American evangelicals] a vision of something that is better and more beautiful, I want to think we could win them over to that.”
But who is giving them that vision? To win American Christians to a better and more beautiful vision of church is worthy of a revolution. But like any revolution, it’s dangerous. Rebels sometimes pay a heavy price.
To have no grander vision than that of a community in which the weekly rhythms of worship and word take precedence, in which caring for people matters more than the size of one’s church, is a radical vision. To “lean into” smallness, as Cosper at one point calls it, is costly. For pastors fed on the lie that validation comes by the size of one’s church, this can feel like death.
I know. I die every day.
In the end, however, no matter how beautiful the vision, Chang and French lament that it’s not attainable.
The narrative that big is better is currently so deeply a part of the heart of the American consumer that no one person, pastor, or church can change it. What is not possible in the aggregate, however, is possible in pockets here and there. We pastors with no fame or platform, we “peasant” pastors, might well devote our lives, die if you will, nurturing sleeper cells that show what the church, even the small church, can be.
I challenged my friend to focus on his calling and dream. His passion is not incomplete. We have the opportunity to give ourselves to pastoring a local congregation, and doing it well. God can use, in time, our small, local, and subversive efforts to give for others a vision of something better and more beautiful.
Maybe it is impossible.
I’m not sure why that should stop us.
All revolutions cost money. You can help by visiting my tip jar. Thanks!
This segment begins about 1:00:00.
Particularly around minute 37:00.