(Part 7 – church+change) I heard a story about a church in a small town. The congregation had gone through yet another blow up of one sort or another – can’t remember the details of the ruckus. The result was the ouster of yet another pastor. As the smoke cleared and the church began to dust itself off for whatever was coming next, one stalwart was heard to say, “Well, pastors come and go, but this is our church.”
Indeed, pastors come and go. It’s become the exception that one hangs around long enough to be called a survivor. George Barna the venerable statistician of the American church reports, “The average tenure of a pastor in Protestant churches has declined to just 4 years—even though studies consistently show that pastors experience their most productive and influential ministry in years 5 through 14 of their pastorate.”
Hmm. Four years, huh? This is sounding familiar. Yes, pastors do come and go and I am gone – pastor number five…or is it six? No matter. I came and went. And at my parting, the place of my four year sojourn remains in the hands of a decreasing cluster of folks who can declare, “this is our church.” So it remains largely unchanged from when I arrived.
The thing that I find most challenging about this scene is the dearth of Biblical evidence for anything like “calling a pastor.” Indeed, the term pastor in the New Testament is nearly always used (there’s really only one exception) to describe either a person that takes care of real sheep, or the Lord Himself caring for his followers. Yet churches accept resumes from hopeful candidates who want to be hired to be the pastor of a church whose people he has never met. We use words like ‘call’ to describe the condition of being ‘hired’ to be the next to come and the next to go.
I thought to try to change that among other things. Which reminds me of a riddle: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: One. But the light bulb has to want to change. And that’s where I failed. I couldn’t get that dang light bulb to want to change. Oh, some folks did, I guess, but not the ones with the power — the the keepers of the ancient ways. In the end, this was their church.
Of course, I suspected this when I came. I thought I could change the dynamics by not asking for a salary; by accepting what was offered without qualification. Toward the end, I was praying about declining even that. But ultimately the issue isn’t money or a call, or whether a pastor is a title or an office; a description or a function. It comes down to this: “pastors come and go, but this is our church.”