I’m working on a project related to Paul’s pastoral aims and strategies. In a few places, he has some things to say about the dynamics of image-maintenance (e.g., 2 Cor. 12:5-6). I’ve been reflecting a bit lately on the pressures of image-maintenance and how they affect pastors.
I’m thinking of dynamics like the following:
- An (over-)sensitivity to controlling how one is perceived, or how others think about oneself.
- Attempts and efforts to manage others’ perception.
- The pressure to display no uncertainty at all about the rightness of one’s cause, one’s course of action, or certain decisions.
- Pastors feeling that they can’t be vulnerable. They can’t show any weakness.
- Authenticity is not an option, or perhaps one’s “authenticity” is one that is conjured up when performing for an audience – an inauthentic authenticity.
- The fear of disappointing people who have expectations about the sort of experience they’re expecting at church.
The source of these pressures is the need to keep people happy. And, if we’re honest, the pressure to keep money rolling in, and to keep people attending – to keep the numbers up. And in a consumer culture, the consumer / customer demands can be overwhelming and yet their desires for experiences are paramount. All of these work together to put pressure on pastors to be certain kinds of people.
Now, it’s easy to see these dynamics in celebrity pastors – pastors of mega-churches, or those who lead large para-church ministries or organizations. But I’m more interested in how these pressures and dynamics affect average pastors.
In what ways do pressures distort and corrupt your motivations in ministry? Do they distort your home life? Is there a radical disconnect between the person others perceive at church and the person your spouse and children encounter at home? Do you feel that vulnerability and openness is a threat?
Pastors, what other pressures do you face? I’m thinking especially of pressures that relate to maintaining an image. And what sort of image do you feel pressure to project?
John Goldingay has some very interesting things to say in his book, Do We Need the New Testament? In several places he repeats the notion that neither Israel nor the church were called to advance or bring in or implement the kingdom of God.
There is no direct link between seeking to restrain injustice in society and the implementing of God’s reign. Implementing God’s reign is fortunately God’s business. We have noted that the New Testament does not talk about human beings furthering or spreading or building up or working for God’s reign (p. 47).
An uncomfortable truth about the Holy Spirit is that we cannot control its coming and operation, as we cannot bring in or further or work for God’s reign. . . Our relationship with God is not contractual, so that we could fulfill the right conditions and it would have the desired results, as if our relationship with God resembled putting coins in a vending machine (p. 60).
Unfortunately, Goldingay doesn’t elaborate much on this notion, for it surely runs against the grain of much Christian rhetoric about advancing the kingdom or working for a kingdom agenda.
In our Gospel of Mark course from a weeks ago, we lingered over Jesus’ words about receiving the kingdom.
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (10:15-16).
We were struck since most of us are used to language of advancing or furthering or even entering. But Jesus speaks of receiving it.
What sort of language do you most associate with the kingdom of God – receiving or advancing? And what is intended by each of these? What do we typically mean by advancing it, and what might Jesus mean by receiving it?
My review of John Coffey’s excellent book, Exodus and Liberation, can be found at reformation21.
Coffey’s work is a brilliant and very well-written exploration of the use of biblical rhetoric connected to the Exodus events and how such language can be manipulated and employed in political contexts. And as of today, Amazon is selling it for $2.56 in hardcover! Here are the review’s concluding paragraphs:
Coffey’s work foregrounds a few serious problems with the use of biblical rhetoric in political discourse. First, throughout the book Coffey details the confusion of Christian freedom and political freedom. The proclamation of spiritual freedom and the employment of the Exodus narrative was so effective that it could not remain within neatly proscribed religious boundaries. Luther and Calvin faced this problem, as did the Puritan preaching that fueled the American Revolution. Even though America was intentionally founded as a secular nation, the Exodus narrative played a profound role in firing imaginations and giving shape to hopes for self-determination.
Second, and closely related to the foregoing point, the use of biblical rhetoric can easily be manipulated to presume divine endorsement for an earthly political agenda. One can easily point to the use of biblical rhetoric by both the North and South in the American Civil War. Coffey’s work details this point time and again.
Coffey’s wide-ranging and meticulously-researched book ought to be carefully considered by American Christian leaders, teachers, and preachers in an age when distinct Christian sub-groups presume that Christian identity demands loyalty to this or that political party, organization, or group, whether on the political left or right. It is all too easy for God’s cause to be conflated with an earthly cause, or for a politician to hijack biblical language for political gain. Exodus and Liberation would help Christians develop a keen awareness of the power of biblical rhetoric and the dangers associated with its alliance to any earthly cause.