How was your church service last week? Were the songs good, the pastor polished, the message on-point?
In the name of upping the quality of pastoral work, a new website in Germany now allows parishioners to rate their priest’s performance in several categories, including worship, credibility, work with youth and seniors, and having his “Finger on the Pulse.”
Even without such an app, we often create our personal ad hoc Angie’s Lists, evaluating the service and its various officiants during the drive home from church. And when we get sick of picking nits, we can signal our disapproval by picking another church or dropping out entirely.
We’re reaping the results of ministry decisions made decades ago which turned (and continue to turn) the church’s attention to the experience of the churchgoer. We’re now less worshipers or even participants in ministry. We’re more, as Rachel Daniels put it, “consumers of Christianity.” Should we be surprised then that people act like consumers, that they feel entitled to judge, to rate, to rank, to approve, to critique, to tweet as the pastor finishes his homily, “Sermon today? #Fail,” even if only in our heads?
This is not to say that judgment is not something good or necessary. We will even judge angels someday. And there are definitely some congregations that don’t deserve their congregants, led by shepherds who don’t deserve their sheep.
But how qualified are we to render judgment? How capable are we? After all, says the Proverb, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” And: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” as God says in Isaiah. Do we have a clue what we’re doing or saying? Are the instruments calibrated to God’s standard our just our own culturally-conditioned kneejerks?
Leave aside for a moment our qualifications, and look at it from this angle: It may be bad for us. Passing judgment this way discourages humility and encourages pride and dissatisfaction.
Rather than judge our pastors like critics, customers, and consumers, we would be better served spiritually by turning that squinting eye inward. How are we doing? How faithful are we being? How’s our worship, our credibility, our work with youth and the elderly? But that list is too short, right? Open it up: How’s our prayer life, our thought life, our family life, our … You get the picture.
We can judge all day, but we’ll probably get it wrong and only harm ourselves in the process. Consumer Christianity creates the sense that we are entitled to the perfect worship, teaching, or ministry experience, when the reality is that we should worry more about our own walk than how the pastor carries himself on stage.