Shape Shifting: Thoughts for Preachers, Prophets and Travelers

Bo is a long time friend and prolific writer. I asked Bo a few weeks back if he would be willing to write a guest post for The Whiskey Preacher and this is what he sent me! You can checkout some of Bo’s other musing at his blog Voodo Heart or follow him on twitter by clicking here! As always we would love your feedback!

Shape Shifting: Thoughts for Preachers, Prophets and Travelers
Guest Post By Bo Liles

I had a thought the other day. What if everything we ever thought about ministry was wrong? What if the career aspirations and lines of succession and hopes for longevity were never the point for those who are called? What if, for a moment, we could free ourselves of the burden of being ministers, being preachers, being elders – and rather, just be followers of Jesus? Would the church universal collapse, as we seem to act as if it would under such a paradigm shift? Would Christ be less resurrected and represented if we laid down our personal crosses of titles and responsibilities to take up His cross of openness, love and denial of our personal motivations? For the truth is this: the Author of this Creation has shown that Redemption through Jesus was always going to be offered, no matter who or what stood to speak for the divine.

We are simply travelers. Born in a world and culture without a say in the matter, we come with a big (heart/soul) wall in which many things are written – by our parents (or lack thereof), family, friends, our own reactions to the emotions brought on by this foreign culture we find ourselves assimilating to as we grow up. We move through life as cultural travelers, taking in the sights and sounds of family and group dynamics, religion, pop culture, politics, love/loss, success/failure. Humanity, unlike a large number of the other species on Earth, has defined itself as travelers of life, in that our constant analysis and deconstruction of the weight of intellect and emotion in our lives never seems to allow us to settle comfortably into an existence of instinct and routine – like many of the other mammals who share the planet. Without risking sounding like a NatGeo documentary, we are simply aware that there is another part of us existing on a dimension that we are tethered to, but cannot always define and classify with the natural world tools of science and logic. We call this spiritual, of the soul. God-DNA, etc. And in this ache for connection to meaning in the mystery, humanity in all its restless traveling gave ourselves a construct: religion.

You and I can read libraries full of books on the history and development of religion, both ancient and post-modern. One could analyze, cross-reference and compare until our final breath passes – and I wonder if in our desire to have THE ANSWER if we missed the point. Pastoral ministry, and the very idea of leadership, was born out of some determination that humanity is always seeking to define itself by the individuality of its persons. Those either smart enough or power-hungry enough often rise to the forefront of those who wish to label and define those in their world and culture. And why do we resort to labels, and eventually, stereotypes? Simply put, we want to feel special. We want to be talented and gifted and accepted. So, it seems those who had the slightest proclivity towards the consideration of spiritual matters either labeled themselves, or were slapped with the label of preacher/prophet/rabbi/sage/minister.

And here we are today. And while our culture is vastly more diverse than just Judeo-Christian traditions, I would disclose that, as a Christian and with respect to the reader, that I would never attempt to write on those religious traditions that are foreign to my own journey. In that regard, we see that the Western world so dominated by Christianity is choked full of people who wear the label of minister, pastor, elder, counselor, therapist, advisor, writer, blogger, or media commentator. What makes any of us wearing these labels qualified to speak on and/or for God (although it seems that we spend most of our energy speaking on/about other people) is really a mystery to me, and possibly to God Him/Herself? The fact is that religion has courageously attempted to do the impossible, which is to speak of God and our connection to this force, this undercurrent within existence that we cannot seem to forcibly remove ourselves from as a species (with all apologies to my atheist/agnostic friends, the force of spirituality, and thus religion, in culture is too large, vocal and ever-changing to deny its impact and importance). We want to know what it all means, and religion became our chosen conduit.

The problem is this: when did it become fully accepted that a numbered few of us could stand and speak/question/answer for the whole of us? Can we unequivocally say that this is a set-in-stone commandment given from God? We have to admit that the source material was written down by the very people claiming to be “called” therefore our intellectual honesty must admit there is a bias to be considered. This is not to say that any of us are not called, because we trust in the words of Scripture in Matthew 22:14 that “many are called, but few are chosen” (NRS). But what exactly does this mean? That God calls many, but God prefers an inner circle of the Billy Grahams and Popes of the world? This also doesn’t make sense, as we see the need for Christianity to divorce itself from a theology that demands a schizophrenic God. Conversely, I prefer the connotation of The Message transliterated version: “Many get invited, but only a few make it” (MSG). Only a few make it.

Why is this? Why is it that increasing numbers of those ordained in Christian ministry are leaving their appointments and titles behind? Why does the spectrum of Christian faith traditions have less and less young people choosing traditional ministry paths? The answer is is the question, in the history of religion itself.

From the church legitimized by Constantine, to the medieval Popes, to the consolidated power of megachurch pastors and denominal conferences alike – the church universal mistakenly allowed ourselves to shape shift the role of minister from called servant to career vocation. And guess what? In a culture that feeds on reality-show worthiness and (at most) 30 minute attention spans, the conventional role of minister-as-purveyor-of-knowledge has been usurped by more voices than can be heard by any one person. So, why such an obsession for many of us to live up to any standard of religious vocation, whether orthodox or emergent? This is not to say that any of us should be denied making a living doing that which we love. I know I would

  • Jason M

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! Currently trying to probe the future threads available to me and what it really means to define ‘calling’ for myself.


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