The “Joker” Strikes Again: Why Do Churches … ?
For those of you who have not read my previous blog post explaining what I mean by “the joker,” this is simply a word I use here for my proposed role of the question-asker in a church. My proposal is that every church, even every Christian organization, have a person whose assignment is to ask hard questions about why it does things. My experience is that most churches (and Christian organizations) have habits, customs, beliefs, practices that deserve to be questioned because they are unexamined and may not be helpful. Some may even be unbiblical, unethical, or abusive. The “joker” (or “jester”) is someone who can, without penalty, ask any question about unexamined beliefs, customs, practices, etc. In my proposal, the church or Christian organization would decide to give this role to a mature member (or trusted outsider).
The “joker’s” question of the day is this: Why do we use worldly language for our church, its worship, its building, its practices, rather than traditional Christian language?
In this “joker’s” opinion, churches in America (with many exceptions, I know) have adopted the language of theater to name and describe their worship spaces. This is just an example of the problem. For example, the congregation is often referred to as “the audience” and the worship space as “the auditorium.” I have even heard the worship leader referred to as the “emcee” (master of ceremonies). The pulpit is often referred to as “the lectern” and the place where it stands as “the platform.” I could go on. The entry way is referred to as the “lobby” or the “foyer.” The whole thing reeks of secular entertainment. The church is not an entertainment venue. There are traditional Christian words for these spaces and things.
Another example is that when a church brings on board a new pastor, they talk about “hiring” him or her. Whatever happened to “calling” a pastor? The language of business, of the corporate world, has crept into churches. This contributes to the church being viewed, often, as a business like any other and the pastor, often, as the CEO.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating churches and Christian organizations using esoteric language that nobody but a few “initiates” understand. But I do worry that churches have adopted secular and/or pagan language for what they are and what they do.
I believe that words use us as much or more than we use them. When we adopt secular/pagan language for everything, we begin to think of the church (or Christian organization) as just another business or fraternal group or club (although many of those keep their own words—such as a Masonic Lodge or even Temple). Gradually, over the last several decades, I believe I have noticed a distinct tendency on the parts of churches to become too much like secular businesses. For example, the budget is almost always based on what was contributed (or earned by endowments) in the previous year or two. Faith for more is rarely considered.
But here is my biggest question (and implied criticism) in this whole area. I have been in many churches that were seeking new pastors. Almost always they formed a “pastoral search committee” (which used to be called the “pulpit committee” in the same churches) and sought to recruit a new pastor—stealing him or her from another church. The pastoral search committee often gathers names of potential pastors and then visits their churches, listens to them preach, and then decides which of three or four to “invite” to leave their church to come and “try out” at their pastorless church. This is simply unethical. The same churches that do this complain bitterly when a pastor they like is “recruited” to leave them and go pastor another church. Then, suddenly, the practice is unethical. And yet, that church will turn around and do it to another church without blinking. I have seen this done numerous times.
Some large churches even employ a secular “head-hunting” business to bring them names of potential pastors.
The argument that “He must have wanted to leave his church” does nothing to justify this practice.
The right way to go about finding a new pastor (in a denominational context where there is no bishop who assigns pastor or priests to churches) is for the pastoral search committee/pulpit committee to publish the need for a new pastor and accept applications from men or women who do actually want to change pastorates. There are several ways to do that, but I have seldom seen those methods used. Instead, the common practice now is for the pastoral search committee to lure a pastor away from his or her church to theirs—after investigating him or her and deciding they want to “hire” him or her. Often, even usually, the pastor did not even know about the new church until he or she was contacted by the pastoral search committee after they visited his or her church—stealthily—on a Sunday morning. I have even heard pastoral search committees report on how stealthy they were during the visit—entering the church separately and not as a group and parking separately so their license plates don’t give them away. Many churches that love their pastors actually have people assigned to watch out for such visitors out to steal away their pastors.
I tried pointing out this ethical lapse to several churches and was greeted with bemused stares. “This is the way we have always done it” and “God uses this method to move pastors” were what I heard. The first response carries no weight and the second one is highly unlikely to be true.
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