Clergy are generally more trusted today than judges and bankers, but less trusted than police officers and grade-school teachers. These findings come from a Gallup poll in which Americans were asked to rate "the honesty and ethical standards of different people"—and the results are encouraging. The role of pastor in America has apparently enjoyed a comeback since its lows during the scandals within the evangelical world in the 1980s and the Catholic world in the 1990s. Regardless of any polls, however, I am convinced of one thing—pastors are more needed today by the people of America than at possibly any other time in our history. We are at a critical moment.
Pastor, America is faltering. Can you feel it? My purpose is not to tag this struggle to a political party or particular platform, nor even to the current administration. Plenty of other columns are doing so. I believe it's bigger and deeper than that, more profound and more gripping than our current public policies and positions. Our chief issue is not political, but spiritual. Something is wrong with the soul of America. But just who can best speak to her soul and to whom will she be willing to listen?
Who do we regularly allow to speak into our lives and to challenge us on a deep level? Our parents? Employers? Friends? It's pastors and spiritual leaders, preachers and Sunday School teachers and small group leaders who speak most regularly into our souls.
Pastor, America needs you because:
She is discouraged and losing hope. She has received so much bad news lately that she is having a hard time remembering there is still something called "the good news."
She has become defensive. America has lost much of her drive and initiative and has retreated and hunkered down, trying desperately to hold on through the storm. Instead of running to win, she is simply trying to not lose any more.
She is fearful and worried about the future. All of the stock market dips and plunges, declining home values and credit ratings, have left her stunned and reeling. She is working overtime just to keep her family afloat.
She is bombarded and overwhelmed with information. No longer composed of frontiersmen blazing the westward trail, America is now a land of technological nomads surfing from one interest to another. She has become individualistic and isolated. Although "connected" online, a world crisis would test just how spiritually connected we really are.
She has rested on her laurels. The economic boom of the 1990s, vaporous though it was, created not a sense of optimism but also a sense of entitlement. It has left her not only with the question, "How could all this have happened?" but "How could it have happened to me?"
She has lost her heroes. She traded in the Dwight Eisenhowers and the Martin Luther Kings for The Trumps, The Hiltons and The Sims. Her heroes are celebrities and sports figures. She has forgotten what moral authority looks and feels like in a leader.
Albert Schweitzer once said, "The tragedy of man is not that he dies, but that which dies within him while he yet lives." It seems to me that something has died, or is desperately failing, within the soul of this nation.
So, as you prepare your sermon or homily for this weekend, Pastor, you may be wondering: How can I help America? I am one pastor with one parish. What can I do? Here are a few suggestions:
You can strengthen her soul. Watch it closely and compassionately. The prophet Amos exposed a "famine of the Word of God" in his day and land. Make sure that can never be said of the "land" or souls you watch over.
You can call her out of herself and into righteous action. Remind her of the call of Jesus to die to ourselves, to take up our own "cross" (small c) and live in absolute surrender to his high purpose. Confront her selfishness and call her out into community.
You can captivate her once again with the great heroes and narratives of the Bible. Remind her of how much encouragement can be mined from the fascinating lives of Biblical characters who faced similar struggles and limitations still relevant to us two-thousand years later.
You can stir up her faith. Challenge her to lift her eyes above the threats of an economic and social downturn, and to see the sudden array of opportunities upon us—a ministry-rich environment, an ocean of human needs just waiting to be met. Remind her to dust off her God-given gifts and engage them in the marketplace of humanity. Remind her of the Resurrection. Champion her cause. Nurture her creativity. Pray for her bold response.