Chapter 3 – be challenging
In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing. ~Mark Twain
Authority, where does it come from and what gives it power over the lives and minds of people? In our society authority is a big thing. People supposedly gain authority by working very hard, by studying very hard and by earning said authority only after years of trials. This is, in fact, a lie. Authority within our society is passed down on what we in the South would call the “good ole boy” policy. Meaning that if you want to be in authority you have to know a current authority and be a yes man long enough to be made an authority. In modern language this is referred to as “nepotism” and such behavior is rampant in the modern church.
Trying to become an authority within the church is kind of like trying to make it famous in Hollywood, it’s all about who you know and how well you can kiss ass. Which leaves most of us with a real big problem, because the majority of those in authority don’t deserve or appreciate their position and thus often abuse it. This form of authority is even more damaging when you consider the immense power that is given to priests and ministers. These are men and women who will aid people in deciding what the guiding principles of their lives will be and oft times how those principles will be put into action. In ancient societies there were fairly stringent guidelines for how one could rise to a position of authority. Often one would not even be considered for such a position until they had attained the ripe old age of thirty years. Considering the average lifespan of folks in those days, thirty years old was a very advanced age. The considerations were that if you hadn't lived and experienced a good deal of life’s ups and downs you really shouldn't be guiding others in how to handle such things. You see its simple things like this that we forget in this age of college degrees and licensing certificates. It’s not about who you know or even how much class time you've had, it’s really about how much life you have lived and how well you've come out on the other end.
Paul talks about such things in his letters to Timothy. He was trying to help the young man become a leader in his local congregation, and so he took it upon himself to lay down some basic measuring points of whether or not someone could be considered a good leader. I like the fact that one of the central ideas to Paul’s critique of a leader was how that leader handled his own family. I think you can tell a lot about a person based on how they handle their personal relationships and particularly by watching their children. We all know at this point the old adage that a preacher’s kid is usually trouble. Having served in and attended several congregations through the years I can attest to this as being a fairly accurate statement. You see, children, especially young children, depend almost entirely on their parents to learn basic concepts like self-control, attitude maintenance, and empathy and if these aspects are not taught and exemplified by the parents, you can be sure to see it in the behavior of the children. If a minister’s family is not happy, cohesive, and well integrated, how then can this person teach such concepts to his or her parishioners? And of course there were other requirements, being of sound mind, not drinking too much, being in control of one’s temper and being one who consistently maintains spiritual growth and learning. I think these were and are great concepts to base authority upon, and none of them require a degree or certificate, they simply require a life of growth and learning, of inward journeys and open communication.
Who are the men and women who sit in authority over you? Do they meet the standards of what a true teacher and minister should be? And no cop outs here by the way, I always hear that tired old excuse, “well our pastor has so much on his plate” or “our minister is a person just like us, we should cut him some slack.” No, and no, in both cases these excuses only allow us to continue to be led by fools and hucksters. Ministry by its nature is a higher calling, and the men and women who choose to follow that path must be held to a higher standard of growth and behavior. When in my early studies I began making some friends among the other bible students I began to notice a sickening trend. A good deal of my classmates had decided to enter the ministry because someone in their family had suggested it would be a good job. Many of these young men and women had no real interest in spirituality; they were simply looking for a cushy position of power. Many of them were following a parent or sibling into the ministry, some few had had some sort of spiritual epiphany but that seemed rare among them. Then to top that off the very programs we were studying under had precious little to do with human beings and the problems they experience, instead we learned Greek and Hebrew, biblical interpretation and Logic. I noticed early on that no psychology courses, other than the basic Psych 101 were required for ministry. Ministry by its very nature deals with the human condition and that condition was pretty much totally ignored in the college programs dedicated to turning out ministers.
Our colleges and seminaries are turning out young ministers and priests who really have little life experience and are not even getting the book knowledge necessary to understand fundamental psychology. These are the men and women being groomed to lead the church in its future? The sad thing is this program has been in place for the last two hundred years at least. Colleges turning out fresh faced minister’s a dime a dozen, and these ill equipped, under experienced children get thrown into the lion’s den of real world issues and it’s no wonder we have so much problem focusing on the real issues of human suffering, and daily struggles, when all these fops can talk about is biblical aspects on human sexuality and whether or not their congregation should vote democrat or republican. There were some bright lights in my college career though, one professor of philosophy that I shall never forget pulled me aside one day and told me something that has stuck with me to this very day. I had made an inquiry in class about what he thought ought to give one the sense that they should or should not take up the ministry. In class he gave away very little, but outside in the hall he said this to me, “Ministry, if done right, should be the hardest thing you ever do. It is often a thankless task, filled with all sorts of troubles and sorrows. Not to say there are not good times and celebrations but when you put yourself fully into the lives of so many people, their tragedies become your tragedies. So understand this, do not become a minister unless you see no other choice in your life. Go and choose some other profession and live happily doing that, and only choose ministry if nothing else will satisfy your soul.” It was strong advice, but I knew its power when I heard it. Taking on the coif of the minister is a great responsibility because of the power and influence that it symbolizes.
Yours and my responsibility then is to make sure that our ministers or priests live up to the high values that they have chosen as a way of life. Challenge your ministers to be accountable to the congregation. Most “leadership” functions take place at scheduled meetings where it’s known that the majority of the congregation won’t come. Make sure you’re there and bring friends, lots of friends. Encourage others in your congregation to get involved, sound off, and don’t take cop outs for answers. Encourage your ministers to continue their educations, not just academically but within their own personal spirituality. And above all, hold them to the tenants of what a minister should be, if they can’t manage their own families, and relationships, find a new minister or figure out a way to rehabilitate your current one. Don’t settle for less, these men and women need accountability and they need your support, otherwise they can become loose cannons that take advantage of an already damaged system and use it to support their own selfish whims and habits. Take back your church, and start with your minister or priest.