One of the reasons I am convinced that the ADM’s of the blogosphere are not, have not, and cannot be ministers in any useful sense (such as located, local church ministry) is because of the very nature of the ‘work’ they do. So at the Boar’s Head Tavern, Paul McCain wrote:
But it got me to thinking. Where is the line between pathological negativity and the necessary identification of error? And it got me to thinking, when am I so caught up in finding wrong that I miss what is right [my emphasis]
People who are ‘in’ ministry simply cannot engage in the nefarious ‘work’ of unbridled criticism. Why? Because those who are ‘in’ ministry know all too well the rigors of the ministry. Why? Because those ‘in’ ministry understand all too well how much the criticism hurts and, to be sure, how much of it is nonsense and simply untrue. Why? Because those called to ministry had better have a profound working theology of grace.
I think it is tremendously important to keep ministry in perspective because ministry done by ‘ministers.’ Ministers, those who are of that un-hallowed club of so-called professional clergy, are necessarily weak, fragile, broken, and nervous people. Did you catch that? People. I think it is this ‘person’ aspect that is altogether forgotten when it comes to preachers of the Gospel. Preachers, or ‘ministers’, are simply forbidden, however subtly, to be human.
Ministers are not allowed to make mistakes, lose their temper, have bad days, or sin. Ministers are called upon by congregations to be the most legalistic bunch of Christians there is. Preachers are expected to live by the rules and die by the rules; preach the rules; expound the rules. (Sadly, most preachers are not allowed to actually enforce the rules and when they do, well…use your imagination.) When preachers start talking about grace, asking for grace, or offering grace that’s when congregations, and ADM’s, start getting really antsy.
Ministers are the leaders, so we’re told, and if they fail somehow, preach a bad sermon, be at all emotional, or discouraged…well, we can’t have that because ‘we’ might lose those folks who visited the church on Sunday. It’s much better for the preacher to be fake and have those visitors think everything is alright than for the preacher to be real and risk that they might go to the church down the road. Personally speaking, the dehumanizing of humans who preach is one of the most insidious of all the services provided by the ADM’s of the church, both those in the blogosphere and those in the pew.
A blog friend of mine, Jason Goroncy, posted an absolutely brilliant post at his blog the other day titled: The Scandal of Weak Leadership: A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10. I think you should read it and be encouraged, especially if you stand week after week in any kind of pulpit. In the post, Jason wrote:
This is the sort of ad that I can imagine the church in Corinth writing. How disappointed they must have been when they got Paul! He was not the eloquent speaker for which they had hoped. Instead of providing the ’strong’ leadership they wanted, he treated them with gentleness. And while he was prepared to teach about spiritual gifts, he hardly ever talked about his own ’spiritual’ experiences, even less gloat about them. And rather than mixing with the influential, he insulted them. Even worse – he would not take their money!
Instead of getting Arnold Schwarzenegger or Napoleon or Takaroa, in Paul the Corinthians were given a weak, sick, persecuted, afflicted and bruised human being. And then to add insult to injury, Paul had the audacity to tell them that his weakness was actually proof that he was genuine! [Are you kidding me?--jerry]
And as for that mysterious ‘thorn in the flesh’, who knows? The commentators have a field day here: Paul had a theological opponent; Paul had an unbelieving wife; Paul had poor eyesight; Paul had homosexual urges; Paul had malaria – all of which are possibilities, but must remain speculations. Whatever it was, and however much Paul at times wished it removed, it served as a constant reminder to him that the integrity and effectiveness of his ministry would rest not on his worthiness or credentials but on God’s grace.
There’s that word again: Grace! Jason’s paragraph that follows the above quote is simply beyond words in its brilliance. Here’s a snippet: “Here is grace’s way – that God has a deliberate policy of positive discrimination towards nobodies, that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and that the earth will be inherited by the meek.” Yet the ADM’s of the blogosphere and pew continue to believe that weakness is just that: weakness. They refuse to see weakness for what it is: God’s grace.
I love God’s grace. It is no mystery to me any longer why last year I was able to take one seminary class and it was Doctrine of Grace. It is one thing to know grace. It is something else entirely to experience it, believe it, and conduct oneself in accordance with what one has believed and experienced. In my estimation, there are some people in the world of blogs who simply have not experienced or believed God’s grace. I’m convinced of it. Furthermore, they simply do not understand that in their fervor to protect God’s orthodoxy, they are destroying the ones called to proclaim it.
I wonder who is really held captive?
The coup de grace, where power-criticism is finally silenced, comes at the end when Jason quotes from Henri Nouwen, (*sarcasm* alert) which I know automatically disqualifies the sermon as orthodox and legitimate. Still, it is worth repeating and perhaps committing to memory:
The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross … Here we touch the most important quality of Christian leadership in the future. It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest … To come to Christ is to come to the crucified and risen One. The life-giving apostle embodies in himself the crucifixion of Jesus in the sufferings and struggles he endures as he is faithful and obedient to his Lord. So Paul preaches the crucified and risen Jesus, and he embodies the dying of Jesus in his struggles to further point to the Savior. His message is about the cross and his life is cruciform, shaped to look like the cross … I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility. It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence. [Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 62-3, 70, 73.]
So be encouraged you who preach or you who find yourself at the barrel end of an ADM AK-47. You are in good company. I send this blog post out to all those who have found themselves the subject of negative or critical or downright hateful blog posts this week. I send it out to all those who have no voice of their own or who cannot defend themselves or choose not to. I also thank Jason for writing this sermon and preaching it.
And finally, a word to the ADM’s of the church, both in blogs and pews, learn about God’s grace. I promise it will free you from that nagging, persistent feeling you have that your ‘ministry’ is to stand guard at the door of God’s throne room in order to prevent any weak, sinful, decrepit loser from finding God’s grace time and time again. It will free you to be so caught up beholding what is right that you won’t even have time to look for what is wrong.
Soli Deo Gloria!!