Recently, we’ve heard the echo of the all too familiar trend that is happening more often than we’d like to admit. Suicide among pastors.
First of all, let me say that because the nature of this blog is about pastors and the church, it does not negate the overall epidemic of depression and mental disease that claims the lives of thousands of people across all scopes of walks and experiences.
Every time that we hear of a pastor committing suicide, whether he is popular or not, and regardless of the size of his church, we immediately turn to the question, “What is happening in our churches, and how can we offer more help and support for our pastors?” This is a good thing, and I believe we need to be offering help and asking these types of questions, however, let me offer an alternative question.
What if it’s not the pastor or the people or the church, but it’s the system?
I don’t believe that we are created to live alone, or a isolated life. We are however, created to live in community and interdependently. The way our western church has evolved has forced our pastors to live in an isolated state, causing them to bear burdens that none of us are created to bear. This model of living, along with all the other pressures that come with what we know as modern day pastoring, can have lasting and damaging effects on the lives of pastors and their families. We have asked our pastors to be transparent and vulnerable, but as soon as they do, they are looked upon as less than worthy to lead. The spirit of familiarity takes over, and if they have taken the risk of being “real”, we then say “they no longer have the right to speak into my life.” The very thing we’ve asked of our pastors has become what we use against them when our own walks of faith are challenged.
Here’s the rub, we know that we are called to make disciples, but we keep churning out consumers and consumer makers. We live in a consumer driven culture, where if a particular church doesn’t offer what we are looking for, we move on to the next one down the road. Where I live, there are over 600 churches in a community of just over 400,000 people. You can imagine how easy it can be for churches to take on the competitive mindset, and the pressure on the pastor to “keep up” and “keep his edge”.
Our system is broken. Our pastors are meant to be more than CEO’s of a non-profit side show, they are called to be shepherds, and to be shepherded. So, rather than asking how we can help our pastors more without addressing the bigger issue of the system in which they are trapped, is insanity. It’s like telling someone in chains if they’d like to choose between cast iron or steel hand cuffs. This type of mindset reminds us of the famous statement by Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” So, our natural tendency is not to look at the system in which our pastors are operating, but rather look at our pastors themselves and create “another system” to care for the men and women that are already locked in the system! It’s INSANE!
There’s a Better Way!
What if the earliest and oldest model of being the church is what we really need to return to? If we look at the model demonstrated by the early church we see that it flowed in the everyday life of the believer. They met around the table and not around a pulpit. Community was evident in the fact that every need was met (Acts 4). They shared the stories of Jesus and his resurrection, and more than that, they lived it out.
This is not a commercial to advertise for a missional community, or to tout the advantages of small house churches, but rather for us to consider whether or not there is a better way of being the church. We can create consumers in the house church and missional movements just as easy as we can in a mega-church. In the church of Acts, they were the church. They acted, lived breathed, and loved as the church. They didn’t go to church, they were the church.
How then, does this affect our pastors? Think about it, if the expectation is that we are the “priesthood of all believers”, wouldn’t that change the expectations that we have on our pastors? Wouldn’t they be able to flow within the natural seasons of life without having this feeling of isolation? Wouldn’t our pastors then begin the role to which they are really called, that is, under-shepherds? As they are not the head of the church, Christ is, they can then operate in a way that was originally intended. We are all called to one another. Obviously there are gifts and talents that rise to the another level, (I didn’t use the phrase “rise to the top” here on purpose.) It’s another level, not the top. Again, Christ is the “top”. We are partnering with his mission to see the Kingdom come.
I’ve said this for a while. I believe the current system of church is a house of cards. In order for us to get back to what is real and pure about our churches, we have to be willing to tear some things down and start over. All of us!
Our pastors are not production organizers, although this is the expectation that is placed on them, or what they have been trained to do. But what if the role of a pastor was completely re-defined as we know it? What if your pastor was meant to work in the marketplace, and simply share what they have learned from their experiences along with yours? Or what if we simply made church…simpler? What if, instead of creating a “produced experience”, we gathered and shared stories about our week, relating it back to Jesus and shared some bread and wine together? Can you imagine if this happened? This would certainly sway the current system that is reliant upon power and money.
I can imagine what you’re thinking. I have thought the same thing. “If everyone just begins being the church, what then is the need for me?” Hey brothers and sisters, I’ve been there, I’ve wrestled through the same thoughts. I’ve been pastoring for almost 15 years, and I can tell you, that if you’re relying upon the crowd to validate you, you’re going to be vastly disappointed. We cannot continue the cycle of creating more programs, so that we can create more consumers, so that we can keep the money flowing, so that we can create more programs, so that we can create more…you get it.
Let’s ask the tough questions. Someone has to go first. Some have. Some have said, “There has to be a better way” and they’ve left large secure church positions and have taken the risk of taking a card out of the house. Many of these men and women have found that pastoring doesn’t really have to be that hard. They have learned to flow in the natural rhythms of life and have more peace, more life, and in reality, more impact. Some have even remained in the “traditional church setting” and have made drastic changes to the way they teach, equip, and send disciples. Some have blended missional and traditional. I call them Tramissional. Whatever the case, there is a way that we can flow together in community together, and share the responsibility and privilege of Ecclesia.
My challenge to my pastor friends and colleagues and is this: Yes, pray for our pastors, pray of our families. But let’s ask the hard question: “Is the current church system the best way to make disciples, and is it sustainable?”
I’m not accusing the old system, and I’m not mad, I’m just inviting us to experience something better. There is no health in trying to fight the old system, let’s just invite people into a better way of doing things. You may have heard the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. I like to say. “I’m not mad at the emperor, I just want to help the brother get dressed!” Somewhere along the lines, we’ve been sold on a scam, unfortunately, the tailors that we’ve hired aren’t selling us clothes, they’re selling massive illusions. Illusions that are so powerful, they are leaving many amazing men and women naked and exposed. Let’s get dressed, and help others do the same.