Churches tend to suffer from the same kinds of problems over and over, yet they consistently fail to see them coming or react to them properly. The modern church, which is very little like the first-century church, seems to have evolved into a self-destructive system.
For starters, pastors (or priests, or bishops, whatever name is given to the senior preacher) are given years of training before leading their own church. This fact alone tends to give pastors larger than average egos. From their perspective, they invested a great deal in achieving their positions, and a certain level of respect is due them. This same logic is used by doctors (and lawyers, believe it or not). A servant-leader has no business toting around an oversized ego, yet they generally do. Naturally, they lose their servant status and fail to live up to the Lord’s examples and commands, although they may never even recognize this failure.
A corollary to the large egos of pastors is a phenomenon I call pastor-worship. This is the tendency for laity to accommodate these egos and offer the pastors the disproportionate respect they desire. This suits both parties well, as the layman defers his responsibility for spiritual maturity to the “professional”, and the pastor receives the worship he subconsciously desires. (Remember, this desire to be worshiped is the same sin Lucifer chose and is the basis for man’s lust for power.) So we have a perpetually self-reinforcing feedback loop. Pastors train for years to become so; they set the rules in the seminaries for future pastors; the laity desire the easy path and so defer responsibility and therefore authority to their pastors; and the pastors’ egos are stroked.
With a grossly immature laity, this leads us to the same scenario as the Holy Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation. The clergy had all the power and retained access to the Scriptures for themselves. Ironically, we have a similar situation today even while the Scriptures are more available than ever before. As all men tend to do, the Scriptural interpretation can become biased over time when only one class of people interprets it. Thus we have a modern church where the laity looks to the pastors for Scriptural interpretation rather than diligently studying God’s Word for themselves and allowing the Holy Spirit to provide the interpretation. Even if churches and pastors don’t go astray, all the ingredients are set up for them to do so, making it all too easy to compromise God’s Word.
Why did Paul choose not to accept money for his apostolic work? Why did he continue to make tents to pay his way? He said he would be within his rights to accept payment for his preaching and teaching, but he chose not to. I think it’s fair to say pastors, too, have a right to accept payment for their pastoral duties, but it’s just as correct to say it’s ethically better if they do not. Accepting money from those to whom they preach puts pastors in a conflict of interest. Too many temptations to sin are presented in this situation. The selling of indulgences was one such example. Denominational taxation, as in Europe even today, is another. The perverted doctrine of tithing is the most common abuse in today’s church. There are pastors who have “day jobs” to pay their bills, while their ministry involves no collection, but these are few and far between.
Why do pastors go through all those years of seminary and Bible college? Take a look at the curricula. In some Bible colleges, you can emerge with a Bible degree of one form another (e.g., M.Div.) with only a very few credit-hours of actual Bible courses. Just as an education degree teaches little about education and more about administration or classroom management, so most seminaries teach about the business of pastoring a church more than about God’s Word. I would dare say this makes them unfit to lead others in any capacity, let alone in matters of eternal significance.
Being well trained in the business of church, pastors too often see the size of their congregation as a measure of their success. It’s almost universal among clergy and laity alike that a pastor of 50,000 will be hailed with more respect, credibility, and honor than a pastor of 50 or of 5. I ask, how is this any different than the Pharisees in Jesus’ day? The Scriptures are replete with examples and parables meant to turn this worldly logic upside down. We all speak of “God’s economy” where numbers aren’t the point, yet we betray our true beliefs when we focus on adding to our numbers and on church growth.
In an increasingly fallen world, the opportunities for evangelism are steadily growing. These make for a great temptation to pastors and other church leaders to grow their numbers. The temptation is subtle. At first, it may be truly Godly compassion for the growing masses of the lost, those doomed to eternal damnation by their own choice. It can continue by a neighborhood outreach, designed to bring the lost into the church. But why must the lost be brought to church? The church is not synonymous with salvation or relationship with the Lord. Why must the lost be brought to the nearest church, the one surrounded by all the new neighborhoods of lost souls? Even if church were the next step for these neighbors, why is the nearest church the one for them? Even the statistics betray us: we speak of communities as percentages of “churched” and “unchurched” as if it were some measure of eternal state.
Being a good neighbor, reaching the lost, and introducing others to Christ is not a business of numbers, or short-lived, impersonal invitations to visit the nearest church. If we have true compassion, we get to know these lost souls. We become their friends, if they’ll have us–not for the goal of “saving” them, but for the goal of serving them without strings. Not only will they have the chance to hear the Good News, but they’ll see it lived firsthand. No church program can replace such lasting relationships.
The church sees opportunities, but brings a screwdriver to do the job of a hammer, because it only knows screwdrivers and sees the world as a bunch of loose screws. (Don’t take this metaphor too far. It’s a shallow point.) They see chances to add to their numbers, but due to their failed programs, they instead lose numbers. Even minor trials pull church-goers away, because they’ve deferred their spiritual maturity to the “professionals”. Egotistical pastors soak up their own worship, but fail to be servant-leaders and fail to meet the needs of even their own families, let alone the hundreds or thousands they supposedly lead. A thriving relationship with the Living Lord is slowly replaced by the business of church. And we wonder why the modern church is America is slowly dying, imploding from its own stupidity.