In the course of recent events at our church to fill the pulpit I am affirmed that there is no appreciable difference in sacred and secular efforts to find someone to fill a role on behalf of others. Much as we might be tempted to think of sacred projects to be particularly invulnerable to posturing and politics or specially guided by heaven in ways that secular efforts are not, it seems that where there be human beings there one will also find these things. That might sound like a bad thing, but I actually think it is a good thing. As Reformed, we are nothing if not able to see true piety in that which appears at first blush to be impious. Whatever else the Incarnation might teach it also seems to suggest that God has desired to work through a foiled humanity, because despite its sinfulness it is still very good.
And having been involved in the process, I have come to understand these things to be less an appraisal of individuals and more an insight to a church. The firing of questions says as much about the questioner as the answer says of the candidate, and for whatever one thing I have learned of any candidate I have learned, say, twelve about my brethren. And I am not so sure that what I have learned is so much inspirational as it is disheartening.
What follows, then, is one layman’s rather unconventional attempt to take that experience and make a plea to ministers looking ahead to fill a pulpit.
Since Christianity implies absolutely nothing about statecraft but only demands I be a contented citizen of whatever time and place God has bestowed upon me, if I ever slyly suggest or explicitly demand you to show your hand in politics or seek guidance on how to vote, tell me to figure it out myself and send me back to my pew. Similarly, just as you should feel no pressure to comment on how I express my patriotism, feel no need to bolster or dismantle how I choose to educate my children.
Because true religion is other-worldly and demands its administrator points me to the age to come, if I ever demand that you become a jack-of-all-trades and pretend to be something you’re not, feel perfectly free to kindly suggest that just as you have been trained as a pastor-theologian there are those with equally particular training who can help. I hope it comes as a relief that you don’t have to assist me with every problem I have. At the same time, because true religion is also this-worldly, be content to allow me my humanity and to respond appropriately to the good, the bad and the mediocre. There is indeed a better country that no eye has seen nor any mind has contemplated, but that doesn’t mean that this life is of little to no consequence.
In light of the fact that the gospel is simple, if I ever press you to keep up with all the rest and litter the church with all sorts of programs and activities, remind me that the church’s success is best measured the way my golf game is: the fewer strokes, the better. Feel no need to cheer lead Christian sub-culture, but instead every burden that comes with the keys of the kingdom. So if you find me looking to the church to meet my less legitimate felt needs or my more legitimate creational needs, shoo me away and tell me that I am called to be out in God’s world pursuing my various vocations as a covenant-keeper, imperfect as I may be and as proximate as my success may be at those vocations.
When you do call me back once a week out of the world, all you need to give me is Christ, in both Word and sacrament and through sound liturgy. Preach the Law in its full force and provide the Gospel equally. Though we both may think so, I don’t need your creativity. I need neither your advice nor your castigation. I don’t need to be moralized or shown how to be more spiritual. I don’t need to be coddled or brutalized, energized or inspired. Don’t acquiesce to my desire to be any sort of consumer—intellectual, social or emotional. Open the scriptures and the historical tradition and teach me but only with the ambition of making me a disciple and not a student. And do not feel yourself compelled to show me how to change or take over the world, just send me out into it after you have truly administered Christ to me.
Baptize and marry my children. And after I have trod my pilgrimage lower me back into the earth and commend me to God, waiting for that age to come previously mentioned.
I realize these things may be easier said than done, given just how sinful we are and how complicated things can be in light of it. This is not meant to be typically Polly Anna. But let’s agree that if you make a good faith effort to do your job I will make one to see to it you are justly recompensed and taken care of.