Most pastors, I have argued elsewhere, are nerds. While this is mostly a good thing, one of the dangers of having a nerd pastor is that many nerds don't want to believe that they are nerds. And if they can get their sheep to stare at them in awe, oft they reason, this will be proof of their non-nerdery. So in an attempt to gain the doe eyed admiration of their sheep, insecure nerd pastors will generally go one of two ways.
The first way is the route that low church pastors take. On this route, you find a pastor wearing Hawaiian shirts on Sunday mornings and occasionally stopping in the middle of the service to play the song he wrote about his buddy Jesus earlier that week. Here the pastor has tried to gain people's awe by making his personality the focal point of the service. In other words, he has covered the Office in himself.
The second way is the route that high church pastors take. On this route, you find a pastor guilt tripping his elders when they don't want to spend $5,000 for a new set of paraments and telling people that, unless they have a doctor's note saying otherwise, he won't believe that they are allergic to incense. Here the pastor has made his performance of the Church's ritual the focal point of the service. In other words, he has covered himself in the Office.
I've picked on route number one enough over the course of the last few weeks. So, in this post, I'd like to focus on route number two.
Fearing that people won't like him, that they'll find him boring and uninteresting, this high church pastor hides in his Office. He convinces himself that, because these people love Jesus, they'll have to love him as long as he is Jesus to them, as long as he's doing his pastoral duties.
So when he visits people in their homes, he's not comfortable talking with them about football or asking what their kids are studying at college. He has to be Jesus. He has to catechize them. He has to bless their homes or teach them about the liturgy or do something to prevent them from having an actual human interaction with him. And while catechizing people and blessing their homes and talking to them about the liturgy are all really good things, those good things never take much root whenever people get the impression that their pastor is more interested in teaching them to be right than in loving them.
Likewise, when Vacation Bible School comes around, this pastor worries that these kids won't like him because they don't understand that he's supposed to be Jesus to them. So he decides to fix that. He resolves that, by Friday's closing program, he will have turned these kids into perfect confessional Lutherans. He informs the sweet little old ladies teaching music that the preschoolers will be required to learn all five verses of "From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee" and that, if anyone would teach the kids "If I Were a Butterfly," let him be anathema. Also, this year's VBS theme is going to be the five kinds of fasting. And, after the program is over, the kids who really loved learning about Jesus all take their art projects and go home, wondering why that guy in the funny shirt never smiled.
And when every Sunday morning comes around, he hides in his Office even more. When he leads the congregation in prayer, he goes to extra lengths to remind everyone that he is there to be Jesus to them. He adopts a weird, painfully over sincere tone because, you know, praying like a normal person is for the laity. When he messes up the liturgy, he doesn't laugh, but looks like he wants to flog himself because flawless execution of the Proper Preface was going to make people respect him. And when a three year old girl is being really ridiculously cute at the communion rail while her parents are taking the Sacrament, he doesn't smile. Because smiling might show people that he's human, that he's just some dude. And while they can't ever not like Jesus, they can always not like just some dude. Especially if he's a nerd. And despite all the times this pastor reminds people that he's there to give them the gifts of life and salvation, those people will often have a hard time coming to a deeper understanding of that when they're pretty sure that their pastor's worst possible nightmare is being caught at church without his clerical collar on.
It is true that pastors are called to stand in the stead of Jesus Christ and to give the Lord's gifts to people. They are called, as Paul says, to be "stewards of the mysteries of God," (1 Cor. 4:1). And Christ's under-shepherd's ought to treat that calling with reverence and awe (i.e. no freaking Hawaiian shirts on Sunday morning). But the pastor who won't be respectful with God's word is really no worse than the pastor who won't be human with God's people. The former gives people the impression that there's no room for the Lord on Sunday morning. The latter gives the impression that there's no room for them. So in the end, I don't think Christ's sheep are served any better by pastors who won't ever put on their robes than they are by those who won't ever take them off.
My name is Pastor Hans Fiene. Thanks for reading.
My name is Pastor Hans Fiene. Thanks for reading.