A tendency arising with such frequency I suspect a deeper problem

If you’ve been in the church for any length of time, you will know it is a group of sinful people trying to help one another become more like the sinless person of Jesus Christ. With all its faults and flaws, that is the vehicle the Lord decided to use to build his kingdom and mould his people. Given all that, it should hardly be any surprise to anyone that church ministers also sin. They are the platformed sinners, teaching all the other sinners, regardless of their own sin, about the sinless Christ we want to be like.

But there is a certain sin that seems increasingly common in ministers that I find hard to understand how, given the tendency, they end up in pastoral ministry. In fact, I was chatting with someone else about this (in general) and they glibly noted, ‘there’s quite a lot of those guys about.’ The issue I’m talking about is those guys who just aren’t bothered with you, who have no interest in you, unless you are someone of note or worth (in their view) bothering with. There seems to be a disturbingly high number of these sorts of people in pastoral ministry.

It is noteworthy because, in essence, pastoral ministry is all about people. And given that pastors are sinners leading other sinners towards a sinless saviour, you’d have thought there would be some recognition – what with the particular gospel we proclaim and all – that as sinners none of us are worthy of Christ’s love, care and respect. We have receive such grace from him, that we don’t deserve, which ought to cause us to view others with the same gracious love. Whether I reckon you deserve my interest/respect/love/care doesn’t really come into it. Jesus has graciously reached out to me and so I ought to graciously reach out to others. Pastoral ministry never extends beyond people.

So why are there so many in pastoral ministry who don’t seem to have much time for people? I’m not talking about introverts who would rather be on their own with a book here – not least because many of those guys are excellent with people and love them properly but find the energy they expend doing that part of their work drains them. No, I’m talking about the guys who just don’t have time for people unless they are the kind of people who can do something for them. The kind of ministers who think other ministers are worthy of their time – so they’ll make a beeline to them – but who have no interest in the ordinary folks who (in their view) do nothing for them.

I am reminded of the time a visiting now pastor came to a church I was in and, as I was talking to him, spent the entire time looking past me for someone more important to whom they might talk. You might assume I’m being over-sensitive but it is hard to miss it when they later specifically said, point blank, ‘I’m just keeping an eye out for one of your other elders because I haven’t spoken to him yet.’ Right you are!

But that’s not an isolated incident. I have found it happens in reverse now I am a pastor. People who never gave me the time of day before suddenly decide I am worthy of their time when they discover my job. I’ve even been in conversations that the person I was speaking to seemed to have very little interest in me and my family until they asked what I did. Suddenly, their eyes light up, the tone changes and I am treated as somebody worth bothering with now. I didn’t enjoy the disinterest when I wasn’t a pastor and I hate the faux-interest all the more now that I am one.

But I have found a disproportionate number of these conversations have been with those in ministry (or about to be in ministry). For some reason, we seem to repeatedly give pastorates to people who – in my view – fail the most basic part of being a pastor: actually caring about people even if they happen to seem insignificant to you. Why do we seem to find so many of these guys in pastoral ministry?

The thing is, it’s not as if the signs aren’t there before they enter ministry (not in the cases I have experienced, at any rate). It’s not as though there is something about pastoral ministry itself that creates the behaviour, it was usually there all along. But it tends to carry over into the ministry itself. Not just towards insignificant people who come into the church, but towards ministers and leaders too. It’s not just insigificant pew fillers who get overlooked or treated like something someone has stepped in, but other leaders and ministers who don’t appear to do much for me and my standing soon get short-shrift too. Naturally, we’ll turn on the charm for those who will give us a bit of influence or dole out the reddies. But if you’re unlikely to do owt for me, I’ll probably not bother making the effort with you.

My question is simple: why are there so many minister’s like this? What is it about them, or us, that means we keep giving them pastoral roles?

Maybe we simply value ‘the ministry’ more than we do people. We want those with the skills and networking ability to make much of what we’re doing. Anything that makes our ministry seem great, people who have the skills do make our ministry swing, they’re the guys for us. Maybe it’s that those in positions of influence are the ones so frequently sucked up to that they don’t realise it because we’re all prone to flattery. They’re never on the receiving end of the cold, aloof, disinterest that they just don’t notice and happen to be the people able to put these folks into post. Maybe those of us who don’t suffer it just don’t care. Maybe we secretly harbour those same sorts of feelings to insignificant people who can’t do anything for us and our church that we’re not bothered about somebody treating them that way.

Honestly, I don’t know why it is the case. But it seems to happen with such frequency that it is hard to imagine there isn’t some wider failing that we’re all allowing to slide.

I know you’re probably all wondering who I’m talking about and are desperate for me to name names. I’m not going to do that. Not least because I’m really not talking about any one person. I’m talking about a tendency I see all over the place. And I wonder what we have done to make it so common. We would all recognise it as unpleasant and wrong if we were on the receiving end, most of us would see it as a problem and bar to qualification, yet we frequently seem to find these guys in the pastorate (and if you think I’m one of them, come and tell me so I can apologise in person!) My real question is why, given all that, we still see it so often?