I should probably back up. I was minding my own business last week reading Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization by Arjun Appadurai and I decided to take a break and check in on Twitter.
That is where I saw a tweet from the folks at Two Friars & a Fool (who I love love love) and smashed into an expectation that just seems objectionable to me. [I have gathered their and my tweets in chunks for smoother reading]
Worrying that truth or justice will cause anxiety in your congregants isn’t “pastoral”.
More likely you are projecting your fear over job security, to excuse not speaking/living more boldly.
It is not a pastor’s job to protect their congregants from difficult truths, big ideas, or stark injustices.
I cannot think of one instance where Jesus withheld hard truths or talked around a subject out of “pastoral concern”.
My point is that if Jesus withheld them, you wouldn’t know about it. That’s an argument from silence. What we know about Jesus is what his disciples remember and re-presented to us. We don’t know what didn’t happen so we can’t cold contemporary pastors to a non-existent standard.
They countered with: The Gospels could have had a story where Jesus was gentle with an interlocutor, then turned & told his disciples the truth.
Or we could have revelations in epistles etc… of “hard teachings” Jesus spared us from.
Or even instances where Jesus slowly led his disciples into a hard teaching with progressively less gentle versions.
I can also frame this argument positively: Jesus confronted people w/ hard truths often & is our model of what is “pastoral”.
I stated that comparing what we have of Jesus in the Gospels to contemporary pastors in like comparing apples to oranges. You just are not looking at the same things. It’s nearly impossible to compare.
Their response: Is comparing pastors to Jesus apples to oranges? Is imitation not implied in baptism?
I guess I would say that my job is fidelity. Do my best to see/speak/live the truth. Let the Spirit work out who can hear it.
And I’m more curious about what you think of the point that it isn’t “pastoral” to coddle congregants intellectually?
I often think pastors give their congregants too little credit & too much power.
Most can handle more than we allow, & it’s far from the end of the world if we piss a couple off.
Here is my condensed point:
If Jesus withheld teaching, you wouldn’t know about it. That’s argument from silence
You can’t be hard on contemporary pastors because of something Jesus DIDN’T say. It’s apples to oranges.
contemporary pastors are apples to Jesus’ Galilean orange 😉 Context, language, and expectations are different
Pentecost & Christendom alone would be enough. Add to it modern media, Copernicus, Darwin, Freud, WWII, 911 it’s just so different.
Pastors ARE beholden to what their congregants can hear. We know Jesus through disciples’ reports.
We know what the Disciples HEARD. We don’t know what they DIDN’T hear. Can’t be hard on contemporary pastors for that.
I just don’t want to tee-up modern pastors because of what their congregants can’t hear
You may say tough things from the pulpit – but you are situated in a location & context! What preceded you that allows you to say it?
I just can’t abide raking modern pastors w/ 401k & dental plans & seminary student debt or kids going to college for not saying things people won’t pay to hear! It is the system that we are in.
I guess what I’m saying is that Jesus wan’t even a real Rabbi in his day … let alone a post-christendom pastor with student debt, house payments, medical insurance, kids school payments … not to mention an ordination board, district superintendents, or a congregation with building – let alone tithing congregants with kids serving in the military.
It is contemporary apples and Galilean oranges at some point.
How do I approach this?
I have mashed together what I have learned from Cornell West, Slavo Zizek and Marc Ellis to say that all churches in North America fall into 3 primary categories: Prophetic, Therapeutic or Messianic.
- Prophetic churches critique the as is structures to confront the system.
- Therapeutic churches help folks exist within the system. ‘Chaplains to the Empire’ as we say.
- Messianic churches focus on helping one survive until God delivers you from the system. This can be rapture, evacuation, eschatological, etc.
So, each of us in embedded in a unique modern social imaginary – a construct of meaning within a context, location, denomination and tradition that asks certain things of us and provides certain opportunities.
Our job is to be as faithful as possible within those parameters to the both the example and message of Jesus that we have.
We are not Jesus. No one is Jesus. Jesus didn’t do what we do for a living. We do the best we can within the frameworks that we have been given. Some are inherited, some need to be renovated, some are up for debate, some need to be challenged and maybe even discarded.
Without recognizing that located and situated reality we can not just take what we don’t see in Jesus and put it over a contemporary situation. It is just apples to oranges – an unfair comparison.