(It’s Pastoral Ministry Tuesday when I share a post about life as a pastor and some of the things that make this life so challenging. I’ve been a little busier than usual but hope to be back on track with posts this week.)
One of the beautiful and horrible things about email is that I am accessible to a lot of people. It’s beautiful when they are new friends, old friends, current friends or soon to be friends.
It’s horrible when they are selling me something or asking me to pay them for something they are offering to do for me – service selling.
This pandemic has amplified what was already a weekly occurrence.
I’ve had an endless stream of offers for online seminars, subscription newsletters and “free” Zoom calls with 120 other pastors to learn how to pastor our church in these “unprecedented times.”
“Unprecedented times.” You know, times we’ve never been in before in which we pastors have no idea how to do what we do but these special gurus can tell us all we need to know (for a very modest cost) to get through these “unprecedented times.” That’s like volunteering to be a passenger on an airplane when no one has ever flown before… “Hi, I’m Jerry, I’ll be your pilot for this journey on this unprecedented method of transportation.”
I’m all for brainstorming, idea sharing, workshopping but don’t try to sell me an expert opinion on unprecedented times. Don’t try to take advantage of my feeling of unpreparedness or inadequacy for a situation that most, or all of us have never faced before. Offer me your “free ideas that may or may not work but have so far worked for you…” but please don’t sell me your seminar and how to guide for a time none of us have faced before. It make you sound like an opportunist, not a trailblazer.
You’re banking (literally) on my desire to good for the people I am pastoring while you’re making stuff up that we’ve all been thinking through and praying through but you’ve managed to overcome humility to offer us solutions you have no idea will work. That’s what “unprecedented times” means.
But this isn’t new. These offers have come to me weekly (sometimes daily) since the advent of email and me acquiring my first published church email address.
When you are less than 3 months in to an “unprecedented time” and you get an ad for 4 books about the churches response to a pandemic by 3 major Christian publishers it means they either had been anticipating this for months or years and had books in the bin ready for the moment or they rushed through books that probably should have been given a lot more thought or they took a manuscript that could, with some careful and clever editing, be made to apply to life in a pandemic.
Psychologically, I think this plays on those in pastoral ministry in a couple ways.
First, it reinforces what we already believe: we don’t have a clue about what we should do next. The truth is, we’re doing fine and we’re finding our way just like everyone else in these “unprecedented times.” But the endless stream of offers and adverts erodes our sense of well-being and confidence that we can navigate this time with a little help from our friends. We need a lot of conversation with one another in all this, we don’t really need “experts” helping us through “unprecedented times.”
Second, it subtly suggest that we are never enough. I’m all for ongoing education and staying on the growing edge. There are always new things to learn and new skills to be developed. Most pastors I know have been doing this through the pandemic. We’ve all been on a steep learning curve and we’ve all developed skills we never even dreamed of needing. But the endless stream of adverts and “opportunities” that have been coming long before this pandemic and will continue to come with whatever comes next creates the impression that a select few “get it” and they are kind enough to help the average stumbly-bumbly pastors find their way.
For a price.
Once upon a time, the Spirit empowered us and led us. But in these last days, God has given us gurus who will, if the price is right, tell us how to manage the house of God and possibly, if we take their course, become like them in nature and purpose. World without end, amen and amen.
To my brothers and sisters in pastoral ministry I can only offer my encouragement. You know your place and your people and the Spirit of God is the same Spirit we all share. He’ll give you what you need when you need it for these “unprecedented times” and it will be free. You know when you need to learn something, don’t feel pressured by those offering THE answer. Find a good coach who will help you discover the answers you need and avoid the gurus who don’t know your place, don’t know your people and are taking the opportunity to turn you for a profit.
And can we all agree collectively to never say “unprecedented times” again?