This morning, my friend and colleague, Linda Fernandes-Bailey responded to yesterday’s post about abuse of pastoral authority and I think she was slightly offended. If that’s true, she has every right to feel picked on when I chose such an amazingly bad pastor (or pastor having a really bad day?) to talk about.
When I was in the pastorate, I remember watching the news and thinking, “Oh, no, not again” when this televangelist or that fell from grace. Often I thought, “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy (or gal, in Tammy Fae Bakker’s case), but immediately thereafter, “I hope they don’t think we’re all like that”. Pastoral ministry — especially the preaching part — is a creative endeavor and like all art (a good service, when it comes off, really is art) there are people who are going to hate it, as well as love it. In addition to that, there’s the whole projection thing: people project onto the public-figure-who-represents-God all of the things that they feel about God — anger, sadness, abandonment, inferiority, judgment, etc. Or they respond to what they think a minister should be — doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t play cards, and certainly never has sex — not ever.
Then there’s the whole priest-sex-scandal thing and finally, there’s a whole undercurrent of mistrust for authority in America. I really think it’s a cultural thing as I don’t really see other countries who believed “you should never trust anyone over 30” or with bumper stickers that say “Question Authority”. I used to believe the same way until suddenly I was considered “authority”. It doesn’t look as fun from that side. Pastoral authority is a tricky thing.
So what does good, real, pastoral authority come from? Well, it comes from God, first and foremost (it seems to me).
But, in the mainstream denominations, we like to rely on 4 things: Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience. Pastoral authority comes being able to deal successfully with all of those. A good pastor, then, knows the scripture, is reasonable and can reason using logic. They also know about church history and why we have this or that tradition. Finally, they know how to apply experience to their faith — their own experience or someone else’s experiences (the life of a saint, for instance) — so that they have an idea of how to be a Christian in the world. For all of that, plus an undergrad degree, a three-year Master’s degree, a ministry internship and maybe an intensive summer program called CPE, the pastor in my denomination (and many others) deserves respect and is given authority to lead a congregation.
Yes, some bad ones slip by, but by-and-large, most ministers are really decent and mature people who deserve the authority a congregation bestows on them. Probably 95 out of 100 ministers in my denomination deserve every ounce of authority they have. They deserve your respect.
But, you’ll note that The Spirit isn’t any one of the 4 things I just talked about. Other pastors, in other denominations (or non-denominations, as the case may be) come straight from the Spirit as the source of their authority. They had a big wham-bam experience of God and now they want to tell the world what God said. God talked to them and now they’re ready to lead. These folks typically speak in tongues, are literal in their understanding of the Bible, and believe in “solo scriptora” (“scripture only”). Also, they like to “lead people to Christ” and “save souls”. On this end of the spectrum, they don’t have to be rational (“rational” is based on human ideas), they just have to be Spiritual or Biblical. In many ways, these people scare me because they are “out of control”. Now, they would say that “God is in control” rather than they are out of it, but from my Yankee heritage, those people seem nuts. Throwing yourself on the floor, crying, shaking, speaking in tongues — that’s stuff’s all a bit nuts for me.
But here’s the problem: some of my very favorite people are from that school of belief. The late Benny Claytor of Bridgeport was a maniac on a Sunday morning when he got going. The strength of his cologne and the volume of the speakers all were LOUD. He was flamboyance in action. It’s not my style, but a better man you’ll never find. He held down a full-time job, led a church, was a good father and husband. His wife, Prophetess Gerry Claytor continues his ministry, but she always had her own ministry and her own call. She did more social ministry — things in the community at large. She continues because, as much as her husband has left her on this earth, God hasn’t. She’s still alive and God’s got something for her to do. A braver woman you’ll never meet, living as she does in a male-dominated, white-folk world. She carries herself with dignity that comes from some well of authority she knows she has because God told her she did. Nobody messes with her because they can sense her strength. She’s not a fighter, she’s a do-er and that’s all that need be said.
Now, here’s the thing that most pastors won’t tell you: The good “spiritual ones” study and read and the good “intellectuals” all have an experience of God that freaks them out. They are a combination of in control and out of it, listening and speaking, prayerful and engaged in the world. When God speaks through them, you know it. And at those times, there is no one better to have just hanging around the house. You feel centered even when they tell you a Truth you don’t want to hear. That’s the holiness thing and you know it when you see it, hear it, or feel it. They’re not really in control of it, and they don’t always know when it’s happening, but others do. You don’t know worry they’re right, you just know they are because you know the truth.
But with all of that power that might be at their disposal if God chooses, the very best ones act out of what my mentor, Bob Kyte, said: “The only “power” we have is trust”. He said that a long time ago, in one of those spiritual moments he may not have even known he had.