August 19, 2010Dear Pastor, Or should I call you Bishop, Apostle or Ecclesiastical Prelate? I am writing to you because I have been without a "church home" for nearly 8 years now. I am in search of a less-than-perfect church, though one with a heart for ministry and people.
I am looking for more than an exclusive, religious social club, a fraternity of hallelujah brothers to meet with a couple of times a week while our communities suffer and hemorrhage and the doors of our church remain padlocked, and any ministry hopelessly confined within the church's walls.
I am in search of a church led by a pastor who is indeed a "pastor," a gentle and wise shepherd, a true servant leader. I am exhausted by my experiences in other houses of worship, admittedly embittered at times about the widespread cancer of mega-churches and yet still longing to find the church I once knew.
So I write to you amid the haze of what sometimes seems like a million churches, with as many agendas and approaches, believing that you -- the leader of your flock -- are the best barometer by which to gauge whether your church might be a right fit for me, an imperfect man and sinner in need of His grace and also of fellowship with like-minded Christians who might help him grow in this walk of faith.
So if you wouldn't mind, may I ask: Are you kind, loving and long-suffering? Or are you terse, dogmatic and rigid?
Do you see the members of your church as belonging to God or to you? Do you understand that neither they nor the church are really yours but His, and that you are not chief shepherd but merely under-shepherd to Him who has called you to feed His sheep?
Do you see the people as being servant and caretaker to the pastor rather than the pastor as being caretaker to the people -- the twistedness in today's western Christian paradigm of sheep feeding the shepherd or of shepherds feeding on the sheep?
Do you dwell in opulence or splendor whilst your members just get by, lose their jobs and homes, or live in poverty, scrounge for bus fare while you drive by in your shiny chariots and designer suits, clothed in insensitivity rather than humility and compassion?
Does the lion's share of your church's finances go to the up-building of the community in which you pastor or to the upkeep of the edifice and salaries of you and your staff?
Are you a megachurch or a mega-ministry?
When was the last time you visited the sick and shut-in? When was the last time you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the poor, showed compassion upon a stranger?
Can you remember the last time you arose from your bed in the middle of the night to be by the side of someone in crisis?
When was the last time you comforted a grieving family, spoke solemn words over their dead or stood steadfast as a leader in the community, speaking truth to power, being unyielding to political and social winds, holding fast to what is good and right, even when it is uncomfortable for you and your labor of love and sacrifice sometimes seeming thankless?
Dear pastor, are you really real? Can I touch you, speak to you without having to wade through a sea of security guards? Or must I know you only as an image glowing from a Jumbotron in the sanctuary's overflow?
Do you mince words? Or do you preach the Gospel unwaveringly, seeking to give His people the word He has commanded, so that they may be perfect and thoroughly equipped?
Are you offended by a critical but well-meaning brother, raising uncomfortable questions?
And finally, is it sufficient to simply call you "pastor"? Or does that title no longer apply?
John W. Fountain, whose column runs on Thursdays in the Sun-Times, is a professor of journalism at Roosevelt University.