In Ezekiel 34 the Lord’s crosshairs are trained on the shepherds of Israel who have selfishly consumed resources intended for the flock at large, scattering them, causing them to forage for their survival. The shepherds Ezekiel aims at are both civil and ecclesiastical leaders. These rascals were skimming, and they were in huge divine trouble.
However, shepherds, in a kingdom of God sense, are those who have been charged with caring for the inner, eternal lives of men. True shepherds see their mission in Proverbs 4:23: “Watch over the heart with all diligence, for from it flow the issues of life.”
Having been birthed in a church split, nurtured by a para-church, and planted in a community, I have always been the square peg that did not fit neatly into the round hole of organized Christianity. (The two decades between 1992 and 2012 were the rubbing experience which proved this out.) Even today, my heart strains in its attempts to maintain connection in the body of Christ. It is not much fun to be square when one’s greatest felt needs is to fit in.
The experience causes me to think of Jerry Fletcher. He is the paranoid taxi driver in the movie Conspiracy Theory, who is convinced that everything is manipulated by “them.” “Them” happens to be a covert government program gone rogue. Courtesy of them, Jerry is crazy but not completely. Perhaps Jerry comes to mind because his Conspiracy Theory newsletter has 6 prescribers—about the same as In the Middle with Mystery. I too feel the strain of trying to remain connected and not completely crazy.
My sanity and connection-mission has taken me to the scriptures. At face value, they only compound the problem. It is not easy to reconcile the New Testament with the practices and outcomes of our current traditions. However, I have discovered that asking questions about current practices and traditions will draw fire. And, it will not be conspiratorial paranoia you experience. The crosshairs will be trained on you if you raise questions about sanctified ideas like “pastor.”
Since MwM is a subscriber-based newsletter (with a modest readership), it is safer here than in, say, an elder’s meeting, to ask, “Where in the Holy Bible did this idea come from?” The word “Pastor” is not used even once in the New Testament and the plural form is used just once. Yet, “pastor” (or Pastor, in our case) wields the bulk of religious authority within Christendom.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-12
“Pastor” has become the undisputed head of all things Christian. These well meaning men and women do it all. They preach. They lead in prayer. Like CEO’s, they launch construction projects and programs. They collect the tithe to fund their operations. Want to know how many times the tithe is mentioned in the New Testament? Four, and each of them were references to the Old Covenant. I think I just saw a red dot on the wall.
I learned the hard way to not challenge, at least not at close range, the idea of pastor as CEO and the tithe. No, if you want to fit in, it is best to set aside the New Testament example and to continue following hybrid OT/NT theology and customs, which, through practice, have become sacred.
If our traditions were producing New Testament outcomes, perhaps questions would not be in order. Even if we recognized this as a problem, how would one correct it? The remedy would be the equivalent of handing Pastor the saw and asking him to cut off the limb on which he and his staff are perched. The truth is—I love pastors. They are typically bright and well-intentioned people. The sad thing is, as they accept the traditional yoke—which the institution has prepared for them—they must expend massive energy caring for organizations, outsourcing soul care to staff or outside professionals. The corruption can then become: “Watch over the organization with all your heart, for from it flow all the issues of life.”
Beyond administration, Pastor’s other major contribution is the sermon. Pastor is often a gifted orator, so by default, “the sermon” (also a rare NT idea) becomes the main course of most meetings. Sermons are how most pastors believe they are to feed their flock. Think how many sermons are preached each week. Multiply that by how many weeks have passed in your life—or better yet, since Christ’s life. Unless we are in a dispensation of decline, one would anticipate some kind of tipping point toward righteousness if sermons were, in themselves, our sufficient bread. Perhaps true pastors need to teach sheep how to feed themselves.
Questions about pastor, tithes, and sermons are absurd and innapropriate only if we measure ourselves by ourselves and by our traditions. I warned you we were wading into complex and controversial waters.
Here is a true and humbling confession. In raising these questions, I had an outside hope that a true shepherd, from some flock, would come and gather me in. I had dreamed they might see the biblical merit to my questions. I imagined we might provide each other some mutual cover, knowing that changing a culture is nothing short of jihad to traditionalists. This has not panned out. My face is still red with embarrassment at my naiveté.
I don’t relish my squareness, and I would prefer not being shot at it. It is simply not good for man to be alone—or to be full of holes. However, if the cost of achieving these luxuries is abandoning the New Testament or switching off my brain, I must remain here in the mystery with my fellow expatriates, asking questions, exploring the kingdom of God. I have continued to dream however about the Body of Christ in the earth. The following is a supplement for other dreamers with stamina.
Father, raise up shepherds with hearts like yours who will gather us up into safe places, redeeming the dark and gloomy days. May this world see that we are those whom you have gathered, healed, and called. Succeed wildly Lord in this hour with a transformation whereby both you and your bride will be honored in all places and at all times. Amen.