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We Reap What We Sow

21 August 2007

A big-church brat is qb (Waterview, Montgomery Blvd., Sunset, A&M CoC, Paramount Terrace CC/Amarillo)…I love big churches and always have. But serving on the Search Committee for a senior minister was a serious wake-up call because the whole machinery – by which I mean, all of the tacit assumptions brought to the search project – is built to funnel people upward in congregation size.

To get the crass, obvious stuff out of the way: salaries increase with membership, which inevitably creates a forcing gradient in the direction of larger and larger congregations as one’s career, er, “matures.”

But it’s also clear that Jesus’ parable about the talents has been co-opted for a subtle but still nefarious purpose. If you are uniquely gifted in the ways we typically think of “ministers” being gifted – eloquence, managerial competence, charisma, so-called “leadership” – somehow the large churches deserve you more than the smaller ones. Right?

Which brings qb to Henri Nouwen, who moved in precisely the opposite direction, from Harvard’s ivy walls to the bedpans of L’Arche. Somehow, that example resonates more fully with the example of Jesus, who eschewed the fawning crowds and the wealthy, influential elites in favor of a washbasin and a towel.

Please don’t hear qb saying that nobody should be in a pulpit for a large church. He’s not saying that. But the machinery, as currently expressed in committee charges, job descriptions and our embedded assumptions, caters to the ambitious, not to the empty-of-self. And it seems to qb that occupying the pulpit of a large church places an extraordinary premium on that most elusive of pastoral qualities: true humility.

Historical PostScript: We reap what we sow.


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