Do you remember that feeling when you were on the receiving end of a parental lecture: That compelling desire to escape, combined with a growing resolve to completely reject all the counsel, advice, and nuggets of wisdom coming from the lecturer’s mouth?
I got that feeling the other day.
It came when I was reading an op-ed column in the New York Times. Oddly enough, it was written by a guy in my profession, a Christian pastor.
The author’s point was that the problem with Christian congregations is that they want to be “soothed and entertained” in churches that feel like theaters.
Now, I’m as frustrated with the “Big Show” feel of many churches these days as the next guy. But what struck me was what the author holds up as the correct alternative to this. Here’s how he describes what a pastor is supposed to do:
“The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways.”
“…clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy.”
“…the church exists…to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires.”
Basically, pastors are supposed to get people to change their behavior. And that is accomplished primarily through sermons or counseling sessions where the pastor instructs and challenges people to act.
I want to say two things about this, then I’ll quit. First, the article demonstrates very little compassion for the sinners and sufferers sitting in the pews (or cushy chairs). There is no recognition of the bound-ness, the broken-ness of is churchgoers, the fact that they are doing things they wish they could stop, but can’t. Second, he seems to assume that all people need to get their act together is a stern talking to. That if you want people to stop eating a whole pack of Chips Ahoy in one sitting, or if you want them to visit prisons, or if you want them to have elevated values and desires, all you have to do is tell them. A lecture will get it done.
While we may have different ideas about what actually does change people, from where I sit, it does seem clear that lectures never have.