Our Pastor is Lazy

“You know why I wanted to talk to you today?” said Jim. His intonation indicated a question, but Emily Wall, Rev. Emily Wall, knew she was expected to know.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

Jim Evans, district superintendent looked across at the young lady on the other side of his desk. She had no right to look so calm and poised, even comfortable, under the circumstances. Truth be told, he felt a little intimidated by her. That PhD in New Testament from a prestigious university along with her intelligence and self-possession just seemed out of place in someone so young.

“You can call me Jim,” he said. He’d said that many times before, but she was always a little formal with her superiors in the church organization.

“Yes, Jim, I do understand.”

Jim wondered why he felt that there was hostility in the atmosphere of the room. Emily seemed calm and was not challenging his authority in any way, yet he felt challenged. “Your church is going to ask that you not be reappointed, but they’ve asked me to talk to you first, before they make this official. This is entirely informal.”

Jim waited for Emily to say something, but she simply sat there. Why couldn’t she take her cue? It was time for her to ask what she needed to do, how she could be reverse the decision of the SPR committee.

“Well,” he said after a few moments, “your evaluation by the members of your congregation is not good. The members say that you’re arrogant, pushy, and, worst of all, lazy.” Jim thought he sensed a little bit of a reaction on the last word, but he wasn’t sure. She still looked peaceful. Again, she didn’t react.

“Do you have any response to those comments?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t believe I’ve been any of those things. I’ve been given a number of complaints, but I’d rather hear more specifics. Why do they think I’m arrogant?”

This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, churches, and events are products of my imagination.
Copyright © 2011, Henry E. Neufeld

“Well, they mention here your emphasis on your doctoral degree. ‘Throwing it in our faces,’ is one comment.”

“But I haven’t made anything of my doctorate. Other than my resume, where it’s kind of required, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it at all.”

“But it’s on the church sign.”

“Yes, but it was put there without my permission, and I’ve asked to have it removed. In fact, I was promised it would be, but it just has never happened. It’s possible that I got a bit pushy about getting it removed.”

Jim grinned at her reference to the second complaint. He wasn’t surprised. He’d never heard her say anything about her degree either. It was there. She’d done it. She was, in fact, brilliant. But you’d never know about it unless you read the actual record. “OK, I see that.”

“Actually,” Emily continued, volunteering something for the first time, “I asked that they remove my name from the sign entirely. I don’t see any need for my name on the sign. What does that accomplish? And the way it is now just looks pretentious: ‘Rev. Dr. Emily Wall, PhD, Senior Pastor?’ That’s … I don’t have a word for it. It makes me shudder every time I see it. I’m the only pastor, so I suppose I’m ‘senior’ but Reverend Doctor?” She’d showed an emotion other than calm for the first time in the conversation.

“They’re proud of their pastor,” said Jim.

“Yet they want to get rid of her.”

“Well, not precisely. They want to make an arrangement to work with you. But before we look at that, let’s look a bit more at why they say you’re pushy. It’s not just about the sign. They say you have asked every mission committee meeting what they’re going to do to be missionaries before the next meeting.”

“Yes, I ask that.”

“Every meeting?”

“Yes.”

“But why approach it that way?”

“Because they aren’t doing anything to be missionaries between meetings. The mission committee meets to distribute the mission budget money to various causes. Then they talk about how they can raise more money. Sometimes they come up with ideas, but they never implement them. But more importantly, they don’t actually do anything. They want to give away a little money, but they don’t want to get involved.”

“Well, perhaps that’s their role. Not everyone can go.”

“I think everyone can do something. I think everyone should do something. There are dozens of projects that could be undertaken within a couple of miles of the church.”

“But couldn’t you come up with a more gentle and tactful way of bringing it up?”

“I tried tact. My predecessor tried tact. So did his. I wanted to get their attention.”

“You did, but not in a good way.”

“Why do you say it’s not a good way?”

“Because they’re going to ask not to have you appointed again. You can’t do any good at all if you’re gone.”

“Perhaps I’ll do some good somewhere else.”

“I don’t think I like that dismissive attitude.”

“I didn’t mean to be dismissive. It’s important to me to try to get the members of the church to be disciples, and I believe that means being missionaries, whether it’s down the block or around the world. If doing so offends them, I’ll have to live with that. I don’t want to come up on judgment day and have Jesus ask me whether I ever told them they were called to be missionaries.”

“I see. I do think you could find a better way to do it. But let’s go on to the next issue. They think you’re lazy. Do you know why they think that?”

“Yes, that one I do know. I only preached at two services in the last two months.”

“That’s what the lay leader told me, but I wasn’t sure whether I should believe it. Why didn’t you preach those Sundays? Were you sick?”

“No, I wasn’t sick, and I was right there in the congregation. I had lay speakers preach on those Sunday mornings.”

“Lay speakers.” Jim paused. “I know you’ve really pushed lay speaking in your church, but if I had known that was happening earlier, I would have put a stop to it. You’re expected to be in the pulpit regularly on Sunday morning.”

“I think that’s wrong.”

“Wrong? It’s our standard practice.”

“The standard practice is wrong.” He was amazed that it didn’t sound arrogant. The conviction behind the sentence seemed to be beyond arrogance–absolute conviction. Then she continued. “When I arrived at that church there was only one lay speaker, and he had never spoken at anything. I arranged to have him preach for the first time. His training was not really that good, and I spent hours helping him with his sermon. He did very well. Now we have half a dozen lay speakers. That first lay speaker is now working full time at another church.”

“Where? I didn’t know that!”

“It’s a small non-denominational church, but it has doubled in membership since he started preaching there. I think they’re going to ordain him.”

“So it’s not a Methodist church then. You know we didn’t lay hands on you so you could send members to other churches. Your job is to build the church to which you’re assigned.”

“My job? Perhaps. But my call is to make disciples. My call is to equip the church for ministry. That man was ready to go out and serve. He just needed the confidence and a push. He needed someone to recognize what God had gifted him and called him to do.”

“But what about those other lay speakers. Do you have to have them preaching all that often? Perhaps you could have a lay revival every year and give them the chance to learn.”

“I don’t think that would be enough. To learn to preach the gospel you need to preach the gospel. Where better to learn than in your home church?”

“But what about the ministry to your own members. I got a separate letter from one of your church members. He brought a business associate to visit the church, and a lay speaker preached. He had hoped to have the man hear one of your sermons. Don’t you think the impression you make on visitors is important?”

“Yes, I think it’s important. But the impression I want to give is not of my intelligence or my speaking ability, but of my commitment to Christ.”

“Of course we want them to see your commitment to Christ. We want you and the church to be committed to Christ. But people don’t necessarily look at the things we want them to see. The church member who wrote the letter hoped his friend, a prominent businessman, would join the church. But he wasn’t interested in hearing lay speakers.”

“Again, I believe my job is to equip the church, the whole church for ministry. To do that I need ministry for them to do. For those called to preach, I need to give them the opportunity.”

“But you’re talking about working yourself out of a job. If the pastor isn’t in the pulpit, the people won’t think she is needed.”

“I’d love not to be needed in that sense, but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. I’ve spent more time with each of those lay speakers before they preached than I would spend preparing my own sermon.”

“But the one thing the people really like about you is your preaching. Yet that’s precisely what you won’t give them. What do you expect them to do?”

“I expect them to get into ministry themselves. In evaluating myself, I would not rate my preaching as all that effective. I entertain people. I’m good at fashioning a speech that they like, but I’m not that good at getting people moving.”

“Well, you do have your fans. I know the district coordinator for lay speakers thinks you’re one of the greatest. He wants to make sure you’re reappointed somewhere in the district so he can use you at training events.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Unfortunately, you don’t have many fans at the church.”

“So why didn’t they just recommend I not be reappointed?”

“I think they’re rather proud to have a 26 year old pastor who has a PhD from a prestigious university. That’s probably why they put so much emphasis on the sign.”

“But it’s the wrong reason for them to want to keep a pastor.”

“You may have to work with whatever reason they have.”

Again, there was an awkward pause as Emily didn’t offer any further thoughts.

“What they’ve proposed is a covenant for next year.”

“I believe I’ve seen this.”

“Well, there are several major points. First, they want you to preach 48 out of the 52 Sundays during the coming year.  I believe this is quite reasonable. I’ve known pastors to commit to 50.”

Again Emily added nothing.

“They want you to commit to personally doing all the hospital visitation. They want additional church office hours.”

“But they don’t make use of the hours I am present.”

“Nonetheless they want more hours. What are you doing with your time anyhow? You’re not preaching, you’re not doing visitation, you’re apparently not in your office. What do you do?”

“Well, it’s not true that I don’t do visitation. What I have been doing is taking gifted church members with me and then letting them do visitation on their own. I’m often not in the office because I’m doing some of those mission projects that I want the members to get involved in.”

“But I thought you couldn’t get the church involved in those missions.”

“No, I couldn’t get the mission committee involved. I have church members out serving in the community every day, and I work with them.”

“So you do it without the approval of the mission committee.”

“I don’t think I need the committee to approve my going to a soup kitchen with a few members and serving people.”

“But the mission committee probably thinks you need their approval.”

“Did they complain?”

“No.”

“They wouldn’t.”

“Yes,” said Jim after a moment. “That wouldn’t fit with the pattern.”

“Why haven’t I heard from any of these other members, you know, the ones who are out doing service projects with you?”

“I think it might be because they’re busy doing things. And they’re not really all that knowledgeable about church politics. Some of them may not even know one can complain to the district superintendent.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter a great deal. The people who have the power are the ones who are complaining and they’re demanding that you sign this covenant they’ve proposed or they’re going to ask that you not be reappointed.”

“I see.”

“I think it’s your best option. We need you where you are. That church needs you. The only way you can continue in the ministry God has called you to is to accept these conditions.”

“So in order to be permitted to do ministry I have to agree not to do it?”

“I wouldn’t put it like that. I’d suggest that you take a little more time. Work more slowly and carefully.”

“Pastors have been doing that for years. It hasn’t worked.”

“It’s the only option.”

“But that’s not true, is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“The bishop can appoint me where he wants me. He can go against the church’s recommendation.”

“Is that what you’re expecting?”

“I’m not really expecting anything. I’m just pointing out that the SPR committee of that one church doesn’t have the final say.”

“I’ll tell you not to expect it. Your choice is clear. Sign the covenant, or plan to be reappointed elsewhere, probably to a smaller church.”

He pushed the document across the desk toward her …

 

Enhanced by Zemanta