Tuesday, October 08, 2013
As if the whole church thing were not weird enough, we use some really strange language.
I know I'm not an outsider anymore, but there are times when I still feel like one. And one of those times is when we use weird terms to describe things. Not like theological language, which is already bizarre in its way but has its uses just like any other insider language (educators have one, computer people have one, journalism has one, medicine has one, etc). Not even hipster language--like when everything is authentic and intentional and relational and relevant, or whatever. But flat out weird institutional language.
Like when a new pastor is called (not hired), they are installed (they don't just start work until they get properly...well, all the metaphors I can think of sound dirty--ie, what we do with lightbulbs, appliances, software...). When they leave their relationships are dissolved (which I suppose is the slightly softer way of saying "cut off"). And we're now called Teaching Elders, not simply pastors or ministers (though for the record, "minister" was a seriously problematic term when it comes to thinking about the priesthood of all believers anyway).Cute, but I think missing the point. She goes on to talk particularly about the process of being hired and put into place as the pastor at a church - a process with many steps, each with "odd" sounding names. What she neglects is the importance of each of those steps and the origin of the terms associated with them. This process has developed over the centuries of operation of first the Church of Scotland now the Presbyterian church. Each step has a purpose and a deep meaning. It is true that most people do not know these steps, let alone their significance, anymore - but the that does not mean they are not important, nor that they are "weird."
The steps involved were designed to accomplish several things, but to announce and reinforce the accountability structures within the church and to set aside the pastor as holding both special office and for special purpose. By mocking the steps and the titles what we do is make the special mundane and the sacred profane. We tear down the accountability structures of the church and in so doing let loose all sorts of forces that can be, and often are, destructive.
Let's discuss a single example - pastors are "called" rather than "hired" precisely because what they do is supposed to be more than simply a job. Yes, the position carries with it all the accouterments of a job, but it is something quite different than simply performing duties in exchange for monetary compensation. A pastor should be driven to their work and they should be performing it without regard to compensation. Salary in the church situation is more a thankful recognition of the gifts and effort of the individual than it is compensation. A pastor does what he/she does because they are driven by their abilities, devotion to God, and the Holy Spirit. They follow this "call" to the point that it harms their duty to provide for their family, and so a grateful congregation gifts them in recognition. In a calling, the commitment is to God and the congregation, in a job the commitment is to the compensation. It's as simple as that.
The church is continuing to jettison this significant, if often ignored, distinctions for the sake of being "relevant." I think we ought to educate rather than jettison. The church would be better off for it.
church meaning offices signifigance