June 13th, 2012

hound of heaven

My two cents in the offering plate

So, it appears that in the final, harried hours of General Conference, they forgot to vote on something, and the whole issue of whether or not they succeeded in getting rid of Guaranteed Appointment for elders is up in the air. I haven't said much about this issue, but I will say this.

1) I have known good pastors to be given a run of bad appointments, even driven out of the Conference, or driven into retirement, by the pressure of ruinous appointments. I don't know all the circumstances of each of these situations, but I do know that abuse of power is always possible for those who have power. Yet, the idea that you can run an organization, any organization, without entrusting somebody with the power to act is simple-minded. Whatever power we give to our bishops, they must use as they use it, and only the most egregious abuses could ever be called to account. Such is life.

2) I have known a number of pastors who were less than effective. Now, many a good pastor will find oneself in a situation where nothing works. Either the congregation and pastor are a bad fit, or the pastor and family are going through a bad patch, or who knows -- but all of us look back on pastorates where we didn't accomplish much. That doesn't make us bad pastors. But there are pastors -- even if only a few -- who are simply bad at the job. I have also sat in Executive Session and seen people voted on and admitted to elder's orders whom I knew beyond any reasonable doubt were crazy (this was back in the days when no one felt comfortable voting No). And, of course, the whole problem of heretical pastors is another ball of wax. In any case, we are fooling ourselves if we don't admit that there are pastors who leave a trail of wreckage behind them wherever they go. We have to have a process to move them out of the pastorate -- graciously, if we can, forcefully if we must.

3) The largest problem I have seen, however, is that of clergy-killer churches. I have the dubious honor to have pastored two of them. They are not rare, sad to say. Every District has a list of them. They chew up pastors and families. They chew up lay members, driving away new Christians and making those who stay just as dysfunctional as themselves. And, as often as they hurt and hinder their pastor, we smile and send them another. This is the other side of "guaranteed appointments." We guarantee every elder a job, but more important, we guarantee every congregation a pastor. We can fire bad pastors, but how do you fire bad churches?

We can't solve the problem of accountability if we don't tackle every corner of this triangle: those who appoint; those who are appointed; and those to whom we are appointed.
storming the castle

All together, now

I was sitting at the piano, playing through an old school music book from about eighty years gone, just amusing myself while waiting for a meeting to start. I came across this 1854 classic by Stephen Foster.
Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Hard Times. I wonder if anyone in the Romney campaign knows this old song? They might find a use for it.