The Ideal Pastor

It is said that a Call Committee once received the following letter from one who wished to be the new pastor of their congregation. The applicant wrote: Gentlemen, I understand that you are looking for a new pastor. I would like to apply for the position. I have many qualifications: I’ve been a preacher with much success and also have had some success as a writer. Some say I’m a good organizer and I’ve been a leader most places I have been. I’m over 50 years of age, I have never preached in one place for more than three years, and in some places I had to leave town after my work caused riots and disturbances. I must admit that I have been in jail three or four times, but not because of any wrongdoing on my part; in fact, I was falsely accused of any crime. My health is not good, although I still get a great deal done. The churches I have preached in have been small even though they were located in several large cities. I have not gotten along well with religious leaders in those towns where I have preached. In fact, some have threatened me and even attacked me physically. Plus, I am not too good at keeping records and have been known to forget some of the people I have baptized. However, if you can use me I shall do my very best for you. Signed, The Apostle Paul

Richard DeHaan in Men Sent From God writes: If the pastor is young, they say he lacks experience; on the other hand, if his hair is gray, he’s getting too old for the young people. If he has five children, he has too many; if he has no children, he’s setting a bad example. If he preaches from his notes, his sermons are canned and boring; if his sermons are extemporaneous, then he’s shallow and unprepared. If he is attentive to the poor people of the parish, they claim he is pandering to the lowest common denominator; if he pays attention to the wealthy, he’s trying to be an aristocrat. If he uses too many illustrations, he neglects the text; if he doesn’t tell enough stories, he isn’t clear. If he condemns wrong behaviors, he’s cranky and negative; if he doesn’t preach against sin, he’s just preaching a “feel-good” gospel. If he preaches the truth, he’s offensive; if he doesn’t preach the truth, he’s a hypocrite. If he fails to please everybody, he’s hurting the Church and ought to leave; if he DOES please everybody, he has no convictions and ought to leave. If he drives an old car, he shames his congregation; if he drives a new car, he’s setting his affections on earthly things. If he preaches all the time, people get tired of hearing from the same person; if he invites a lot of guest preachers, he’s shirking his responsibility. If he receives a large salary, he’s greedy; if he receives a small salary, well, they say he isn’t worth much anyway.

However in the Dallas Theological seminary student newsletter of March 26, 1975, the following notice appeared: WANTED:MINISTER FOR GROWING CHURCH. A real challenge for the right pastor! Opportunity to become better acquainted with people!

Applicant must offer experience as a salesperson, office worker, educator (all levels including college), artist, diplomat, writer, theologian, politician, Boy Scout (or Girl Scout) leader, children’s worker, minor league athlete, psychologist, vocational counselor, psychiatrist, funeral director, wedding consultant, master of ceremonies, circus clown, missionary and social worker. Helpful but not essential: experience as a plumber, electrician, and “technology guru”.

Must know all about problems of birth, marriage, and death; also must be conversant with the latest theories and practices in pediatrics, economics, and nuclear physics.

The right pastor will hold firm views on every topic, but be careful not to upset anyone who disagrees. The right pastor will be forthright but flexible while returning criticism and backbiting with Christian love and forgiveness.

The right pastor will have an outgoing, friendly disposition at all times. He or she should be a captivating speaker and intent listener.

The right pastor’s education must be beyond Ph.D. requirements, yet always concealed in homespun modesty and folksy talk. The right pastor will be able to sound learned at all times while talking and acting “like regular folks.” Plus, the right pastor will be familiar with all the literature read by an average congregation and own and be able to use the most recent technology used by the congregants’ teenagers.

The right pastor will be willing to work long hours, subject to phone calls at any time day or night. The right pastor will be easily adaptable to constant interruption and will spend at least twenty-five hours each week preparing the weekly sermon. An additional 20 hours will be spent visiting our sick and infirm. In his free time, the right pastor will be expected to prepare for his teaching responsibilities.

If the right pastor is a man, his wife will be both stunning and plain, smartly attired but modest in appearance. gracious and able to get along with everyone. She will be willing to work in the church kitchen, teach Sunday School, baby sit, run the photocopy machine and offset press, wait tables, type, never listen to gossip, never become discouraged, and have a lovely soprano voice. If the right pastor is a woman, her husband will never disagree with the elders of the church in public, spend all of his free time repairing things around the church, and serve as a volunteer sexton and general handyman. He will also be recognized by everyone in the congregation as being “the king of his own castle.”

The right pastor’s children will be exemplary in conduct and character; well behaved, yet basically no different from other children.

The right pastor should live close to work and offer open-door hospitality.

The salary will not be commensurate with experience and there will be no overtime pay.

All replies will be kept confidential and anyone applying for this position will undergo a full investigation to determine sanity.

However, the truest description I have ever read of what pastor and people are like together is found in the wonderful spiritual classic, Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos. I read this for the first time while in seminary … and many times since. In this wonderful book, the pastor says at one point, “There is one parish and every pastor has it.”

In this particular parish, the children are afflicted with lust, the peasants are envious and worldly, and the priest’s servant is prideful. A noblewoman who is outwardly pious, plots her revenge against God. His collegues among the clergy are riddled with careerism, worldliness and complacency.

Just as his parish does not appear to be very promising soil for holiness, the “country priest” is no saint. He is unattractive, has no personal charm, and comes from an unsophisticated upbringing (to say the least). He relentlessly (neurotically) analyzes his own faults, his tendency to sentimentality, his emotional weakness, his ineffectiveness in the care of souls in his parish, and his frequent social blunders. Plus, the “country priest” is suffering from “the dark night” — a spiritual malady that is well-documented in other classic writings — and consequently has an inability to pray.

And yet he has a friend and confidante, the priest in a nearby village. This friend constantly points out to the country priest and to us that service to God is often experienced as “mundane, work-a-day and unfulfilling.” Indeed, all the good our country priest does remains hidden, and we never know how many of the seeds he plants actually flower. Even so, through the country priest, the book calls us to a realization that “the opposite of a Christian people is a people grown old and sad.” Children who are “old and sad” spiritually are precocious in sin. The poor who are “old and sad” in spirit are envious of the kingdom of this world rather than possessors of the kingdom of heaven. And one wonders whether “the country priest” has not also become “old and sad” — the opposite of a Christian. Through this wonderful book, the reader remembers (or learns for the first time) that much of God’s work goes unseen. Much of His work is encountered under unpromising, even disgusting appearances. And yet, even under the world’s sinfulness, God continues to work in hidden ways.

“There is one parish and every pastor has it.” What Georges Bernanos never said, but didn’t need to say, is that there is also one pastor, and every parish has her (or him). So love one another, for love is from God.

I think maybe pastor and parishioner alike can learn much from Georges Bernanos.

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