Regardless of the type of church or other Christian community, there is an inherent danger for Christian communities. There is a danger of becoming great in the eyes of the community, greater even than the One whose message you are trying to proclaim. Congregations and communities of all stripes are constantly oscillating between putting their clergy on pedestals and tearing them down.
In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are traveling through the city of Lystra and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. They happen upon a man crippled from birth. With power and the Holy Spirit, Paul orders the man to stand up. Miraculously, the man springs up and begins to walk. Immediately the crowd believes that the two messengers of God must actually be gods themselves; Zeus and Hermes have come to the city in human form. To dissuade the crowds of their misplaced devotion, Paul and Barnabas run through the crowds preaching along the way: “We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God” (Acts 14:15).
The danger is great. I am also a man. I am no god, I am simply a mortal. I am from dust and will return to dust. True, God has come to the earth in human form. But that was on the first Christmas, oh so long ago. Make no such mistake people of Lystra, I am one of you.
2 thoughts on “inherent danger”
My best advice to clergy on this topic is this: clergy should remember that they are very likely not the most spiritually advanced or mature member of their congregation; that there are members of their congregation whose prayer is deeper and more profound than theirs ever will be; that there are folks in the pew who have a better understanding of academic theology than they; there are folks in the back with far greater liturgical sensitivity and competence than the guy in front in the fancy colorful outfit.
This is true for most people in most jobs. No starbucks barista is offended by the thought that some customers make better coffee than he does. No concert violinist is frightened by the thought that there is a better violinist in her audience. But clergy are often trained to think of themselves as the Local Expert In Church, and that's a disaster.
It is almost impossible for someone to make themselves less defensive, sadly. But this is one of the most powerful predictors I have seen for the effectiveness of clergy.
And never, ever, ever, talk down to the holy people of God!
(I say all this, because Jimmy, in my recollection of your spirit, you are one of the least likely to fall into this trap, and with clergy such as you, we will do well!)
Yes, Thomas, you are right on. I am constantly amazed at the parishioners of St. Alban's and their spiritual depth.
And thank you for your kind words. Personally speaking, I have two ways to make sure I never speak down to the people of God. First, I begin every day in my office on my knees. Second, before every service I remind God that I'm not worthy.