Friday, September 01, 2006

The Pilgrim, Women Preachers, and Big Churches

Last week, the New York Times had an article lamenting the glass ceiling for women pastors. Putting aside, for the moment, the biblical issue at hand (which could hardly be more clear), consider the lament of one woman pastor that many of her fellow seminary graduates who were male had already been promoted to positions as pastors of larger churches while she had not been. All she wanted to do, according to the article, was pastor a large church in her hometown. It was presumed (without much argumentation or support of course) that the reason she had been "held back" was because she was a woman.

Which brought to my mind an issue that I have considered many times. Why the pursuit of a bigger church that you did not build? If one desires to pastor a bigger church, why does he not go out and do the work of an evangelist to build the church? Why should one man (or woman) benefit from the labors of another man?

I mean no ill-intent to those who have left a smaller ministry for a larger one. I would simpy encourage us all to examine our hearts. If we desire to leave because it is a small ministry, and desire to go to another because it is a larger ministry, something may be amiss. I have no doubt that God at times calls men to leave one congregation for another. However, I wonder how often size is a factor? How many times have we seen a man leave a bigger congregation for a smaller one? Not often (though it does happen).

As pastors, we need to check our egos at the door, and be satisfied to grow where we are planted.

How does the Pilgrim fit in? I have recently been reading Pilgrim's Progress (one of those books that everyone talks about and few have actually read ... So I am changing that for myself). Last night, my mind was drawn back to the NYT article by the scene that occurs just after Faithful has been put to death, and Pilgrim has moved on to the town of Fair-speech. There is an intriguing exchange between some very Piperesque figures (because they have hyphenated names) concerning the use of religion for personal gain.

Mr. Money-love lays out a scenario which is stunningly believable, just as it is stunningly troubling.
And first, to speak to your question as it concerneth a minister himself: suppose a minister, a worthy man, possessed but of a very small benefice, and has in his eye a greater, more fat and plump by far; he has also now an opportunity of getting it, yet so as by being more studious, by preaching more frequently and zealously, and, because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles; for my part, I see no reason why a man may not do this, provided he has a call, aye, and more a great deal besides, and yet be an honest man. For why?

1. His desire of a greater benefice is lawful, (this cannot be contradicted,) since it is set before him by Providence; so then he may get it if he can, making no question for conscience’ sake.

2. Besides, his desire after that benefice makes him more studious, a more zealous preacher, etc., and so makes him a better man, yea, makes him better improve his parts, which is according to the mind of God.

3. Now, as for his complying with the temper of his people, by deserting, to serve them, some of his principles, this argueth, 1. That he is of a self-denying temper. 2. Of a sweet and winning deportment. And, 3. So more fit for the ministerial function.

4. I conclude, then, that a minister that changes a small for a great, should not, for so doing, be judged as covetous; but rather, since he is improved in his parts and industry thereby, be counted as one that pursues his call, and the opportunity put into his hand to do good.
This answer was "highly applauded by them all." Can you not hear these reasons put forth by some today? I was particularly caught by the third reason, almost laughing aloud at how magnanimous it makes compromise sound.

Christian, however, had a different response.

Even a babe in religion may answer ten thousand such questions. For if it be unlawful to follow Christ for loaves, as it is, John 6:26; how much more abominable is it to make of him and religion a stalking-horse to get and enjoy the world! Nor do we find any other than heathens, hypocrites, devils, and wizards, that are of this opinion.

1. Heathens: for when Hamor and Shechem had a mind to the daughter and cattle of Jacob, and saw that there was no way for them to come at them but by being circumcised, they said to their companions, If every male of us be circumcised, as they are circumcised, shall not their cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs be ours? Their daughters and their cattle were that which they sought to obtain, and their religion the stalking-horse they made use of to come at them. Read the whole story, Gen. 34:20-24.

2. The hypocritical Pharisees were also of this religion: long prayers were their pretence, but to get widows’ houses was their intent; and greater damnation was from God their judgment. Luke 20:46,47.

3. Judas the devil was also of this religion: he was religious for the bag, that he might be possessed of what was put therein; but he was lost, cast away, and the very son of perdition.

4. Simon the wizard was of this religion too; for he would have had the Holy Ghost, that he might have got money therewith: and his sentence from Peter’s mouth was according. Acts 8:19-22.

5. Neither will it go out of my mind, but that that man who takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas designed the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.

At this answer, "they stood staring one upon another, but had not the wherewith to answer Christian."

Men, let us guard our hearts against an ungodly desire to be big for the sake of bigness, or the sake of prestige or money that it might bring. Let us never use our Christianity or pastoral position as a platform from which to pursue gain.

At the same time, let us guard against becoming comfortable, lazy, or apathetic, satisfied with so little effort in the service of our Christ and His church. The fact that a church is not growing might not be because we are fundamentalists and "people just won't accept the truth." It might because we are lazy, unfocused, unintentional, satisfied to just survive.


Rob C said...

The issue of female ordination is not as clear as you make it sound.

Larry said...

Thanks for reading Rob.

The issue is particularly clear, unless "I do not permit a women to teach or have authority over a man," means "I permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man."

I wrote an article on this a while back that addressed some of the basic reasons, though not in depth. The primary point is that inspired Scripture makes an authoritative statement tied to eternal truths. Therefore, there is no reason to read it any differently.

Rob C said...

I read your blog sporadically. Thanks for the thank you. We will just have to agree to disagree on the issue of clarity on this topic. I have wrestled with these passages for several years. I still don't know where I stand.

Derek Makri said...

Great article. It would be good for the work of the Lord if we saw more pastors leaving big churches to take smaller churches for the sake of seeing them grow. Instead, as you stated, we too often see a pastor leave a small church in need to take a big church not in need. Something is wrong with that picture.

Bob Bixby said...

That's one of my favorite passages in the Pilgrim's Progress.

Enjoyed this entry.