| WAS READING A BLOG THE OTHER DAY VIA THE ONLINE VERSION OF A magazine that focuses on contemporary issues in the Adventist Church. The discussion “thread” was addressing the simmering theological issue of creation and evolution, and how it should be taught on Adventist college campuses. The original blog was in response to a couple of pastors who had appeared on 3ABN speaking about the issue. A number of people were responding to their comments voicing agreement and disagreement. Not a problem; that’s what discussion boards are for.
But for whatever reason, one blogger took off on pastors as a group with a level of disrespect that was at once surprising and disappointing. This is what he wrote about Seventh-day Adventist pastors:
“Pastors on average are a sad lot, poor preachers, and generally uninspiring; as for common business sense or good judgment, most of them I wouldn’t put in charge of a hot dog stand.”
I was on the verge of responding, but I recalled what Momma taught me while growing up about the futility of responding to ignorance. Those in its grip don’t typically listen, and furthermore, they are often so enamored with their own opinions that they won’t hear you anyhow.
The brother who made such a statement appeared to be well-educated as he expressed the rest of his views with erudition and clarity that was commensurate with the level of dialogue on the blog. So why would he, apparently a man of letters, take off on men and women of God with such venom and disrespect? It goes to show that ignorance has no boundaries.
I have the highest regard and respect for those who answer the call to pastoral ministry. The men and women who yield their lives to vocational ministry are some of the hardest working, dedicated, and passionate people I’ve ever been around. Period.
Pastors serve in contexts in which they have massive responsibility but very little formal authority. That’s the nature of things when you serve in a mostly volunteer organization. They have to lead from a basis of moral authority and the power of their ideas.
Pastors have no choice as to whom they will work with. They can’t fire difficult or incompetent people who are part of their congregational leadership team; they have to find ways to make things work.
Pastors often get squeezed between the expectations of the conference and the expectations of their congregation. They have to navigate the expectations of both with great skill.
Pastors see people at their best and they see them at their worst. They are with their people in times of celebration, and they are with their people when they are bowed with grief.
Like most of my colleagues, I have spoken at a funeral in the morning, a wedding in the afternoon, and then rushed to the hospital to spend the night in the ICU with a family whose loved one is dying—all in one day. Furthermore, pastors have to be appropriate in their words, moods, and actions in each context in which they intersect with the lives of their members and be genuinely empathetic to the needs of those whom they serve.
Pastors are public people. And with the entire culture becoming more critical of leaders of every stripe, they are not immune. Yes, a small minority among the ranks of clergy, as with other professions, do not live up to their high calling. Thankfully, they are the exceptions.
Pastors who serve the frontline church are the unsung heroes of our denomination. More important, they are men and women of God. Even though I include myself among the ranks of these heroes and “sheroes,” I’m always careful and respectful about how I speak of and treat the Lord’s anointed ones.
Right now is a great moment to lift our pastors in prayer. They are the sentinels on the walls of Zion, watching over and protecting the people of God.
Fredrick A. Russell is president of the Allegheny West Conference, with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.