“You’re the reason I’m here, pastor.”
This one sentence is a good warning sign to be on the lookout for a growing “pastor cult.” Now, if you’ve ever heard yourself utter this line – don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you’re worshiping in the local pastor cult (rest assured, I’ve said this line from time to time in my own life as a Christian). When you start hearing a rash of such comments, however, take a step back and take a loving look at your pastor’s warts for a bit. It will bring you all back to earth.
Pastor cults form when both the pastor and congregation agree that a pastor should be on a pedastool. Whether it be because of personal fame, success at “growing the Church,” or preaching that impresses is irrelevant. When congregations conspire (usually unknowingly) to set their pastor up as an idol it can have some nasty side-effects. The most public effects occur when pastors are considered to be “above question” – financial improprieties and sexual failings are two big problems here. Less public effects (though no less harmful) happen when the pastor cult divides the congregation between cult members (who soak up ever word a pastor says) and “dissenters” (who either disagree with the pastor or ask inconvenient questions).
There’s reasons why congregations (inadvertently) set up pastor cults. First, pastor cults often appear to be beneficial to congregations – people who are willing to join the “cult” often swell numbers and give the appearance of congregational success. Second, pastors are often insecure about their place in the very congregations they pastor – and the “cult” grants them a level of affirmation that is often unobtainable through othe means (with the ironic side-effect that it decreases intimacy with the congregation at the same time).
Pastor cults, like any idolatrous relationship, are bad things. Rather than a healthy relationship in the Church where pastor and laity each image Jesus to and for each other – the pastor becomes a idol that inevitably replaces Christ as the head of the Church. When a congregation forgets who is really at it’s head, it loses the ability (or even desire) to communicate the Gospel – in fact, it ceases to be part of the Church.
I’ve seen people try to form such cults around pastors I’ve worked with – and I’ve had people in both the congregations I’ve served try to set me up in such a role (they have always left the Church unhappy). I really don’t have time for that type of foolishness – I tend to wear my warts on my sleeve (pretensious pastors tend to grate on my nerves), so I tend to derail any attempts to set up a pastor cult around me through my own foibles long before they get off the ground. I could, however, be over-estimating my ability to blow up pastor cults – so let me share some of my warts with the world. I share these because I’ve been getting “rave reviews” for a pastoral role I filled this week – I kinda want to take myself down a notch.
- Small talk freaks me out. Set me up in front of a crowd and I’m OK – but me in the midst of a crowd and I’ll hide in the corner hoping no one talks to me. I’m abosutely terrible at “small talk,” and the throught of being in a room full of it literally makes me nervous.
- I’m terrible with names. Seriously, it embarrassing. I’m trying to be better (with some success), but names are still a challenge to me.
- I’m disorganized. People actually think I’m naturally organized – this is, in fact, not true. I appear to be organized because if I didn’t expend a good deal of energy attempting to be disciplined in my work I’d never get anything done. I’m good at prepping my sermons, for example – but I’m wretched at setting up appointments.
- I hate stepping out on a limb. For folks who know me, this might (again) seem like a false statement – but (again) it’s not. I’ll look over routes, background materials, and other sources of information before I’ll go someplace new (like a museum, church, or even a hospital for a visit) or speak publicly about a new topic (like a sermon series). For papers and preaching – this isn’t a bad trait. In daily living, however, it tends to mean that I draw my circles of work and play rather close to home.
- I’m terrible at small picture stuff. It takes a lot of mental effort for me to get paperwork done, largely because I have to leave the realm of my head in order to get it done. Even when I do it, and proofread it, my brain skips over little steps that need to be completed (my lack of a small picture focus means that people who focus on by-laws will be driven nuts by my personality).
I could go on, but you get the picture. While I try to overcome these shortcomings in my character (with some small success), I’m not worth being the subject of a pastor cult. In fact, no matter how wonderful you think your pastor is – no pastor is worthy of the cults which often get set up around them. OK?
I guess I’ll have to deal with “Church cults” next – basically, switch out the pastor for the church building or congregational history from this post and you’ve got a “Church cult.”