It probably doesn’t matter what career field you choose in life, there is probably nothing that will get you going more than someone doing it poorly. If they did the job poorly because they didn’t have the skills to do it, it would be one thing. But if someone does it flat our wrong who appears to have the abilities to do so much more, it is more than a little distressing.
No matter their denomination (or lack thereof) if a human being claims to be a minister for Jesus Christ, one would think that they would “get” that God is love, gracious, and just. The overwhelming majority of Christians understand this without any formal education on the topic. Yet, time and time again, I will read stories (or even hear sermons on the radio) that simply blatantly fail these simple criteria. These are folks that if they came to me as adults, explained their beliefs, and asked to be baptized that I would send back for more study because they simply don’t understand Jesus Christ. How they became or remain ministers remains hard to fathom.
Instead of naming ministers I will put them into types.
1. The minister(s) who claimed natural disasters are caused by the wrath of God on the occupants of the afflicted area: Ok, I understand that they are taking Bible stories and applying them in our modern world. But God is not developing our nation (or any other region) as he was ancient Israel. And if God was mad at a group of people, why would he make scores of others suffer with them? Are we really to suppose, for example, that the residents of Galveston, Texas were somehow more immoral than anywhere else in the nation when the hurricane hit them last year? No rational Christian believes this. Yet, we have ministers who will proclaim it right from the pulpit.
2. The minister(s) who tell you if you just give abundantly to the church, God will make your life better in short order: Does the Bible teach us to give a portion back to God? Absolutely. Do I know people who have had unexpected blessings when they give? Yes I do. But a major line is crossed when ministers start promoting Christ’s Church as a money making opportunity. Give money to the church and God will double it in short order. Common sense tells us this is not true. And yet, every year I will run across ministers preaching this ‘prosperity gospel’. And Jesus never passed the offering plate before he would heal someone either.
3. The minister(s) who says American military personnel deserve death because America has became more tolerant of gays. Ok, where do you start with this one? How anyone can connect those dots is an incredibly bizarre theological exercise. I am grateful for the motorcycle clubs that block these pastors and their congregations from protesting military funerals.
4. The minister(s) who no longer believe almost anything in the Bible. I totally understand that seminary can be a jarring experience for some folks. Many come in with a fairly simple faith and when all the complexities of the ancient world, theology, and the development of the Bible come into play, it is not always easy to integrate. But it is obvious that we have folks who have almost totally stopped believing anything close to orthodox Christianity and yet we still call them ministers of Word and Sacrament, put them in the pulpit, and put their books up for sale. If one does not believe in Christianity then why would you want to be a Christian minister? Yet it happens.
5. The minister(s) who say they hate (insert major political figure): First, please understand that I am a fairly non-political person. I do not endorse either political party and have good friends who are members of both. But regardless of how one agrees or disagrees with the policies of sitting presidents, senators, or representatives, I find it crazy for a Christian minister to say they hate these people as individuals. “Love thy neighbor” includes our leaders! Yet it isn’t hard to find ministers who sound like spokemen and women for one political party or another. Their sermons sound like talking points for the GOP or Democratic party. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Obama or Bush – Pelosi or Gingrich. The Bible says we are to respect those placed in authority over us.
I know in any career field, ministry included, there will always be some unbalanced or incapable people who do not represent the field well. But when it comes to ministers, they speak for Christ’s Church and can easily impress (in the wrong way) people who are seeking God. It is important for us to stand up and say a firm “no” when this happens just as the medical community would do with a bad doctor or an engineering firm would do with someone producing bad designs.
And, let us pray for them, that each and all find a better path. Sometimes folks in a position of authority are just a wrong match for that position even though they made it through the education and ordination process. We need to guide them in new directions. But there are also other times, that they simply need to be “called to the mat” and mentored. I know in my life that I believed things at a younger age that I totally disagree with today. It is possible some of these ministers can be mentored and end up being quite effective in what they do.
But let us never confuse our call to grace with an acceptance of work that is outside the pale of Christian thought – especially from those who are supposed to teach and preach it.
All the best,