There’s this really awkward thing that has happened in Christianity. Somewhere along the way, we came to expect some entitlement to a position of supremacy. I suppose it’s part of our human nature somehow… Jesus’ disciples argued about which one of them was greater and would have the more powerful position next to Jesus… Adam and Eve didn’t want to serve God so they sought their own self-glory… And the church, which started as a mutually encouraging and enriching and living body that sought to care for the needs of others eventually took on selfishness too. Over time, priests came to expect congregations to do their bidding… congregations came to expect priests to do theirs… and lots of people were looking down on others and considering themselves as the super part of the church.
In fact, there came to be such a division that a clergy/lay-people split occurred. We use those terms still today… it kinda makes me wince every time I hear the term “lay person”. If you are a long time church goer, you’ve probably heard or used that phrase. I have… and it just stinks. It’s this idea that a minister, a priest, is the superhero of the church… the one does the real work of ministry… and that “lay” people aren’t the ones who do it. I remember being taught that if I wanted a friend to know Jesus, then bring him to the pastor. If you want the color of drapes changed, you’ve got to go through the pastor. Only the minister can really do anything associated with church. The term “layman” historically referred to someone who couldn’t do something. So there would be a veteran stone worker, and with him would be a lay apprentice who was learning how to do stone work because he didn’t know how. It comes from Latin where the word “lay” literally meant “idiot”.
Someone in my life growing up thought this way. He went to church, but he never saw himself as being a minister for Jesus. He was after all just a lay person. So I asked him if he was content being called an idiot… you know, someone who doesn’t know and doesn’t have the capacity to really do the job. It offended him a little bit. It’s horrible. These terms look down on people and build this insane pedestal for the clergy to stand on. It’s just wretched. I don’t think we usually mean it quite that way… but that’s the idea behind it. I wish we would all stop using it. Ewww.
So it was really awkward on those occasions with this person after I became a “professional super pastor”. We’d be out for a meal… and because I was “the minister,” he expected me to pray. It was like whenever I was around, he couldn’t pray anymore! “Well, let’s have the minister pray,” he’d say. And we couldn’t eat until I prayed. I would say to him, “Why don’t you pray?” He’d say, “You’re Pastor Castor aren’t ya?” I’d say, “Yes, but why does the pastor have to pray for the meal? You know Jesus too don’t ya? Why don’t you say thanks for us?” And he’d say, “But that’s what you’re supposed to do.” I’d say, “Yeah, and so are you.” But he always a bit more stubborn than me… and so I would always back down and end up being the one to pray… just because I had this “position” of super pastor. I wish that I had had the guts to say “Well as the super pastor, the Lord is telling me that no one can eat until you pray for the meal.” This person just never felt free to be a living follower of Jesus because he thought he was a lay person and he thought praying was the pastor’s job.
But you know, I’ve been guilty of this too… of expecting people to do something for me because I’m a pastor- as if that made me more special than others. I once served in a church out in New England where I wore a cool priestly garment that separated me from everyone else… and I learned to enjoy that in a weird way… I felt kinda powerful in my position and I learned from the environment of that church that the “lay” people were over here and the super pastors were over here. It was a poisonous environment… and Kathy and I got out of there. But I still struggle with it.
I got pulled over a couple weeks ago by a police officer… I seriously didn’t know I was going to fast… but I was… and I said to the officer… “look, officer, I’m a pastor…” and I’m embarrassed to say that I kinda expected the police officer to cut me a break because I was a clergy. He didn’t… and I suppose maybe he should have increased the fine because there are a lot clergy who break laws and break lives because they treat their “position” as more powerful than it should be. So I will humbly pay my speeding fine. (I really was not trying to speed. I really wasn’t.) You know, I forget sometimes that a shepherd, which is what the word pastor means, is actually a lowly, raw servant with no position in society.
I’m sorry for every time I’ve perpetuated the clergy/lay-person problem. We are not a church of idiots… (part 2 tomorrow)