Friday, November 03, 2006

Conviction? or Guilt?

Escape The Familiar

It's not quite as easy as one would think. For one thing, "familiar" can often be synonymous with "comfortable". We are most comfortable with the things we are most familiar with. In the wonderful world of Pentecost, and more specifically the United Pentecostal Church, the religious organization of which I am a licensed minister, we tend to be most comfortable when we know the lines that are drawn. This applies to preacher and parishoner alike.

On another forum centered around that very organization, someone posed the question "Why do we preach 'convictions' that we cannot back up with scripture?" There were several responses, the most common being that "God tells us to." But does he always?

I believe what I have been feeling in my spirit---which is how I based my response to the question---is a call to Escape The Familiar surroundings of "standards" and "holiness" issues that we have lived in for so long.

This is not to say that those things are wrong, nor is it meant to convey that I have some sort of new "revelation" that others aren't getting. It is merely to say that I believe God is wanting to call His people out of the land we have been dwelling in for so long. I truly believe that God wants a people who serve Him out of genuine love, not from a rulebook, nor in the "arranged marriage" way that many of us are familiar with. (You get introduced to the Bridegroom at salvation, then the Pastor hands you a manual telling you how you're supposed to act, dress, look, walk, and talk to keep your new-found love happy.)

The question originally posed was "Why do we, as pastors, often try to enforce a conviction that is not supported biblically?"

Someone stated that they thought it might be due to peer pressure. I disagree, however.

My response is as follows:

I don't think it's as much peer pressure as it is a deep-seated need and desire for authority. We have become quite parochial in our pastoral leadership; we enjoy having followers who rely on us, and it becomes a challenge to release them from our authority.

Why don't we teach the doctrine of Grace? Because Grace involves self-control. Grace involves self-discipline. Grace teaches us to walk in the Spirit, to be pleasing to the One who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light...instead of merely to the Pastor, the platform policy, or the District Board.

Pentecostals are afraid of the doctrine of Grace because it involves self-discipline; it involves "save yourselves from this untoward generation" and "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling". It's much easier to let Pastor save us from this untoward generation, or let the District Board work out our salvation with a hefty manual. This takes the burden of self-discipline off of our shoulders, both saint and preacher. If we align ourselves to what Bro. Pastor (or Bro. Superintendent) teaches, then we feel we're doing alright.

What the Word teaches us is to "walk in the Spirit".

(If you're still reading this, and not already angrily typing your response, just stay with me.)

If we teach our people to walk in the Spirit, to lean on God for direction and guidance, then we have to relinquish a bit (even a teeny-tiny bit) of pastoral authority. We don't get to counsel people when they're struggling with issues because we've taught them to go to God in prayer with their struggles. Hence, we don't get to be "the Answer Man", the messiah who solved all their problems.

Hey, I'm not slamming anyone. I've been a pastor, and Lord willing, will be again, someday. It's much like parenting. We teach our children to "grow up", to "take responsibility", but when they start doing so, we get nervous, we start micro-managing every little thing they do.


Because we don't think they can do it as good as we can do it for them.

It's tough to relinquish authority. It's like the politician who promises they're going to "put themselves out of a job", but how often has that actually happened? Something always comes up, some reason that they feel the need to stay around.

If we, as pastors, teach our people the way that Jesus taught His disciples, we wouldn't have nearly as big a burden of responsibility weighing on us, and we would be able to give ourselves to prayer and the Word, as the apostles did.

But that requires turning loose and trusting our "underlings" to do the right thing in their own walk with Christ.

Can we do that? Can we allow Grace to teach them, to lead them, to nurture them and cause them to mature? Or will we continue the struggle of trying to do everything ourselves because we've become convinced that "if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself"?

Is the reason I won't let Bro. SlimJim in my pulpit based on something I've felt in my spirit, or is it simply because I've worked too hard to get the church going in the right direction to let him mess it all up with one of his rambling disasters?

What is my motivation for keeping my people where they are spiritually?

Make no mistake: I firmly believe that the "watchman on the wall" is still responsible for the safety and well-being of the people. I still believe there are some lines that have to be drawn because the man of God feels the urgency in his spirit to protect the flock. I still believe that God uses a chain-of-command, that He speaks to the undershepherd concerning the direction the church is going. But I also believe that we have been guilty of establishing some "fences" simply because we don't trust our people to care for themselves.

No greater compliment can be given to a saint than to have their pastor trust them to walk in the Spirit on their own merit, rather than expecting a bunch of clones of himself.

So the question is, Am I guilty of setting boundaries, drawing lines, erecting fences because I don't trust my people, because I don't think they can handle the "liberty of the Holy Ghost"? or have I set these boundaries because the Spirit has prompted me to?

Am I teaching my people to be Pentecostal? or to be a Christian?

It deserves an answer. And an honest one.

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