Last week I blogged a couple times about why I haven’t regularly gone to church. I’m hoping both blogs were good conversation starters. I’ve gotten some flack, but honestly very little. I’ve found most people were incredibly kind and gracious, even those who disagreed with me. The blogs presenting dissenting opinions are to be expected and completely understandable.
The hardest part about the ramifications of those blogs involved the relationships I have with pastors.
I’ve many close friends who are pastors. I actually went to a church service Sunday night to hear a friend of a friend preach and enjoyed it very much. But even I felt that deceptive polarized pull of “Wait, are you supposed to be here? Aren’t you either in or out?” Which is something I hadn’t felt before, but how the blogs were received. I consoled myself by reminding myself I’d never left “the church” just simply didn’t attend many services. Still, I wondered whether people thought I didn’t like them, and specifically, I wondered whether pastors thought I didn’t like them.
After the service I grabbed dinner with my pastor friend and asked “Are we okay?”
He told me we were, that our friendship had nothing to do with my opinions. He also expressed some disagreements and then we had a great conversation about church, what it means, why it matters, what it is and so forth. One of my favorite lines of thought had to do with a question “If the holy spirit were pastor of a church, what would that church look like?” I thought it was a great question. Perhaps, somehow, theologically speaking, He already is the pastor of a church. Not sure how that works.
Regardless, though, the vision I got was of a pastor who sees his or herself as a pastor to pastors. What I mean is, a pastor who spends sunday equipping the congregation to be pastors themselves, that is to baptize people through the week, perhaps in their home swimming pools, to guide people through communion, perhaps around their own dinner tables, to teach the Bible to their friends and neighbors, to sing together in their homes, to make meals and share them with the sick and so forth. Then, on Sunday, “pastors” could gather to encourage each other and share stories about their own “churches” in the world. I even imagined buying a bunch of little sheriff badges so a pastor could “deputize” their congregations as priests in God’s kingdom, answering to the Holy Spirit and doing the work of Jesus directly.
Some of the most significant spiritual moments of my life have been when I’ve stepped into the authority God has given me as a priest in His kingdom.
I’ve not done it often, because it feels strange, but I’ve done it and it’s been great. I remember pulling over on the side of the road with friends, climbing into an old abandoned building that we thought looked interesting and doing communion on a loading dock using hot chocolate and cookies. We prayed together, remembered the Lord together. It was a fantastic bonding moment between us but also between us and God.
And I remember another time when some friends and I were climbing around behind a waterfall and one of them, my friend Adam, turned around and asked me to baptize him. Are you being serious, I asked? Yes, I’ve never been baptized. So right there in the roar of the waterfall we gathered together and prayed and we baptized my friend Adam. Then we baptized more folks who’d not been baptized before. We raised our hands up toward the waterfall and felt the power of Jesus slide down off the mountain.
The thing about those moments, though, is they remind me Jesus is sharing agency with us here on earth.
He’s sharing His power to love people, to bond with Him and to be “priests” in His church.
To be fair, I’m wired a bit differently. I’m creative and I’m a risk taker. I realize a mistake I often make in my writing is assuming people are wired the way I’m wired. They aren’t. Most people are looking to “do it right” and play by the rules. This saves them from the trouble I often find myself in. They’re smart to do so. But I think there’s a place for people like me, for people who read Hebrews and scratch our heads and wonder whether God has given us more agency than we’ve accepted.
I think He has. And I think in a decade or so, it would be beautiful if a shift happened in our cultures, where pastors played more the role of Gandolf or Yoda (I’m not new age! Don’t attack me!) and saw their congregations as young, struggling heroes, scared to death but with a massive responsibility to be priests in the kingdom of God. What if we really were called to that kind of adventure and at church we were being equipped to do pastoral work, to have authority and agency?
The reality is, life would get messy. To let the church know they have much more agency than they ever realized would open a can of worms and there would be theological arguments left and right. Even Calvin believed it was only the Apostles who were supposed to baptize. One of those rare occasions I disagreee with Calvin, by the way. He proposed that because when Jesus said “Do as I have done” he only meant that for the apostles because those were the guys he was talking to. I don’t believe that. That seems like a stretch and one of the rare occasions where Calvin grasps for a little bit of power.
Still the motives are pure. Letting just anybody perform the sacrements could create chaos.
And yet I see an awful lot of organized chaos in the book of Acts. I wonder if we’ve not lost the stomach for that kind of adventure?
Here’s the thought from John Calvin on the matter. He would certainly disagree with me. Hope this continues a healthy conversation, though. What would it look like if next Sunday, every pastor released their congregation into their own agency? What would come of that chaos?