On being authentic shepherds

There you have the Inappropriate Priest on the Ten Commandments. More than just silliness there is a serious point here, I think. The members of this Church are rightly shocked at the open hypocrisy and insincerity of their shepherd. Perhaps he is an exaggerated version of those shepherds condemned in Jeremiah (see 10:21; 23:1-2; etc.).

I think there are various kinds of much more subtle hypocrisy that pastors are tempted to slip into, even unawares.

One sort of hypocrisy we must guard against is the temptation to put forward our own idiosyncratic preferences while (by virtue of our ordination) presuming to represent the community of Christ as a whole; to offer my own ideas instead of the faith of the Church.

In my own United Methodist Church we are asked in the Ordination Liturgy: "In covenant with the other elders, will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God's Holy Word, and accepting the authority of those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?" to which we must (presumably) respond in the affirmative for the service (and our ministry) to continue.

Yet it sometimes seems as though some of our pastors are ignorant of parts of our doctrine (though all is plainly spelled out in The Book of Discipline, Part II, paragraph 103 most particularly), or perhaps they just plain don't believe or accept them. Instead they are tempted preach their own different personal beliefs. This is surely a betrayal of the ordination vow.

On the other hand, the liturgy is still neglected in some places. (As an aside, I think we ought to have a church-wide discussion on what it means to be 'loyal to the liturgy' while presumably maintaining a degree of flexibility with it as well - I myself am uncertain at times how to live in this tension).
The services that constitute the Ritual of The United Methodist Church are also spelled out quite clearly in the Discipline, paragraph 1114.3.

If I am willing to put my own opinions above the established doctrine of the Church and my own preferences above the liturgy of the church I become an unstable shepherd, without a firm foundation, and one who is decieving people if in fact they believe I am speaking for the church (as one with teaching authority) when I am really only speaking for myself. I become not unlike the pastor the Lewis describes in letter 16 of The Screwtape Letters:
At the other church we have Fr. Spike. The humans are often puzzled to understand the range of his opinions - why he is one day almost a Communist and the next not far from some kind of theocratic Fascism - one day a scholastic, and the next prepared to deny human reason altogether...there is also a promising streak of dishonesty in him; we are teaching him to say 'The teaching of the Church is' when he really means 'I'm almost sure I read recently in Maritain or someone of that sort.'

That is one sort of hypocrisy.
But obviously, this is not the problem of our Inappropriate priest. He's clearly got the doctrine right; it is just that the teaching is completely divorced from his actual lifestyle. The pastor's call to live out an authentic Christ-centered spirituality is, I believe, far more foundational to effective pastoral leadership than any administrative, vision-casting, or people-managing skills.

I wonder what we might call that passive sort of hypocrisy in which our own spiritual life - our prayers, our Scripture study, our zeal, and our nearness to God - is steadily allowed to deteriorate even as we continue to serve as presumptive models and shepherds for the faithful? Are we telling people how important it is to pray, but not ourselves in prayer; are we exhorting the faithful to practice sabbath and meditate on Scripture without doing so ourselves; are we proclaiming to others the sweet comfort of a deep relationship with Christ, even as we neglect and drift away from him?

But thanks be to God, with the help of the prayers of our fellow saints, with careful use of the means of grace (including sabbath rest) we can forever be drawn deeper into the heart of the Triune God and empowered by his Life and his Holiness for fruitful and authentic ministry.

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Blogger Fr. Philip said...

Thanks for the push to be careful of my own hypocrisy. Thankfully, I recently heard a wonderful talk given to our clergy about just this topic. The Metropolitan who delivered the address is a very humble man and you knew that he practiced just these points. The joy of immersing ourselves in prayer helps us to remember that the ministry is not ours but Christ's, and to Him belongs all the glory.

3:43 PM, August 30, 2010  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I believe the grace of humility is one of our most potent guards against all of these pitfalls.

5:26 PM, August 30, 2010  

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