50% Approval Rating
As I continue to ponder the challenges of being a pastor, I find myself really, really bugged by something. I recently heard from a friend who is pastoring a small, struggling church in the Midwest. She mentioned that she has only a 50% approval rate by the congregation and was not sure of her future in the church or in the ministry as an ordained clergy (she is not United Methodist, but is part of a denomination where she must receive a call by a congregation in order to serve as a pastor).
The more I think about this, the more appalled I am. How on earth is it kingdom of heaven living--or to use a term that may speak better to us, how it is "with-God" living--for a congregation to take a poll and ask them whether or not they "approve" of their pastor? This turns the pastorate into a popularity-people-pleasing treadmill, and the only outcome is death, both for the clergy person and for the congregation.
It's not the congregation's job to "approve" of their pastor. It's their job to come together as a community of those who are called by the name of Christ and figure out how to live as disciple of Christ in a world that makes it pretty darn hard to do that.
Now, this doesn't mean that they have to agree with their pastor, or even like their pastor. It does mean that they had better learn to love their pastor, however, and to treat that pastor in the way they wanted to be treated. This also doesn't mean they put up with shoddy work by their pastor. There are performance standards for every occupation, and we as clergy certainly need to live and work out of high expectations. High expectations always seasoned by grace, of course.
If I have to make decisions as a pastor concerning the direction of this church, and those decisions are based on whether the congregation will approve of them, I will be less and less likely to make the hard ones that God often calls us to make. Ones like insisting that if we are going to be disciples of Jesus that we really do have a cross to pick up, and we really might have to give up everything they own if we want to save our lives. Those are not the kind of words that bring high approval ratings. They probably helped to send Jesus to his agonizing death.
The pastors with the highest approval ratings are those who run cults with an iron fist and stamp out disapproval with shunning, expulsion, torture, or other methods of making sure that dissent is not tolerated. I'll pass on that. I want to grow a congregation of mature, adult Christians who own their own spiritual lives and have learned to discern for themselves how the Spirit of God is working. They may not approve of me, and I may not approve of them all the time, but if we really are mature, we'll sure honor one another and trust that God is working through all of us, not just through some power-brokers who decide who stays and who goes by the level of approval.
I just find this whole approval rating thing distasteful. Would surely like to hear from others who might be able to shed further light on this.