Tuesday, November 11, 2008

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.

1 comment:

Angie said...

I suppose that the approval rating is mainly to ensure that the church can operate since it's only source of income is that of the people that go there. Of course this leads to the question, aren't you buying your pastor if you hold the purse strings? Paul didn't expect his churches to pay him, he instead made his own living just so he did not feel like he owed anything to the churches he pastored. Something to be said for those pastor's who do not depend on the giving of the church to support them. They are free to lead as God would have them lead. No approval rating involved in that. And if I remember correctly, Paul had some not too pleasant things to say to some of his churches. Imagine if he'd had to rely on them for his everyday needs. I also seem to recall that he was run out of town a few times. Guess his approval rating was a zero then.

Bottom line, approval ratings don't belong in church. The church as is should be, operates under the commandment to Love one another as I've loved you. To do this means we throw away the approval ratings and try to live as Christ commanded us to do.

And if we concentrate on loving one another as Christ loved us, then we will be able to go out and make disciples of all who welcome us.