One of the realities about churches is that they are messy. Even – especially – the good ones. I’ve always liked what Eugene Peterson said about pastoring:
Pastoral work consists of modest, daily, assigned work. It is like farm work. Most pastoral work involves routines similar to cleaning out the barn, mucking out the stalls, spreading manure, pulling weeds. This is not, any of it, bad work in itself, but if we expected to ride a glistening black stallion in daily parades and then return to the barn where a lackey grooms our steed for us, we will be severely disappointed and end up being horribly resentful.
There is much that is glorious in pastoral work, but the congregation, as such, is not glorious…I don’t deny that there are moments of splendor in congregations. There are. Many and frequent. But there are also conditions of squalor… (Under the Unpredictable Plant)
If you’re like me, you sometimes get discouraged by this. But we shouldn’t be. These, Peterson says, are the people the pastor is called to serve:
…this haphazard collection of people who somehow get assembled into pews on Sundays, half-heartedly sing a few songs most of them don’t like, tune in and out of a sermon according to the state of their digestion and the preacher’s decibels, awkward in their commitments and jerky in their prayers.
Not to mention all the other challenges: the extra-grace-required people, the critics, the marriages in crisis. This is the nature of pastoral ministry.
What got me thinking about this was Spurgeon, who seemed to actually argue for more mess in churches in his Lectures to My Students. Spurgeon argues that pastors should release control and lead from a position of respect, rather than by trying to lead a well-run church from a position of control. Read the first sentence thinking of all the church business meetings you wish you hadn’t attended:
For my part I should loathe to be the pastor of a people who have nothing to say, or who, if they do say anything, might as well be quiet, for the pastor is Lord Paramount, and they are mere laymen and nobodies. I would sooner be the leader of six free men, whose enthusiastic love is my only power over them, than play the dictator to a score of enslaved nations.
Maybe I need to enjoy the mess a little more. Maybe I should even start to enjoy business meetings. Although that could be taking things a little too far.