Have any of you ever hunted for a church? I wasn’t raised going to one, so in the summer after high school, I went seeking for a place in the body of Christ. During this salvation safari, I encountered many species of pastor and learned how a leader is often the decisive factor in the life of a church. I won’t reveal the identities of these churches, but I wonder whether any of you met these types in your search for a home.
1) The Revival Reverend: Becomes a fierce, bristly creature while preaching, who exhorts listeners to keep a passport handy and prepare to be called into a “dark, dark place” where the Gospel has never been heard. Has an appreciable passion for evangelism, but never explores more than one theme: You’re going to hell if you don’t believe in Jesus. If you don’t want to get baptized, you’re probably not saved. Somebody needs to get up here and get baptized. Often seems hostile toward his listeners: “If you want to be a pew sitter, then there’s the door!”
2) The Political Preacher. Openly declares who he would have chosen to be president, admits he gets his messages from talk radio, and gives a forty-five minute sermon on a controversial moral issue that fails to include any mention of human brokenness or redemption alongside his damning of sin. Partisan allegiance to politicians gives the crawly impression that pastors are no different from CEOs announcing their endorsements.
3) The Mushy Minister: the pastor of a liberal mainline Protestant church. Very friendly, but not a defender of orthodox Christianity. “Don’t judge,” he says in one sermon. “Jesus said, ‘Don’t judge,’ so don’t make judgments.” Never explains how it is possible to live as a human and not make moral judgments, as Scripture clearly does (see commandments I-X). Appoints Sunday school teachers who are not devoted to faith. One says, “I’m not a big Bible reader myself,” to open his lesson. The other teaches that Christianity and Buddhism (!) are basically the same.
4) The Self-Help Sexton. A purveyor of acronyms, rhymes, “tips,” and 12-step plans. Embarrassed to say “sin.” Gives sermons that sound like Jesus-flavored infomercials.
5) The Archbishop of Anecdote. Regales his audience with endless stories about his kids (sometimes with videos of them), pets, grandkids, in-laws, wife, coworkers, youth, college years…Occasionally quotes the Bible, as if conceding that he is technically a pastor and thus obligated to do that once in a while. But after that, back to the slideshow.
Let me know if any of you have met these composite sketches in your church life. The second half of this post will reveal how I met a pastor who was palpably different—and knew his church was the right home.
Anthony Otten has published stories in The Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Wind. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. Still: The Journal has published an excerpt from his novel. He lives in Kentucky.
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