3 Things Pastors Say But Don’t Mean

If you know me, you know I love irony. Why? For the most part, because irony reveals a place of disconnect. If you find irony, you have found a place where, though we don’t realize it (which is what makes it ironic), our words don’t match our actions. That is, we aren’t being consistent. Who we say we are, and who we really are, just isn’t adding up.

If I realize the disconnect but do it anyway, I am guilty of hypocrisy. But if I do not realize the disconnect, I am a victim of irony.

And I think church leadership says some things that are pretty ironic. Their actions reveal that they don’t actually believe what they are saying. And what makes it ironic is that I’m not sure they even realize it.

Here is my list of the top three:

Ironic Saying #1: “Every Member is a Minister.”

How you know they don’t mean it: They get paid & you don’t.

When we begin to actually live out “every member is a minister” we quickly realize that many pastors only want us to exercise our “minister”-ness in areas they are both comfortable with and in areas that do not threaten their authority or position.

Because, if every member really was a minister, then why are we paying them so much money to do something we are all supposed to be doing? To protect their roles (and paychecks) there is created a “first among equals” mentality, which can be very confusing for people who are told that “every member is a minister.” In what ways? And why don’t we get paid for it but you do?

So, if pastors actually acted on what they said, their own positions might be in question.

Ironic Saying #2: “Worship happens 7 days a week.”

How you know they don’t mean it: They aren’t okay with you not coming to their building on Sundays.

When we begin to actually live out “worship is every day,” and thus skip church on Sundays because we are getting it Monday-Saturday, we are told “Well, that’s not what we meant.” But then we are left with vacuous statements that “don’t really” mean anything. Again, we end up with a “first among equals” situation, which is very confusing. If Monday is just as important as Sunday, why do I get judged for not coming on Sunday but no one holds me accountable for what I do on Monday?

At least for me, I took “worship happens 7 days a week” very seriously. So then I wondered what made showing up to a building once a week unique.

Ironic Saying #3: “We welcome everyone.”

How you know they don’t mean it: They have statements of belief & requirements for membership.

We’ve already talked about this but here is a recap. When we say “everyone is welcome” we mean “you can come in the door just as you are,” but the expectation will always be that you soon adopt our particular set of beliefs. Why? Well, since the Church is defined by its beliefs, every person who doesn’t adhere to our beliefs dilutes our identity. So, for the health of the whole, you need to be absorbed as quickly as possible (through being taught or rebuked) or you risk being asked to leave altogether.

What’s my point in discussing these three sayings? There are two points.

First, as usual, I’m not saying these phrases are wrong. Nor am I saying these behaviors are wrong. I’m simply pointing out an inconsistency between the two. And far too often I’ve seen these inconsistencies lead to a lack of communication between a pastor and a person in the congregation, which leads to many people getting hurt by church leadership.

It’s not because pastors are evil. And it’s not because those people are sinful. Perhaps it’s because we aren’t being honest about what we believe and living those beliefs out in a consistent way, often because we don’t want to admit to ourselves the implications of our beliefs, whichever way they fall. Let’s work on that.

Second, we have to work on better communication. Yes, a lot of pastors aren’t aware of these inconsistencies. But many are. They have recognized them but have spent years justifying them. For instance, they know exactly why “ever member is a minister” but why they alone should they get a paycheck. They have found Bible verses to support their position and a stockpile of Bible experts to back them up.

Maybe they have good reasons. Or maybe they make up reasons because they need there to be a reason, to keep their jobs and to support their families. But either way, communicate those reasons to your congregation! They deserve to know why what you are saying seems incompatible with your behavior.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
-Upton Sinclair

11 responses to “3 Things Pastors Say But Don’t Mean

  1. Great thoughts. As a pastor, I’m always grateful when something makes me stop and consider the disparity between what I say and what I do. Your third point, however, misses the mark I think. We say that everyone is welcome at our church, because we believe that the thing that we all have in common is greater than anything that we might not… namely, our need of a savior to deal with our mortal sin issue.

    God hates sin because sin kills the people that he loves, so He deals with it, and that requires change. What I suspect you mean is that it’s God’s job to fix people up, not ours, which is correct, but deserving of further comment… possibly.

    I believe the Church’s job is to help create and foster a high and accurate view of God in the world. That includes keeping close company with prostitutes and “tax collectors,” as well as telling those bearing the soul scars of adultery (and the like) to leave their life of sin. The difference might be that as a pastor and a congregation, we resist the urge to put a list of things to stop doing in front of people, and rather encourage people to simply listen for God’s voice and say yes when they hear it… He knows how to lead his people to righteousness.

    Thanks for the space to rant. May the Lord bless you and keep you!

    • Thank you, and thank you for ranting with grace! I think that yes, my main point is that we should be honest about what it means to “belong” to a church so that people don’t feel the “bait & switch,” regardless of our stances on sin and our witness of God in the world. Thanks for your voice and I look forward to hearing more.

  2. someone really missed the point of all 3 of those things.

    do pastors really get mad if you don’t come every sunday? doesn’t matter, the point they’re trying to make is loving god shouldn’t be something you only do as part of a schedule.

    and that anyone can ‘spread the word’

    and we welcome everyone obviously means they’re willing to accept anyone who wants to join the church and be a part of what they are. or, that other guy who commented put it better.

    basically this whole article is just dumb pedantic arguments

    • Thanks for your thoughts Steven, though I am not sure they are all that helpful. I love when people critique my arguments with thoughtful counter-arguments. But all I see is a few straw man fallacies & an “obviously” that I suppose is trying to be an argument of some sort.

      I would love to know more detail about how these are “dumb pedantic arguments,” so that I can be wiser in the future. Simply dismissing arguments with no counter-thoughts doesn’t really help anyone, except the ego boost you might get from the rhetorical power play.

      I always welcome anyone who wants to voice their opinion, so please feel free to comment on the blog whenever and however you’d like. But the comments I love are those who can critique me with great arguments so that I have no choice but to change my mind on whatever I’ve written. Those are great and help me to become a more thoughtful person. More of those would be nice.

  3. Okay, I’ll bite. To be honest, when I read this the first time it really irritated me. So I decided to leave it alone. But since you’re asking for comment, here goes. 😉

    Most of the people I know who use those phrases or similar ones do not define their terms the way you have defined their terms.

    For example, we both know there are several different ways to use the word “minister.” And I don’t know anyone who would say that every Christian should be a full-time pastor.* Therefore, when I hear this phrase (which is rare, as I think most churches have chosen different ways to communicate the concept) I do not assume the most absurd meaning. Rather, I understand the truth that all believers are called into the mission of God, and that part of that is the universal call to serve. What’s not universal is the call to role of elder (or however you reference church leadership.

    To your second point – I think the best line in this paragraph is: “If Monday is just as important as Sunday, why do I get judged for not coming on Sunday but no one holds me accountable for what I do on Monday?”

    Good question. You can only hold people accountable as far as they make themselves accountable. Of course, it doesn’t negate the concept of gathered/scattered body life we see referenced in the book of Acts. What you do throughout the week really is as important, and in aggregate more important, than what happens on Sunday. But that doesn’t negate the need to gather for worship with other believers.

    As regards the third statement… I can be friends with you without agreeing with you on everything. My statement “Jared Byas is an old friend of mine” does not negate our disagreements. And I think something similar is true as regards church communities. One of our members observed to me about 6 months ago that she was totally comfortable inviting her gay friends/co-workers to our church, because she knew they would be welcomed and not ostracized. This applies to our smaller communities too. In our model, ‘membership’ is covenant partnership. To partner, we need to agree on some essential beliefs and practices. So not everyone wants to do that or should do that. It doesn’t mean they’re not welcomed in our community.

    I think the reason this post irked me is that it felt as though you were purposely reading these statements the way a fundamentalist reads the Bible – for the meaning that is most simplistic and relevant to you. Nuance certainly matters.

    • As I said on your FB page, thank you for a very engaging and helpful push-back. I think maybe my point was too subtle, which was, if you have nuances regarding these concepts, it’s important that we communicate them to our congregations.

      To point number one, I agree that every member has a role in the body. My question is, why does the role of “elder” entitle one to full-time pay? If “no part is more important than the others,” why does one part get money for what they do? Does that not create a system that undermines the idea that every member is a minister? That’s a sincere question looking for a new perspective.

      Regarding the second point, again, nuance is everything. I am not talking about the “need to gather for worship with other believers,” I am talking about why that has to be in a formal gathering to “count.” I gather with other believers all the time. And my worship is my life, the rhythms I bring to bear on others in my life, and the community that helps shape those rhythms. Your point seems to be begging the question: why is “gather for worship with other believers” confined to Sundays? I don’t feel like I am negating anything, simply questioning how our current church culture has come to define worship.

      And to the third point, again, I think my point still stands. To “partner” you do need to “agree on some essential beliefs and practices.” But that means some people are not going to be able to “partner” with you. And it feels dishonest to have messages that say “everyone is welcome” when in fact, they are welcome to join in some things, but others are prohibited. Maybe this is too subtle and doesn’t matter to most people, like the woman in your congregation? I don’t know. All of this is just me processing “out loud,” so I value your thoughts here.

      And thanks again for your voice. We are old friends which is precisely what allows for disagreement!

  4. You point out some great truths about the religious system. Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light, some preach Christ of contention, there are many anti-Christs in the world right now.I’m paraphrasing but there are many scriptural examples of how there are many false teachers out there, not all of them, but a whole lot.with them its about building their own kingdom, money position etc. there is a building where I live at with the illuminati symbol big and bold in the front.with that being said Jesus said go preach the Gospel, heal the sick and make disciples of men.not get huge buildings.

  5. dude you have a great heart. how you handle these comments. i totally get the heart of this post and i fully agree. and guys he’s not in any way bashing those who attend a “church” service every sunday, he’s simply asking you to think. don’t miss the heart and take offense to this post

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