I Am Not a Guru of Anything.

For 25 years I was a pastor.

A pastor is not a guru. Some people think their pastor is a guru. I suspect a few people in the churches I served may have thought I was a guru. Not very many, though. Most people in the churches I served thought I was just a nice guy. A few thought I was a pain in the ass.

Some pastors want people in their churches to think of them as gurus. They’re wrong. Pastors are not gurus. Most gurus aren’t gurus either.

I was the pastor that got called in when churches were going to hell in a handbasket. If your church got me, you were in rough shape.

I was the guy they sent to the churches that were either on the verge of closing or had been blown up or were blowing themselves up.

They sent me to the church where the previous pastor had his picture of being escorted out of the parsonage in handcuffs on the front page of the newspaper. He had been arrested for having child porn on his computer.

They sent me to the church where the previous pastor had taken half the congregation with him down the street to start a new congregation.

They sent me to the church where the previous pastor had been fired and the congregation was fighting like cats and dogs over whether he was wrongly terminated. There were lawsuits threatened, and one member had threatened to run the former pastor down with her pickup truck. The first interim pastor they had lasted 3 weeks.

They sent me to the congregation where a certain celebrity had been a member for many years, but he moved away and nobody came to the church any more to gawk. They had 13 members left.

In the clergy business, they have a name for what I did. They call people like me “afterpastors.” We are the clean-up. We go in when there is theological blood and guts everywhere and wade into the psychic residue of people who are dead and gone, and people who are just gone, and people who are gone but still meddling.

When an afterpastor goes into a church, it’s either to clean it up or shut it down, and you never know when you go in which it’s going to be. Somehow, over the course of 25 years, I managed to accumulate an 83% clean up record.

But 83% doesn’t make you a guru. It just wears you out.

The last church I cleaned up as best I could, and then I stayed there just over 7 years. It was the longest I’d ever stayed in one church. I knew when I started there that it was going to be my last one. There are some there who might tell you it was 7 years too long. Others write occasionally to tell me they wish I’d stayed longer.

Truth is, I couldn’t take it any more. I was wrung out. I retired.

I told everyone I was retiring like Michael Jordan. I’d just do whatever came up that seemed interesting. Maybe play baseball. Maybe model underwear. Whatever.

For a year after I finished I wrote a daily meditation, plus three on Sundays. It took that whole year and more to recover. I suppose I’m still recovering.

I used to say that every time I thought I’d seen everything something else would come up.

I’ve seen a lot. But not everything. I have a .833 average batting church clean-up.

That doesn’t qualify me as a guru of anything. Not by a long shot.

It’s a good thing you don’t have to be a guru, and you don’t have to be perfect to be happy.

2 thoughts on “I Am Not a Guru of Anything.

  1. Thought about sending you this a while ago concerning the speedy rise of the unchurched, but never got around to it. Perhaps you could dedicate a post or two to a response?

    “Churches everywhere are failing, including ones that @icaspar and my friend Jim served. And the ones that are failing are mostly the moderate ones. And they are not failing due to lack of education of the pastors; @icaspar and Jim are both phenomenally intelligent. How can this be? @icaspar has offered on his blog may pointers to what churches do wrong or badly. But it goes deeper than, for example, the church having a horrible web page. I think people are leaving church because what the church requires people to believe is becoming repellent, even the moderate stuff.

    Lastly, @icaspar also mentions several theology thinkers and writers who are better representatives of sound christian thinking. He then says, in essence, that the christian wackos are easy targets; don’t waste time complaining about them as if they were all there is to know about christianity. If one would like to debate the merits of atheism vs. christianity, one must take on writers and thinkers such as [insert list of approved christian representatives.] But I can turn this question back on @icaspar: why should I waste my time reading the many works of [approved list of christian representatives] when none of them has made well-known any argument for faith and belief being a reasonable proposition, at least none that even the average christian can enunciate? By contrast, even the least educated atheist can understand and give great reasons for NOT believing.

    Is christianity so complicated? Is it so hard to come up with a clearly stated argument in favor of belief that is not struck down by the most basic of counter-arguments (mainly: why believe anything in absence of good evidence?) Is the bible so difficult to understand that the layman can not read it and understand it properly without extensive historical and ecclesiastical background? If so, then the catholics are right: don’t bother reading your bible, the priests will do that for you… That idea is also repellent.

    • Briefly, on membership attrition in churches: There are two things going on. First, there are sensible people who see through fundamentalism avoiding those churches. Second, beyond web sites that suck, moderate churches have largely given up standing for anything at all, which makes them largely not worth going to. I’ve seen plenty of repellant stuff in both places, but I think moderate churches suffer mostly from nobody knowing what they’re about rather than (most) people being repelled.

      Briefly, on why you should read more substantial theological stuff than Pat Robertson: You probably don’t need to. Just be aware that once you’ve dismissed Pat Roberson and his ilk as representatives of Christianity, you haven’t really grappled with Christianity. You’ve just shot some fish in a barrel.

      Briefly, on whether Christianity is complicated: Well, yes, frankly, it is, and atheism is no different. I’ve met atheists, such as you, who can articulate their reasons. I’ve met others who can only stutter about, “You can’t prove it,” without ever saying why, other than it’s their feeling. How is that different from an uneducated Christian saying, “I can’t prove it, but I have a hunch”? My criticism of Christianity (at least in American churches) is more along the lines of G.K. Chesterton’s: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” The Bible is more demanding than just watching FOX news and the 700 Club, but not too advanced for a layman to read and understand. Were the moderate churches capable of any backbone, there would be more articulate, and perhaps convincing, Christians who don’t rely on the Robertsons and the priests (which, by the way, I agree is a repellant practice) to tell them what to believe.

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