“How churches make sure they don’t get a liberal pastor”

This morning I did what I do every morning:  I get on the web site of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and look for a congregation.  They advertise for pastors.

In my denomination, a minister looks for a church just the way any person looks for a job — you search the advertisements and send in your resume. (The information is posted on the denomination’s web site.) We Presbyterian ministers have to fend for ourselves because we don’t have a bishop.  That is, we don’t have a bishop who assigns you a church (the way the Methodists do).

Normally, in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a search takes 12-18 months; in my case — three years!

My history of cancer has been a problem.  Search committees shy away.  Initially, they are enthusiastic about my resume.  But when they find out about my episodes of cancer, they shy away.  They think if I get hired, I’m going to die on them.

It’s one of the misunderstandings about “The Big C.”  Many of us who have cancer can function.  I served as a pastor for 20 years at three congregations, and I had cancer at each church.  I was able to do the work — and even do some sports officiating on the side. (I am a certified umpire in baseball and softball, and a referee in soccer and field hockey.)

Equally problematic with my medical history, I’m what some would call a “liberal” — what I would call “progressive.”  I don’t take the Bible word-for-word directly inspired by God.  I believe in using modern findings to help interpret the ancient writings — such as archeology and mythology to show that many of the stories in the Bible are just that — stories.  Noah’s Flood never really happened.  Neither did the building of the Tower of Babel.  Adam & Eve aren’t the first two human beings.

You can see why I can’t get a church!

I don’t dismiss the stories as meaningless; rather, they carry timeless truths.  (If you don’t believe in the Terrible Two’s being a natural stage of the human condition, read about Adam & Eve unable to resist touching what they’re told not to touch.)  But I don’t take them as factual.  Adam & Eve are not real individuals.  They are proto-type humans.  Their story is myth.  So is the rest of the Creation narrative.  The Earth is not 6,000 years old.  Try 4 billion.  I believe in evolution.

I support same-gender marriage, and gays becoming ministers and elders and deacons.

In my sermons and in my counseling, I employ insights from psychology and history and social studies.

For someone of my leaning, there is language that congregations use in advertising about themselves that tells me– don’t bother applying!

For example:

In a progressive congregation (and there aren’t many), they will advertise themselves as “inclusive.”  That means gays are welcome.  Same-sex marriage is supported.  Gays might be serving on the church council (the Session) or might have been the previous pastors.

“Inclusive” is thus a kind of coded language.  There’s a lot behind it.  By contrast, conservative churches will say, “We are a warm, family-oriented church.”

A progressive congregation will want a pastor whose sermons are “intellectually stimulating and relevant to modern times.”

A conservative church will say it wants “Bible-based sermons.”

This is the notion that progressive pastors don’t take their sermons from the Bible — rather, they preach about issues like unemployment or social justice, and they support gays by ignoring the plain, black & white print on the pages of the Bible, deferring instead to “relativism.”  If society approves of something like gay marriage, but it goes against the Bible, the preacher is making morality “relative” to people’s tastes rather than a divine absolute.

A “Bible sermon” stays within the confines of biblical times.  It’s safest for a pastor never to venture beyond 33 A.D.

I find it equally laughable and sad that a congregation advertises what kind sermon it wants to hear.  It says a lot about the mood in a congregation.  “We don’t come to church to be agitated about anything.”  When the service is over, there’s a happy handshake at the door and refreshments downstairs.

I pass over most congregations looking for a pastor.  It’s easy to tell from the language of their “church information form” that I’m not the type of pastor they want.  I agree — it would be conflict and disappointment and people walking out during the sermon.

I remember the advice given to me by a pastor when I had just graduated from seminary and was beginning to seek a “call.”  “Be patient,” he told me.  Finding compatibility is worth the wait.

Of course, there are some churches that seem to me puzzling — I don’t know WHAT they’re looking for.  One congregation said it was looking for a pastor to teach the traditional  “tenants” of Christianity.

I suppose they believe Jesus paid rent for using “The Upper Room.”






One thought on ““How churches make sure they don’t get a liberal pastor”

  1. Kirsten

    Ha ha! I love the “tenant” remark. That word is misused constantly. I really wish there were a progressive church nearby that you could pastor. I’d be there every Sunday … and stay awake for the sermon!



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