In the minds of many people, two words rarely go together.
Pastors … and sin.
Since pastors preach against sin, some people come to believe that their pastor is sinless … or at least nearly so.
But when you hang around groups of pastors, as I have for years, you discover that pastors are sinners, too.
They’re just better at hiding their sins than most people.
If you had to guess one sin that pastors commit more than any other, which one would you choose?
The six words I just mentioned constitute six of the seven deadly sins. Like all humans, pastors are susceptible to any and all of these shortcomings.
But I left one sin out.
In his classic work Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis devoted an entire chapter to this sin. In fact, he called it “The Great Sin.”
Know what it is?
Lewis said that pride is the complete anti-God state of mind. Pride is preoccupation with yourself, the belief that you are superior to other people … even when there’s no basis for it.
We all struggle with this issue – even pastors.
Let me share with you three ways that pastors display pride … sometimes unknowingly. I’ll share two more ways next time.
And I include myself in everything that I write.
First, pastors love to hear themselves talk.
I guess most people do … but more than in most professions, pastors are paid to talk.
We expect pastors to preach from the pulpit. What we don’t expect is for pastors to preach in private settings.
So try this experiment: if you ever find yourself in a social setting with a pastor, notice what happens.
Regardless of who holds the floor initially, see if the pastor eventually holds court … and if he determines the topic for discussion.
Winston Churchill once volunteered his idea of a good dinner: “to discuss a good topic – with myself as chief conversationalist.”
That’s true of pastors, too … although they could probably learn more by listening.
Why are pastors like this? I’m not sure. In my own case, I’m not very good at small talk, so if I can steer a conversation around to a larger issue, I’m more comfortable joining in … and that may be true of other pastors, too.
Second, pastors are competitive with their peers.
The day Magic Johnson announced he had AIDS, I was invited to meet with a group of pastors for some strategy sessions at a mountain cabin. (There were 15 or so of us there.)
Someone asked the pastors to go around the room and share how their Easter services had gone. Let me offer a typical response:
“Well, we had 757 people out for Easter this year, which was one-third more than we had last year. God’s Spirit is really moving at our church. I sense that we’re ready for a breakthrough. Since I came to the church two years ago, our attendance and giving have doubled, and we’re reaching our community for Christ like never before.”
By the way, all the pastors answered the question in a similar fashion. Easter went great … we’re really growing … I’m on top of the world … God is blessing. (In some cases, I knew better.)
All except for me. Nobody asked me how Easter went at our church … and nobody noticed that nobody asked me. It was just as well.
I couldn’t compete with the big boys.
When pastors get together in larger groups, there’s a pecking order. It’s determined by who dresses the best, or who has the most commanding presence, or who has seniority, or who has the largest church. Pastors are never completely honest when they’re in a larger group of their peers. They have a way of displaying their feathers.
Put them with a group of Christian psychologists, and their responses would be completely different.
Or if you placed one pastor in a group with two other pastors, they’d be much more honest … and that pecking order all but disappears.
Pastors aren’t nearly as competitive when they’re with doctors or attorneys or professional athletes. In fact, pastors tend to be deferential toward people in those professions.
But when they’re with their peers, the competitive juices start flowing. This is why I once heard J. I Packer say that pastors are a lot like manure. When they’re all spread out, they do a lot of good, but when they get together, it’s just one big stink.
Third, pastors have a need to be know-it-alls.
Pastors have a high need to be right. They love to straighten people out.
I suppose it comes from their training. When I was in seminary, we had to define and memorize specific biblical and theological terms … and Greek verb tenses … and dates in church history … and the beliefs of various world religions and cults … and what the Bible said about a host of social issues.
In most cases, my professors were absolutely convinced that their views were right and everybody else’s views … even those of fellow faculty members … were wrong. It was the job of the professors (who held the right views) to correct the students (who held the wrong views). So when we students were called to various churches, we modeled the attitudes of our professors.
We held the right views, while others held the wrong views.
It’s easy to absorb that attitude when you hang around a seminary for five years, as I did … which is why some Christian experts believe that a pastor’s most effective years begin only after he starts unlearning all the stuff he learned in seminary.
This need to be right is like a reflex action among pastors. Some learn how to disagree with others graciously, while others run around trying to straighten out everybody with whom they disagree.
I believe that pastors continue to struggle with pride until they suffer greatly or are deeply wounded with their own unique “thorn in the flesh.”
I’ll write more about this theme next time.