Monday, June 22, 2015

The Entrepreneurial Pastor

"In a society that overvalues progress, development, and personal achievement, the spiritual life becomes quite easily performance oriented: ‘On what level am I now, and how do I move to the next one?’…but it is of great importance that we leave the world of measurements behind when we speak about the life of the Spirit. Spiritual formation, I have come to believe, is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves." -Henri Nouwen
Pastors in America have this innate temptation to think like entrepreneurs, like CEO's even. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, if entrepreneurship implies creativity and forward thinking, then it's gotta be a good thing! But when the entrepreneurial values of progress and achievement take hold of the Pastoral imagination, danger lurks. The pastor falls prey to all kinds of assumptions and expectations that should be alien to the practice of pastoral ministry. The concept of spiritual growth can be confused with spiritual achievement. The fruit of the Spirit can be choked by the weeds of self-fulfillment and successful advancement. The church's ministry can be replaced by the church's expediency in society. And the result is pressure... pressure on the Pastor... pressure on the congregation... pressure to do better, do more, be more faithful, grow, mature, and do all the other things a good business is supposed to do. This is the Western (the American!) thing to do!

This kind of entrepreneurial ambition is fine in some places, but it's not fine in the church... it's never unambiguously synonymous with good ministry, and it's never synonymous with healthy spirituality. Spirituality and human ambition fall on opposing sides of a spectrum. Spirituality, I would say, is a continuous practice of returning to the futility of human ambition and the supremacy of divine action. If there is a spiritual version of ambition, it is only the ambition of discovering Christ in us, ourselves in Christ, and discovering Christ in the wounds of the crucified God. As Jurgen Moltmann has said, "prayer is not an athletic sport..." (this was said in the question and response period following his lecture at the Princeton Karl Barth Conference in Miller Chapel just last night).

Ministry is about God's action (ministry, after all, is not ours but God's). God's action is about relationship. And relationship, as it concerns God insofar as we can discern from Jesus' words, is about friendship. We are made friends of God in Jesus Christ (even as we remain God's enemies in so many ways). So if we can apply the principles of entrepreneurship and ambition to ministry, we can only do so to the extent than we can apply it to friendship. But while entrepreneurship implies a concern for strategy and strategy is birthed in anxiety (and I do not mean this pejoratively) over our place in the system, our success in maintaining our relevance or influence, friendship necessarily precludes this anxiety. Friendship does not fret over its place. It's temperature does not need always be taken. It is a sign, in fact, of trouble in our friendships when we are concerned with the status of them. We can be entrepreneurial in many things, but we cannot be in our friendships... so we cannot be in ministry. We can be creative, yes. We can be purposeful. We can even take up a strategy (if we're careful). But we cannot centralize our concern for success or status. We cannot shape our ministry around the desire for an outcome (read: profit). We must not be so concerned to do things for God. We must, instead, be concerned with God--the God who is love and loves us. We must centralize our own weakness and need for God, our friend. It is not upward mobility that marks ministry and spirituality, but downward mobility. It is not by the metric of a successful business that ministry is measured but by the servanthood that returns no profit, even the washing of feet.

Entrepreneurship implies a desired outcome--call it influence, development, "transformation," or whatever. Ministry is its own outcome. Friendship is its own outcome. For it is in friendship that God encounters us... and ministry is all about God's encounter with us.

No comments: