Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Movin' on up...

"Movin' on up to the East Side..."  Catchy words from the theme song from the old 70's American sitcom The Jeffersons who finally got a piece of the pie.  They lived in New York City, worked hard and moved up the ladder of financial success.  That's a model for a lot of things in life--business, entertainment, sports and can be worthwhile.

But back in the 60's when I was a young bride and brand new pastor's wife, lo and behold within our church denominational structure there was a wobbly ladder in front of us we were expected to climb.  It involved an elaborate hierarchical system with ranks (levels of achievement) that quickly spiraled out of control though it looked good on paper.  A pastor earned a higher rank usually based on performance and sometimes tenure and now and then a little bit of luck as to who he knew.  Each promotion provided "greater" authority and more prestige than the previous.  After all, if it works in the secular world, it should work in the ministry, right?  Wrong....

It produced stress, pressure, favoritism and performance comparison--an atmosphere that could easily sideline a heartfelt attitude of service and individual gifting which should define a pastor.  It generated an unfortunate layer of anxiety fostering doubts as to whether or not the "powers that be," including God, were displeased with someone who failed to be promoted to the next level.  Was that an indication he was less spiritual?  Maybe he had a secret sin.  Uh oh....

And it went to silly extremes at times.  While training for a year under a minister with a higher rank, my husband had to be super careful not to order restaurant menu items that cost more than his superior's;  otherwise he'd be in big trouble.  And I remember once we had to drive a cheap, temporary rental car that was slightly beat up to a church convention.  A fellow pastor expressed sincere concern. He was worried my husband had been demoted.  It all became exhausting.  I'd like to say none of it had a negative impact on me personally, but that wouldn't be true.  The problematic laddered structure was eventually dismantled within our denomination because it didn't work.

Being overly focused on promotion is not a new concept.  There is a gospel story describing a mom who felt comfortable enough with Jesus to ask him if her two grown sons, who were also disciples, could have top positions of authority during his reign as Messiah.  Jesus cautioned her and her sons, saying he didn't think they really grasped what they were asking.  They insisted they understood--no problem.  The conversation was within earshot of the other disciples and tempers flared.  Insults, accusations and bickering broke out over exactly who should be the "greatest."  Jesus had to step in and break up the fight.

Jesus' heart must have been heavy because after being with him day in and day out, his disciples still didn't get it.  And this "who is greatest" issue had come up before.  The disciples thought they needed to be in charge, maybe even "lord it over" a few people.  The Lord patiently explained to them they were missing the point.  They were already doing what they had been called to do; following Jesus and assisting him in his ministry.  Anyone wanting to be "greater" among them needed to have the humility and attitude of a servant.

To further clarify their misconception, Jesus also told them that he, the Son of God, the Lord of Lords didn't come to earth to "lord" it over others, or to be served.  He came to serve, to love and redeem and be a ransom for many.  It wasn't necessary for one disciple to be deemed greater than another.  They didn't need a promotion ladder and there was certainly no room for "movin' on up."  The same holds true for us today.  Jesus is still mercifully and graciously reaching out to the whole world.  He asks us to follow and assist him with a servant's heart.

If you want to read the story of the mom and her two sons, please click onto 1st Century Soccer Mom under recent posts on this blog.

(c) Joyce Catherwood 2012