[Find part 1 here.]
Given my background/scriptural understandings and some of my personal history, the reader won’t be too surprised that my suspicion of “church leadership” has not faded. I think my church paradigm overall has been morphing and growing ever since. It has reached a point of no return and very little likelihood of being influenced in a different direction. I say this not to discourage dialogue but to acknowledge a reality. I simply have no interest in what smacks of pandering to a clergy person or to a hierarchy or any other structure. These organizational things trouble me too deeply. Lest a CofC reader think I am talking only about other denominations, I will clarify that I think the problem is of the same hue (although typically not as deeply tinted) in CofC congregations as in, say, Methodist or Baptist ones. It is notable that small, non-franchise “community church” groups are likely to be equally un-healthfully reliant on the “pastor.”
I do affirm that, when possible, people with training and/or experience should work in some areas. I think here of the teaching of children, the counseling of youth and married people, and the exposition and exegesis of scripture. Talents, training, and experience do have their places in the healthy, vibrant functioning of churches and other Christian groups, but titles and staff ministry positions can distract and can even be found to compromise the health of a body of people. Although in just the right situation, I suppose I would myself consider taking a church salary for some kind of church role or roles, I really do not believe in that kind of church anymore. That doesn’t mean I don’t find good people in institutional churches, and that doesn’t mean I don’t go to them regularly. I do, and I do. I simply cannot invest in them or dream about them as I once did.
Back to the present
So, now that I am old enough and experienced enough to be an elder or pastor or shepherd or bishop just about anywhere (no matter how the given group conceives of the label), I have to wonder about another aspect of being the church elder I once aspired to be: wisdom. (Please recall that I have recently been drawn to the “wisdom literature” in the Hebrew Bible. See here and here.) It is assumed that the old have gained some wisdom. Not that I’m all that old, but I am a whole lot older than I was 20 years ago. So, while I thought I had all the main things right in my head in my 20s or 30s, I later learned that that I didn’t. And now, even if I wanted to be an elder in an institutional church, I wouldn’t think I was wise enough. I’m surely a little wiser than I was when I was 20 or 30 or 40, but I would feel so inadequate if I were in a role that caused a church group to view me as inherently wise. Here is another way to put that: I think all pastoral pedestals ought to be destroyed and discarded—especially any that any unsuspecting person would try to put me on!
Enter another assumption I learned as a kid, based on a patternistic, proof-texty reading of two brief passages in Paul’s (so-called) pastoral letters: maybe a special level of wisdom comes from having a plurality of children in the home. A 33-year-old father with three kids (like my dad was) goes through all sorts of interpersonal situations, and by the time he’s in his 50s or 60s, he surely has learned a great deal about how to “shepherd” different personalities within a group. I, on the other hand, have an only child, and I haven’t always manifest wisdom even in dealing with the one.
When I was having a heart-to-heart with my son a year or so ago, I told him that there are some benefits and some drawbacks to having an older (more presbytish!) dad. On the downside, I am wounded (deeply so), and life’s experience brings as much incapacity as capability. I am tired and generally less than patient with antics than a younger dad. On the upside, there are experiences and insights I can share with him that could not be shared by a younger father of a nine-year-old. I don’t think I’m a very good soul-shepherd, but I’m a passable physical-needs overseer for him. I could teach him things that a 33-year-old father probably couldn’t. (I’m rambling in a sea of inadequacy.) I would hope I have additional wisdom, but I’m not so sure most of the time.
I feel pretty experienced in “the faith” (depending on how you define that), and I’m “apt to teach,” and I might manifest a couple other qualities mentioned in Paul’s lists, but I don’t feel wise enough to be an elder or a dad. I will never be an elder in a traditional sense. I am a dad, however, and I can only hope that I have more wisdom than I did before Jedd was born, and more likelihood of using it in difficult situations. Good grief. He just turned nine, and we have not even had difficult situations yet, really. I am terrified of when he is 11 and 12 and 14. God, give me wisdom.