Friday, March 16, 2018

On handling sacred things

One thing that worries me about being in full-time Christian ministry is the danger of becoming over-familiar with sacred things.  I 'use' the Bible every day.  I pray with and for people as part of my 'job'.  I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about God.  It can all become a bit - comfortable?

Sometimes the tone of conversation is just a bit too jokey, a bit light, betraying a casual disregard which is creeping into my heart.  Sometimes I know the effect I want to have on the congregation, and I am getting better at tweaking what I do to get the result I want - and where, then, is God?  Sometimes - and honestly, I notice this most hanging out with other Christian leaders - we show by the way we talk that at some level we have stopped feeling the awesome weight of glory that there is in the gospel - and it's made worse by the fact that I know that I will still speak, on Sunday from the front of church, as if that weight of glory were real to me.

I don't mean that it's always like that.  I don't mean to imply that we're all hypocrites.  I just want to warn myself: to remind myself, perhaps, of Nadab and Abihu, or of Uzzah.  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.  Don't forget it.  These are sacred things.  Handle with care.


  1. It's easy for me to ask this, not being involved in church leadership, so I hope it doesn't sound like I'm sniping. And I don't want to accuse you of anything in particular. But how much do you think the situation you describe is down to a sort of professionalisation of church leadership? I mean in terms of it becoming a kind of career, with salary, qualifications required, board of trustees and voting members imposed by charitable status, and so on. Do these structures contribute to what you describe by implicitly making the church work in a way more similar to secular charities and businesses? Can that tend to technicise things in Ellul's sense?

    1. It seems highly unlikely that the things you describe have had no effect at all. It's always a challenge to map the spiritual reality of the church on to the legal structure of a charity, and to make sure that the former remains primary. (Although as an Independent and broadly Congregational Church, we'd have some of the things you mention anyway, like voting members etc )

      But I suspect the problem is deeper and more essential to the role - there's a strong history of 'priests' leading 'people' in impiety from the OT to the present day.

    2. I should add that in the free churches at least, professionalism has not really taken hold in that way - there usually is no required training, no obvious career path, and no very strong guarantee of a stipend!

    3. Ha ha - perhaps its because of my newfrontiers background, where things happened fairly informally compared to advertising a paid pastor position, building a CV of sorts with Corn Hill training, qualification from Oak Hill and so on. I don't mean to sneer - obviously certain denominations take it to a whole other level.

      With voting members, I meant more the way that what is voted for and how will be shaped to some extent by the demands of the Charity Commission - as will the concept of church membership.

      It will be interesting to see what happens if (when?) the government decide to revoke charitable status for churches and Christian charities who, in their eyes, promote bigotry and are therefore not for the public benefit. Colossal disruption... and yet perhaps greater purity and sense of mission.