Rob Bell and expectations on a pastor

The recent Rob Bell controversy has led me to consider expectations around the role of the pastor, particularly in communicating biblical truth. Many people believe Love Wins was irresponsible pastorally, leaving too many questions unanswered instead of guiding people towards clarity. I do find it fascinating that what is acceptable for C.S. Lewis in a novel - The Great Divorce - is overboard for a pastor in a theology book. Just sayin’...

Seriously though, s a pastor myself, I think this is a critical issue, both personally and for the church. Christian leadership is important, for sure. But also important, is the type of Christian leadership. At this point, Bell’s situation only raises more questions than answers for me. For example:

  • When is it appropriate for a pastor to “sit on the fence” on certain issues, at least publicly?
  • How should pastoral leadership provide not just good answers, but good questions?
  • When it comes to theology nowadays, are expectations on pastors too low? Too high? Just fine? Or, “Theology? Just make us feel good about ourselves”?
  • And finally, how do these wise words from Eugene Peterson factor into this whole issue?
"The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God."
(Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity)

I throw these out there for consideration. More to come...

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pastors, like all leaders, are in difficult jobs. But the impact of a pastor is so much more meaningful. Your leadership can change lives - We seek God's guidance in leading us to a church with good pastors.

David Warkentin said...

Thanks for the reminder - "your leadership can change lives." And thankfully it's not just my leadership, but the whole spectrum of gifts in the body of Christ.

All the best in your search!

Anonymous said...

David,

within a church context, should the person teaching tell people what to think or attempt/help to teach them how to think?

[of course the above sentence itself is a question. but imo it is worth pondering]

Larry S.

David Warkentin said...

Hi Larry - I always accept more questions! Especially good ones like yours!

I will admit, I lean towards the latter (help people to think), although I do want to be careful I don't discount the former (straight up answers). Not everyone has had a chance to study the Bible/Theology formally as I have, so in some cases I will have the "right" answers. But if that's all that's provided, it's incomplete. I think the famous fishing analogy applies here (teach a kid to fish...or something like that...).

Anonymous said...

David, from where I sit in the pew I'd get twitchy if I heard a position taught as though the position being presented was the only available truly biblical position. (i know I'm pouring a lot on the poor person trying to teach). I don't actually expect to hear a range of options everytime.

I like to hear where the speaker came down on an issue. Hear the acknowledgement that there is a spread of options out there and why the one being presented was chosen.

That I think is helping us learn how to think.

There is a certain type of presentation that has no room for this kind of thing. on another note: I've been doing a bit of thinking about presuppositional apologetics. I think there is a kind of presuppositional preaching that doesn't EVER examine other options. but I'm begining to blather on ... and its your blog.

those are some thots that come to mind.

I remember a fellow seminarian way back in the day who described preaching as "clear a space and have a fit" - there is probably room for that once in awhile also.

Larry S.

David Warkentin said...

Enjoying your comments Larry - it's good to get a perspective from the pew... Do you preach at all?

Yes, providing all the options while still choosing one can helpfully train others to think critically. Hard to do with the 20-25 minutes in a Sunday morning sermon! (which is why I wish we could find ways to creatively extend teaching beyond Sunday mornings...blogs!?!)

My problem with the presuppositional approach is how demeaning it is to other views, always assuming a position of authority, which is often reflected in the tone of the conversation (e.g. simply saying Atheism is stupid based on such and such "clear" reason, which in itself is loaded with presupposition).

I really like the idea of the phrase "clear a space and have a fit." I think that describes well the whole purpose of our Sunday worship - bringing ourselves together (creating space) to to connect and be transformed by God (have a fit).

Anonymous said...

David,

No I don’t preach anymore.

I suspect my views or what I look for in a sermon aren’t well represented in the pews. Although, when I hear feedback from my adult children and wife – the sermons they ‘like’ tend to be ones of the type I’ve mentioned – at least the flavour if you get what I mean.

I connect with your comments about the propositional approach. That approach in preaching is quite off-putting and something I wouldn’t sit around listening too for very long. (perhaps you’ve heard the line: weak point, pound pulpit)

I like what you did with my “clear a spot and have a fit” line. Although the kind of fit envisioned by my friend was the sort where the preacher gets to have the fit. And people should sit a few rows back to avoid spit spray. :)

It was a good line and I remember after all these years.

Larry S.

David Warkentin said...

Ah yes, the spitting approach - I haven't tried that one...yet :)

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