by Rod D. Martin
May 19, 2013

Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay and founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary, writes a piece this morning entitled “The Unspoken Tension Between (Some) Pastors and (Some) Laity”. It points out some of the growing problems between the two groups, and provides solid pastoral counsel about how to deal with a growing illness that needs to be stopped if not cured, fast.

Nevertheless, I believe Dr. Rainer’s post misses two bigger icebergs crashing into our churches, their point of contact centered clearly at the pulpit.

1. Our pastors’ understanding (or lack thereof) of the world we live in.  I am extremely pleased with the vastly improved quality of SBC seminary education (both in terms of orthodoxy and of academic rigor) since the Conservative Resurgence.  But more than a few of our pastors know little or nothing of anything else.  How are they supposed to counsel businessmen, for instance, when they know nothing about economics and wealth creation?

Oh, they’ll usually vote Republican, and they’ll usually scold excess when that seems called for, but could they exegete a passage about, say, Naboth, and apply it correctly to an issue we actually face, like the government closing of a thousand auto dealerships (& consequent destruction of jobs in these pastors’ churches) in early 2009?  Could they tell us how to respond to the government’s mandate that we provide insurance that includes abortifacients, not from opinion but from Scripture?  How to reconcile that response with the counsel to avoid litigation?  How to deal personally with California’s new law that our grade school children must share bathrooms and locker rooms with the opposite sex?

Too often we find platitudes and opinion, or even worse, silence and shrugs.  Why would we listen?  The other side’s leaders know what they believe, and why.

2. Our pastors’ refusal to call us to something that matters.  No mass movement in human history has been built on Precious Moments, on group therapy, or even on well-grounded but dry academic lectures.  Authentic Christianity set this pattern: the Lord Himself told us to “take up your cross daily and follow me”, words He spoke before the disciples knew about His own cross or its significance.

Churchmen frequently ask why women are more involved in church than men.  I can answer that easily:  too many churches call men to nothing.  Men will join the Marines to slog through swamps and march across deserts for a great cause, something greater than themselves; they will become firemen or astronauts or fighter jocks or any other dangerous thing — or even just hold down two or three jobs to make sure a single beloved child gets needed health care, or gets to go to college — because of that same drive, to achieve something that matters through great testing.  When not overly feminized, they will look in on their sleeping daughter as they come back from the late-night part-time job that makes paying her tuition possible and say with pride and tears, “it’s a man’s work”.  Just watch the movies that motivate us!  They tell all you need to know.

So why does the church so often treat us like that group therapy session?  Why does not the church call us to the vastly greater needs it was established not just to serve but to conquer, from penetrating lostness to nourishing orphans to establishing hospitals and taking back education?  And crucially, why do our pastors not call us to these things, filled with His Spirit, passionately and with tears, and with practical teaching on how we can each be the change?

We have many, many pastors who do this, and well:  don’t get me wrong (and those pastors know when it actually is time for group therapy, and sometimes it is).  But for all the dry lecturers, and for all the Precious Moments hand-holders, there’s a reason your men think they are better served by a Sunday golf outing, or by sleeping in.  It’s you.

We live in revolutionary times.  The Internet levels the field between so-called laity and so-called clergy like nothing since the printing press.  If our pastors cannot rise to meet these needs, this is going to be a needlessly grim century for Christ’s church.