When I was at the Rauschenbusch course at the College of Preachers, we read this interview, a conversation between William Sloan Coffin and Paul Raushenbush. Coffin, of course, is amazing. There’s so much that I could comment on, but this stuck out:
The churches are a reflection of the truth of Plato’s statement, “What’s honored in the country will be cultivated there.” When we got started as a country, we had no more than 3 million people–less than Los Angeles County today. Yet we turned out Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton–you can name a list as long as your arm. How many people on the public stage can you name today who are of the caliber of those first men? And why aren’t there more? Because what’s honored in the country will be cultivated there.
Or how come those itty, bitty Italian city-states turned out one fantastic painter and sculptor after another? Because every kid couldn’t wait to get his mitt on a paint brush. What’s honored in the country will be cultivated there. We have fantastic athletes. I watched the Spurs and Lakers yesterday. Those guys play basketball like nobody’s business. Yet we have mediocre politicians, and the clergy is pretty mediocre also. But what’s honored in a country will be cultivated there. The greatest recession in this country is not economic; it’s spiritual. And so the great biblical mandates of pursuing justice and seeking peace are shortchanged.
Now, it would be easy to go from these wise words into that tired rant about how people just don’t give pastors the r-e-s-p-e-c-t that they got in the hallowed 1950s. I’ve heard about the discounts men could get in the department stores if they wore their collars back in the day.
But…I have to say…I’m always annoyed by that denominational, teary-eyed longing for a time when African-Americans were still being lynched, women had next-to-no voice in our pulpits, and gays and lesbians had to hide deep in the closet. It’s a new day, and I really couldn’t be happier about that fact.
I also resent it when older ministers are always calling us mediocre. I wish they knew how painful it is to hear that all the time, throughout seminary, throughout all the good work that we’re doing…. I always take it personally. How else can we take it? And it makes me wonder, Were you guys really that much better than us? Isn’t there some other way to rouse brilliance in our leaders than constantly pointing out how unremarkable we are?
All that said, what I am interested in is how we can begin to cultivate pastors. FTE talks about this as a culture of call, and they’re studying churches all across the country to find out why particular congregations send more people to seminary. It’s a fascinating question.
I’ve been hearing more and more people around our place dropping hints like, “You know, the thing I would love about your job is….” Why is that? People who read this blog know that the best part about it is the comments. So let’s hear it. What’s your story? What inspired you to go into leadership? Is there any particular thing in your culture that you can point to that incites you to be a leader of great caliber? What sort of things are you doing to cultivate church leaders? What could we be doing better?