Justin Taylor cited this passage from Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (pp. 7-8). Peterson is really good on pastoral ministry and this quote resonates with much discussed here so I wanted to pass it along.
For a long time, I have been convinced that I could take a person with a high school education, give him or her a six-month trade school training, and provide a pastor who would be satisfactory to any discriminating American congregation. The curriculum would consist of four courses.
I: Creative Plagiarism.
I would put you in touch with a wide range of excellent and inspirational talks, show you how to alter them just enough to obscure their origins, and get you a reputation for wit and wisdom.
II: Voice Control for Prayer and Counseling.
We would develop your own distinct style of Holy Joe intonation, acquiring the skill in resonance and modulation that conveys and unmistakable aura of sanctity.
III: Efficient Office Management.
There is nothing that parishioners admire more in their pastors than the capacity to run a tight ship administratively. If we return all phone calls within twenty-four hours, answer all the letters within a week, distributing enough carbons to key people so that they know we are on top of things, and have just the right amount of clutter on our desk—not too much, or we appear
inefficient, not too little or we appear underemployed—we quickly get the reputation for efficiency that is far more important than anything that we actually do.
IV: Image Projection.
Here we would master the half-dozen well-known and easily implemented devices that that create the impression that we are terrifically busy and widely sought after for counsel by influential people in the community. A one-week refresher course each year would introduce new phrases that would convince our parishioners that we are bold innovators on the cutting edge of the megatrends and at the same time solidly rooted in all the traditional values of our sainted ancestors.
(I have been laughing for several years over this trade school training with which I plan to make my fortune. Recently, though, the joke has backfired on me. I keep seeing advertisements for institutes and workshops all over the country that invite pastors to sign up for this exact curriculum. The advertised course offerings are not quite as honestly labeled as mine, but the content appears to be identical—a curriculum that trains pastors to satisfy the current consumer
tastes in religion. I’m not laughing anymore.)