Lillian Daniel is making my job harder, and I wish she would stop.

I’m sure it will not be a stretch for you to believe me when I tell you that I was picked on a lot as a kid.

I grew up in a small town in Kansas and was a theatre geek. I wasn’t athletic. I was smart. I was musical. I loved Jesus. I wore ties to school. I was gawky and sensitive; overly prone to tears (that hasn’t gone away). I yearned to fit in and have friends, so I took a lot of risks to get people to like me. As such, I was very defensive when anyone would criticize my earnest attempts to figure out who I was.

In short: I was an easy target. It was easy for kids to make fun of me, and, for a while, it became a thing. Want to score points with your friends? Make fun of Landon. Need a bit of an ego boost? Make fun of Landon. Do you need to prove yourself as one of the cool kids? Make fun of Landon. I was the whipping boy, and I carried a lot of people to popularity on my back. Really, I should receive a medal.

I’m not trying to ask for your sympathy, but to offer my own experience as a way of saying: I’ve been the brunt of the public ridicule, and it’s awful. I never want to experience it again.

Which is why I can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that pastor and author Lillian Daniel seems to have made a decision to base her current writing and speaking career denigrating those who are variously called the “Spiritual but Not Religious” or the “Nones.”

Her most recent book, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church, has an appropriately engaging and descriptive title. But in all the press I see leading up to its publication, Rev. Daniel appears to have taken a page from the playbook of my hometown antagonists.

She tells the SBNRs to “Please stop boring me” and says that “any idiot can find God in a sunset.

I take her point, and I actually agree with her understanding of the Church, but a) she’s basically wrong about who these folks are, and b) well, she’s just being mean.

I believe Rev. Daniel makes some insightful and incisive points about the nature of being religious. She is an educated person who has contributed, in the course of her ministry, what many consider something of great value to our common life. She is accomplished, and well-respected, as far as I can tell. So why would she do this?

Does she truly believe that an SBNR/None is going to read her book? I would be surprised if she did. I doubt that those who are (in her words) “shunning faith” are going to be bothered to obtain a copy. And even if the marketing machine gets the book some press in the media, what does she expect the net result to be? That they will see the error of their ways and come running home to Mother Church? I think not.

I contend that she wrote this book for Church Folk. And, in so doing, she is giving a wink and a nod to those who Tripp Hudgins eloquently calls “religionists.” While ostensibly calling the bluff of the SBNRs/Nones, she is actually shaming the very people she is purporting to want to help.

And this is where my beef with Rev. Daniel truly lies: She is shaming the very people that would benefit from what the Church has to offer. It is one thing to preach this to your own people, whom you know and trust and who know and trust you. It is entirely another thing to go on a media spree of mean.

I admit that I am Religious but would really rather be Spiritual. And behavior such as what I am witnessing from Lillian Daniel is why. I have given my life to the Church, but understand why there are those who have not. How, now, am I supposed to reach them?

She says that she is sick of the New Atheists treating the craziest pieces of religion as if it were the whole. They should know better, she says. Can she not see that the same logic should apply to her? Can she not see that she is broad brushing the intentions and hopes of the SBNRs/Nones, and in a very poor “straw man-esque” manner?

I don’t know what her goal is with this book and speaking. I don’t know what she understands her job to be, in this regard. But I do. I know who it is I’m supposed to reach, and my job just got a lot harder because of this book.

Lillian Daniel is making my job harder, and I wish she would stop.

What I wish church personnel committees understood about their pastor’s desire to do her job

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-directed, and connected to others. And when that desire is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.

Daniel H. Pink, Drive

Here’s what I wish Church Personnel Committees understood about the pastors who have been called to serve them:

Big theological words aside (call, faith journey, testimony, etc.), 99.99% of pastors became pastors because they are creative people who are willing to give of themselves to see a group of people thrive. They are willing to put a lot of time and energy into other people, helping them to see their full potential as Children of God. They are willing to deny their own needs (to a fault) for the sake of others being able to experience the joy and comfort of being the center of someone else’s attention.

And, yet, many get treated as if they are a bunch of juvenile babies who are lazy and want to goof off.

To be sure, there is often a gross misunderstanding of what it is that pastors do, but I think there is a deeper culprit behind this desire to micromanage the pastor. Like most HR folks, personnel committees operate with a conviction that people don’t like to work.

As a result of this perspective, we do crazy things. Things like requiring 50 hour workweeks in the belief that, if we don’t, the pastor won’t visit us or prep for Bible Study or… Or we insist that the pastor’s butt is always in their office chair in the belief that, if we don’t, they will skip out and go drink coffee and goof off.

I know a lot of pastors, and I don’t think there is anything further from the truth. If anything, pastors are workaholics.

The book I’m reading, Drive (which I quoted above), holds as its main thesis that a) people have an innate inner drive to do creative and meaningful things with other people, but that b) our standard system of rewards and punishments actually negate the intrinsic motivation we all possess and cause us to accomplish far less than we otherwise would. Once basic needs are satisfied, people have a drive to work.

And we can’t stop. Why do you think a lot of retirees “work” more in retirement than before? Why do you think a man who has not had any vacation for a year spends his Christmas break compiling an ebook full of sermons?

Pastors want to do a good job and want to care for the people they’ve been called to serve. But, too often, they are treated like children.

How can we structure a pastoral relationship that liberates the innate inner drive to do good and meaningful work?

Appealing to the base

The New Inquiry has a great post today about the decline of the Weather Channel.

Here is a media property that, in the span of the last 5 years, went from a highly respected source of serious weather information to a channel that spent its time, resource, and schedule trying to appeal to a new crop of viewers through entertainment (at one point, they began showing movies such as Misery. You know, cause it had a snowstorm in it…)

The post centers on the long time views of TWC, the hardcore weather fans, the “base.” These are weather aficionados who watch the channel and think about weather, literally, all day. Instead, when NBC took over in 2008, there was a shift to attract viewers who ordinarily did not turn to TWC except to find out if it was raining (if they tuned in at all).

I’ve been reading the Gospel of John a lot lately, and, in it, I notice that Jesus is often very clear that there some people are going to believe and some people aren’t. He’s not bothered by this at all. There is a “base” of people predisposed towards the life he’s invited us to, people who see and understand, and for whom this life becomes of utmost importance.

I fear that, like TWC, the Church has taken a wrong turn (admittedly, many moons ago) towards trying to attract a group of people who don’t really care or even want to care about this thing we’re doing. Regarding us, they don’t care beyond wanting to know whether it’s spiritually raining or not.

Is there “a base” of the Faith? Is that who we should focus on?

Preachers are not starving artists, but we often act like them

A rabbi friend of mine once told me, “You know the problem with you Christian preachers?”

Oh, do tell, I thought.

He continued, “You have no imagination with the text. You think it can only say what it says and nothing more. If that’s the case, people can just read it for themselves. What do they need you for?”


That one made me think.

Preaching is an art. I’m not saying that preaching should be artistic, but that the act of preaching is itself an exercise in making art. It is akin to painting and composing music and photography. Preaching is art that finds an audience once a week, and, in that moment, the preacher has a chance to open horizons.

Just like in other forms of art, preaching has its share of hacks (and we all started as one). Similar to the “Starving Artist” sales that permeate hotel ballrooms and exhibit halls, we find artists in pulpits all across the Church who’s work is boring and tired. It is overly pedantic and dry. It relies on what others say, and not on the inner discovery of the one saying the words.

We don’t buy starving artist paintings because they are paintings that we’ve seen before. We’ve seen them in hotels and restaurant chains and postcards. They do nothing new for us. They do not reveal the truth of the world to us. They don’t even inspire us.

These are pieces that have been done before – we’ve seen hundreds just like them. If we do buy a piece, it is on the cheap and for the purpose of decoration only (most likely in the second guest bathroom that no one ever uses).

Because Preaching is Art, it should do (at the least) four things:

It should find it’s vocabulary in an encounter with God, and nothing else. Scripture, friends. Scripture. (NOTE: The Gospel According to Marcus Mumford is non-canonical.)

It should take that private encounter and make it public. As Anna Carter Florence says, we must get into that text, look around until we are amazed, and then come out and testify to what we have seen and heard.

It should reveal something new, even if only a little. We can’t spend a lot of time telling folks what Barth or Luther saw. This isn’t a trial. We’re not being graded. Congregations want to know what we saw in there. This is our art.

It should be reflective of the common experience of us all. You and I are not so different. Start with the particular, but as Rob Bell says (curses be upon him), always go to the “thing behind the thing.”

If we don’t do those things, at a minimum, we’re giving speeches, and most likely policy speeches. Folks don’t need to come to worship for that.

Pastor AND Friend

A few years ago, I showed up on a back porch with a six pack for a little commiseration. My drinking buddy was having a helluva time with life and I was there to “place share” (h/t Andrew Root). About 15 minutes into our time together, after the niceties, he looked at me and asked, “Are you here because you’re my pastor or because you’re my friend?”

Time stops for a pastor when that question is surfaced. In a split second, a pastor needs to discern what the asker is after, what the answer is that they hope you give and how that squares with the answer you’re naturally inclined to give. The pastor needs to be hyper-aware of power dynamics since the asker is allowing you into the vulnerability of their life. Not to mention the normal relationship dance of making things explicit, and the awkwardness that goes along with that.

There are a host of other variables to consider as well, but the moment is a terrifying one.

The Holy Spirit must have been on my side, because I gave what I think was the right answer to my drinking buddy: “I’m here as your friend, but I guess you can consider yourself lucky that you have a friend who is a pastor.”

Pastor, not friend

Yesterday, an article by Princeton Seminary’s new president, Craig Barnes, started circling around that clearly made the case for maintaining the classic distinction and distance in the pastor/parishioner relationship.

For over 30 years I’ve struggled with the question of befriending parishioners. I realize that I’m supposed to maintain healthy friendships outside of the church, and I’ve taught this for years in seminary classes. The professional literature supports this call to maintain a distinction between relationships of mutuality and those of service as a pastor. I get that. But there’s a math problem—there isn’t enough time left over after serving the church to have healthy friendships. Or at least that’s what pastors tell themselves.

I suppose I could have pulled back from the church and tried to meet more people through the PTA, the Little League, a political party or the volunteer fire department. I could even have convinced myself that this is part of my local mission as a Christian. But I love being a pastor, and I love the churches I’ve served. And they are demanding lovers.

I have a lot of thoughts on Barnes’ article, and pastoral health in general, but there’s something that I want to name first: This makes me sad.*

It makes me sad because it so clearly resembles what I hear a lot of the folks I counseled say when they were trying to justify the benefit of being worked to death in the corporate world. God wants more and better for all people, and saying that we’ve been called to be lonely is just…well…wrong. Call me a slacker, call me a flake, call me selfish if you want, but this is a problem and it has to change.

We have to shift our expectations

I’m certainly playing fast and loose here (it’s a blog, so I can get away with it 🙂 ), but if this problem has a chance of being solved then there are a number of variables that must be addressed:

The Church rests on power and cash. A Facebook friend helpfully pointed out that much of this issue has to do with the fact that most congregations do not allow their pastor to be any kind of friend because of the power they hold over their employment and the subsequent cash they pay. I’m on record that the whole project of what the church is needs revising. This only adds fuel to my fire.

The Church expects its pastors to be extroverts and chaplains. This has been the hardest one for me to deal with, but if you look at the job description of most pastoral positions, it reads like an introvert’s nightmare. You must be at everything, do everything, and care for everyone all the time.

The Church is organized for efficiency, not relationship. As I wrote yesterday, we have generally lost our grasp on “community” in favor of mutually beneficial “associations.” Being a pastor has become just another job. Your average CEO isn’t friends with employees and customers, so why should the pastor be?

So what to do?

Pastors need to develop a clear, differentiated sense of self. This is not simply a pastoral issue. This is a human-being issue. Every psychologist will tell you that knowing who you are, what you are capable of, and how you operate are some keys to a healthy life. The number of pastors out there who don’t know who they are – because of ignorance or age – is astounding to me.

The Priesthood of All Believers needs to become functional. Yes, I know that the PoAB is a theological doctrine and not an organizational one. It’s time for it to be “both/and.” At their best, pastors are equippers. Church folk gotta step up, and pastors gotta back off.

Many Things should be preferred over One Thing. In order to maximize efficiency, economies of scale need to be accepted as common practice. Yet, we are not all the same. I don’t want to do that thing, but I also don’t want to rock the boat, so…let’s have the pastor do that.

I’m sure there’s more to this than I’m seeing, but these ideas feel like a place to start.

*I actually get to begin working with Barnes on one of our national denominational committees. I’m under no illusions that he and I will ever talk about this, or that I would be able to (or even try to) change his mind if we did. He’s an astute man and surely has put a good amount of thought into this. And yet…I want better than this for him and the seminary students he will now be charged with training.