(On this election day, with world-wide attention placed on the over-saturated news of the presidential election, I wish to call attention to the greater disaster needing attention. (This post was originally drafted to be a guest post on Resistance and Renewal, however due to concerns for anonymity, that blog has chosen not to publish there, yet encourages publication here.))
I minister to the homeless of Lubbock, Texas which is fairly affluent and situated firmly in conservative, West Texas amid the American “Bible Belt”. Jesus gets lip service here like few places on earth. We actually characterize our community as a place with “a church on every corner”. Sadly, though, however many institutions we have professing Christ, actual Christian mission is ironically marginalized. The reality beneath the surface is shocking, and it is cause for shame and humility.
In my experience working with Lubbock’s homeless, often in tandem with various churches and ministries, I find even well-meaning organizations raising tens of thousands of dollars for the cause, yet spending it largely on staff and cosmetic agendas while turning the poor out to the cold night with no accountability. When I called them to account for it by going through “appropriate channels”, I wound up shunned at one church, kicked out of another, and my application for employment with a homeless ministry passed over due to my appeal to Scriptural authority over common praxis. Thus I have earned a prophet’s wage while over 500 people sleep on our streets, in parks, alleys, and under “No Trespassing” signs year round. Fat Beggars School of Prophets has tried to call attention to Jesus living among these people largely by conducting worship services with them in plain sight of the church that ignores them.
In my experience, most pastors, churches, or ministry organizations tend to their own needs instead of the flocks they serve. Called to pastor (or shepherd) the flock, they prefer pastorbation, and please themselves while no one is watching. Building projects that house new office space but don’t allow sojourners a place to lay their heads, new church vans and staff cars, while the day shelter closes so the director can go to lunch or take a second vacation, and behind the scenes, volunteers are turned away when offering help while at the same time the organization raises tens of thousands of dollars for the asking (no different than begging except it’s better organized). Oh, but the pastor puts a editorial in the papers directing the public not to give to the poor directly, but rather they might donate to his ministry!
I am deeply frustrated with our pastors and churches – especially those of the Evangelical variety who claim (as they rightly should) biblical authority for their existence and mission but then subtly serve themselves while ignoring, or denying service to, the poor.
As we find in the Old Testament and even from Jesus himself, prophetic voices shame the people of God back to being what they should be. The Bible plainly states the importance of poverty ministry. The prophet Amos certainly dedicated his whole book to the cause, and definitely the most famous biblical passage regarding service to the poor (not counting the Good Samaritan) would be Matthew’s Judgment scene in Chapter 25 where he poignantly hinges eternal salvation or damnation upon our care for the poor. It would seem that Evangelicals, of all Christian types, should be the most responsive to scriptural authority and mandate, and thus to those affected by poverty. But in the Lubbock, Texas, often the opposite is the case.
Dangers of self-pleasure
Masturbation is an activity with which many churches find fault. Historically, the church taught their young people that it’s a temptation to resist. In previous generations it was widely claimed that the practice would make you go blind. But the church needs to hear this critique back on itself. Pastorbation occurs when churches are just concerned with themselves, with their own programs, their own pleasure in seeing their ministry growing – frequently at the neglect of needs of the world. Instead of being concerned for the poor, they are concerned about their institution, stroking and polishing their own ego rather than being the radical movement Jesus started. Unlike the false claims that masturbation would make you go blind, pastorbation really does blind the church to the needs of the world. We become the ‘blind guides’ that Jesus condemned.
Pastorbation , an ugly term to be sure, falls in line with other prophetic labels and is not so dissimilar to the tactics we see used in scripture. After all, Amos calls the rich women of Israel “Cows of Bashan” and Jesus calls out the “Snakes” and “hypocrites”, “dogs” and “pigs”.
And, its not just to have a go at Pastors. So often, the congregation gets suckered into following the most fashionable preacher or teacher, choosing a church just because of the institutional benefits it provides, no different than shopping for self-pleasing items at the store.
The church needs to get out of the habit of pastorbation – it is just self-pleasure which reflects very little of the radical love Jesus wants us to share with the world. Just like in Lubbock, Texas, the world is full of need. We must reconsider, repent, and get back to loving the poor as if we were loving Jesus himself (Matt. 25:40).