Saturday, January 15, 2011


In the past week or so, I've been watching period dramas...The Pillars of the Earth and The Tudors. Slightly different periods, but with many similarities.

One of the things I've been struck by is the blatant fact of ambitious clergy -- clergy who are so obviously not following God's call but are instead in it for the power and monetary gain, to advance ever higher and get as much as they can. We all know this about the medieval Church, that it was rife with corruption and oppression and people who were in it for power. We know that the church was a pathway to power and wealth and prestige, an "in" with the political rulers and more of a diplomatic career than a religious one (though they certainly used God to get what they wanted).

What I don't know that we've grasped is that that's not really the case 5-800 years later.
(Or it shouldn't be, anyway.)

People often ask me when I'm going to "move up" and "get my own church" as though there's some kind of hierarchy of calling, that my current call and position are just a stepping stone to something better. The assumption is clearly that a) I should harbor ambition for something bigger and better, b) that the place and people I serve now aren't worth the talents and effort of an experienced pastor or someone staying a long time, and c) there is a ladder and I should get busy climbing it.

There's been plenty written about this before, particularly by female associate pastors. Generally it's a phenomenon attributed to thinking of the ministry in the same way we think about corporate type jobs. But I wonder if it's a combination of that and the history of ambition in church professionals. I know it's true that there are people serving now how are ambitious, who seek bigger churches and taller steeples and more money and more power in the denomination or the culture. And it's also true that there are hundreds of pastors who simply serve where they are called, regardless of the power or prestige of the position, loving people and serving churches and making the world a better place. Both categories can and do contain faithful (and less faithful) people. The second category is not lesser, or less talented, than the first--though many of us are made to feel that way sometimes.

But as I watch the story of priests, bishops, cardinals who serve their ambition and not the gospel, I have to wonder how much of that history plays into our current understanding of clergy, power, prestige, and ambition--and into the things we think about those who choose to follow a calling to stay in small churches or associate positions.

1 comment:

  1. there's also a politically ambitious clergyman in "The King's Speech"; the Archibishop of Canterbury, who is quite disgusted that another advisor has the about-to-be-King's attention. "Your role," he practically spits at the Duke on the eve of his coronation "is to be advised." It's quite striking, as he seems a decent guy throughout the film up to that point.

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