Friday, November 21, 2008

Too Accessible?

Titus chapter 1 and First Timothy chapter 3 give the qualifications for a pastor. I believe we have many examples in Scripture of how a pastor should/should not act. Being a pastor now for 4 1/2 years has taught me so much. One thing I keep realizing about myself is how much I do not know. Having said that:

I grew up in a Christian home. My father and mother have always served in full time ministry since the day I took my first breath. My mother has taught school and my father has served as a dean of students for a Baptist college, an assistant pastor, a youth pastor, a principal, a music pastor, and of course pastoring a church. My grandfather has pastored for over 50 years, and my uncle has pastored most of my life time. I have had the privilege of learning much about pastoring before ever walking in those actual shoes.

One thing I couldn't learn then and am working on now is how accessible a pastor should be. While I know a pastor is to love and be given to hospitality (generous to guests), I struggle in finding a balance of how accessible to be.

Neither my grandfather, uncle (at the time of my rearing), nor father while serving as pastors had cell phones, email, facebook, texting and office hours like we have today. I still remember being told "not to answer the phone" at my grandfather's house as he listened to see who was calling by their message on the answering machine. I remember Tuesdays being my grandfather's day off and with the exceptions of funerals, it truly was his day going to church that day, no answering the phone, if cell phones would have been around-it would have been turned off that day. He was, for that 24 hours "inaccessible." Criticize we may, but he has pastored the same church for over 50 years...not many can say that.

Point is, are we too accessible today as pastors? With the exception of sleeping hours (and there are many times that too is broken up), I can estimate that there is probably not 2 hours that ever goes by that a phone call (church, home, cell), text, email, or IM is not coming my way. Are we too accessible?

Now one would argue: what wonderful ways technology has provided that we can build stronger relationships with our flocks. I will not argue and have used such avenues to do just that. I do praise God for technology. I am glad I can call my missionaries, email my missionaries, or text them at any given moment. I get multiple emails each week by my cherished folks at our church, and I love giving counsel, praying with them in their requests, and laughing at their jokes. I think it is wonderful that our young people can send an email to their pastor and know they will get a response. But are we too accessible?

Familiarity brings with it a lack of respect and reverence. People are much more bolder with typed words than spoken. I have received emails with language and criticism contained in them that I know would have not been orally spoken to me much less my father or grandfather. Ladies and girls, who we would never meet alone in our offices are sending texts, emails, or instant messages to our pastors everyday. Slang words, boldness in rebellion, and open criticisms flood the forums, blogs, and community sites on the internet. What happened to respect for God's Word? God's House? and God's Man?

I am careful to post these thoughts for several reasons:
1. I am seeking the proper balance
2. I want to have an open door to all who feel I can be of any Biblical assistance
3. I enjoy hospitality and do not want to cause others to feel they cannot or are not welcome to come to me.
4. I do NOT want to seem like some arrogant man who cannot be touched with the problems of others as this is direct contrast to our Lord's example.

It just seems to me, that in today's world there is a lack of reverence and respect for the pastor. He has become just 'one of the guys.' While it is certain, that even the best of men is still man at best, there is to be an honor and reverence to the position ordained of God. The pastor is to be spending more time praying and ministering of the word than emailing and chatting and IMing and texting and answering his cell phone every 30 minutes. At least my grandfather had the 30 minutes silent while driving to and from church and visits.

What is the answer? Not real sure. And pastors surely can turn off their phones, turn off the computer, and not respond to emails and texts...but then what does the sender think? There are way too many intimate opportunites provided by technology that pastors should beware of. My greatest concern is the lack of respect and honor and open criticism especially from youth that is welcomed via these technologies.

I remember my first day working on staff at Cozaddale Baptist Temple in 1994. I was given a pager (cell phones were not the thing yet), and people could page me with a call back number and I would get off the road and find a pay phone and return their call (sorry about the run-on sentence mom). I felt like I hit the big time...well...did I?


Sherri said...

Way too accessible. Our pastor lives out of town. It's worth the drive to him and his family for the sake of their privacy. He also does not have a computer at home or at work, and he's a younger man. He respects and protects his privacy, so most of us do the same. And you are absolutely right about the lack of respect and reverene for the man of God these days. It's a shame.

Daniel J. Duncan said...

I believe that Pastors need to control how accessible they are to their people. They need to control their own schedules rather than be controlled by them. Having study time, prayer time, and time set aside to meet with people and answer email, phone calls, etc, is a good way to keep things in order. After hours accessibility needs to be governed by predetermined guidelines that are clearly defined by the pastor to the congregation. This limits intrusions into his family time. (Let's remember that if he fails in this area, he disqualifies himself from the pastorate) If a pastor allows himself to become the church's "bell-hop" he will wear himself out and actually loose the churches respect, rather than gain it. They will begin to expect his immediate response and get irate if he is "too slow." Of course there will always be the "emergencies" that require immediate attention of which any pastor would gladly respond to, but they need to be the exception not the rule.

The heart of the issue to me is being professional as pastors. It is our responsibility as pastors to bring professionalism to the pastorate. As a leader of the church we need to be accessible to our flock, but on our terms. That is not selfishness, but professionalism. The church should not view this negatively (although many selfishly will) but realize that it is simply part of doing things decently and in order. After all, most of us have had to call the family doctor in the middle of the night when our child is running a fever or has a stomach ache. Are we upset when we get the answering service that forwards the message to our doctor (or another doctor if he is not "on call")? NO! Why? because as patients we understand the professional relationship. We don't feel ungrateful, but are actually RELIEVED when he (or his associate) calls us back. If pastors work on building this sort of professional relationship to our congregations they will come to enjoy the freedom to address the needs of his people without feeling like the stewardess that has just heard that annoying "DING" from the economy class.

The choice, fellow pastors, is ultimately ours.

Kent Brandenburg said...

This is something I had not thought about. I've thought about it in my life, but not for awhile. I know that when I was in college I heard the philosophy of "keeping a mystery" about the pastor so that they get a little sense that you are living in a different realm than they. What I see in the Bible was a lot of access. Obviously not in the technological sense, but real access. The respect given came from example and character.

I don't feel lacking in respect myself. I do think God is lacking in respect. If pastors are disrespected today, I think it is because they don't deserve respect for many different reasons. Second, I think it is because people do not respect God. Third, and probably related to number two, they don't respect authority very much. Authority cramps the style too much. Through and in all, if I can make God respected more I'll be happy about my life.

These were interesting thoughts.

Travis Burke said...

Thanks Bro. Brandenburg. I agree that the "keeping a mystery" about the pastor is not Biblically based, and that a pastor should be accessible.
I have just observed as some pastors are somewhat less accessible. They don't give out their cell numbers, email address, etc; and then there are others that get a call, email, or text every five minutes...and it seems the more reserve pastor is more respected at times and the more accessible is "a great, fun guy."
Not always...but I've seen it alot and was just interested in other pastor's thoughts on this matter.
Thanks for your thoughts.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I can understand how that the "mystery" thing works. It's something I've considered, because I want to be a man of mystery. I worked for a pastor for a summer who was a big mystery. We never knew where he was. Later we found out that he was involved in a tremendous amount of sin and now he's not a pastor and he really hurt his family.

I don't usually have a cell phone and I don't know how to text. I actually think I should make myself more accessible than I do, because I have no problem with inaccessibility.

There can be a problem, I think, with trying to "relate" with people. If we "represent" God by how we act and interact, look, etc., I've found that people aren't as happy about accessibility. When we "relate" with them, they like that. I know some would say that Jesus "related." I don't think that "relating" was part of His condescension, outside of the fact that he became a man and was tempted like we are. He represented God on earth. By condescending, we become a partaker of His nature.

Again, I think it is a good subject and too consider. Thanks for being accessible about it.