My church experiences over the years leads me to recall an interesting ecclesiastical puzzle that a friend brought up some time ago and that I have observed several times across congregations.
Case 1: The Pastor of a protestant church (I have no Catholic experience to offer) announces that he has been ‘called’ to a new church and will leave shortly.
Although people may be sad and regret the situation (or not in some cases), they do not question for a moment that the ‘call’ is devine. He is wished well and sent off into the sunset as an obedient servant.
Case 2: Same scenario except that this time a congregant member of a protestant church announces that he doesn’t fit at the church for one reason or another, and is moving to or looking for a new church.
In this case, the congregant is more often than not told that he or she has been placed in that congregation by the Lord for a reason and shouldn’t ‘run away’ from problems. His or her reason is assumed to be a man-centered one and certainly not devine in origination. If they do leave, the well wishes are often grudging as best, possibly judgemental and assumes that the congregant has the problem.
So, what is wrong with these pictures?
In many (I won’t go so far as to say most) instances, the pastor in Case 1 was less than happy with the current church or he wouldn’t have bothered with the new offer. The legitimacy of that unhappiness is not relevant to our discussion here. The new ‘call’ may legitimately be a better devine utilization of pastoral gifts. It may also be just a more comfortable fit for the person. In either case, no fault is attributed.
The situation in Case 2, however, present a problem. Why can a Pastor feel a calling to a new situation (even one that suits better) and it is okay, even a blessing for all, while the same move by a congregant is treated as man-centered and a problem in the congregant?
It just doesn’t wash, folks.
Is the Pastor intrinsically closer to the Lord? I don’t buy it as universal. Is the congregant intrinsically farther from the Lord? Again, makes no sense.
If the congregant should be working through whatever the issues are, then the pastor should be doing no less. If the pastor can hear a new and exciting call, then the congregant can do likewise and should have equal blessing. The congregant and Pastor should be regarded with unanimity.
Now, that doesn’t mean that there is not a clear time to go, or to stay. That is always between the believer and the Lord. The problem illuminated here is the use of man-centered values and reasons to treat two situation differently.
Just something to ponder…