Cordiality, Destinations and the pastoral pitfalls …

My mentor once quipped, "You are too nice." His reference did not imply the need to learn how to be "mean." Too often we assume the wrong opposite. Certainly context helps determine what may be meant. Hauerwas and Willimon refer to the same condition my mentor noted as "cordiality." Reduced to simply helping people, they suggest clergy succumb to something much less than pointing people to God.

If asked to survey the church’s leadership today, we would say, not that our clergy are not unfailingly polite, friendly, and cordial. They are cordial to a fault. The problem is, our clergy are not helping us get from one place to another. (Resident Aliens,p.114)

Rather than point fingers and suggest people to whom and with whom we serve only want us to help them just a little, it may be we need to really evaluate the assertion. We may uncover the reality we who minister have indeed lost the perspective on where we are going and end up only helping people to "just get by" a little better.

Falling into the trap of pointing fingers at those to whom and with whom we serve results in what Hauerwas and Willimon refer to as a self-loathing in need of a companion. Once we find someone with whom we may share our frustrations we do not find a way out instead,

That is why we suspect that most clergy soon discover that their best friend in another clergyperson, usually in another denomination. They become friends because they recognize in each other the same hates and experiences. Their being together allows them to share "war stories" and be irreverent in ways their congregation could not understand. Unable to develop close friendships within their congregation – since the clergy are to have no boundaries, to be common friends of all, the common property of everyone – the clergy become very similar to men and women who share their sexual favors indiscriminately. The clergy cling to one another for comfort because there is no one else. But alas, friendships based on common misery are not easily sustained. They are constantly threatened by the possibility that one or the other will one day become happy. It is terrible, but true, that some of us will accept our misery, because it is the only bond with have with other people. (Resident Aliens,p.125)

Rather than inspire people toward God we become mired in self-pity and blaming others. In an interesting twist, Hauwerwas and Willimon suggest Acts 5 illustrates truth telling. Ananias and Sapphira provide an illustration for the church. If our destination is Godward we cannot reserve any area of life from our commitment to follow Jesus, the Christ. Fear gripped the church. Their fear may underscore the kind of personal evaluation drawing attention to Jesus’ words, "if any one would come after me, deny self, take up your cross and follow me." Rather than look for help we point people to God and the destination – follow Jesus.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

5 comments on “Cordiality, Destinations and the pastoral pitfalls …

  1. says:

    Brother man, you are en fuego here of late. Keep it up!

  2. says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. If you have a chance to pick up Resident Aliens, I recommend it all, but for pastors, the last two chapters are worth the entire book.

  3. says:

    Good, good, good post. This is good for the soul.

  4. Anonymous says:

    That was both hilarious and enlightening!

    One of my most trusted mentors has always encouraged me to find friends even outside of other clergy. He said clergy folks tend to whine alot when they get together and that is seldom good for either party, as your post also asserts.

    Personally, I tend to avoid religious people (crazy, right?) and instead enjoy being around open-minded socialists and environmentalists, in which we are all doing what is necessary in our fields of interest to affect our world differently.

    I guess that is one of the reasons I like the Emergent movement so (even though some whine) others are sick of the religious element of church life.

    Still, I want to read Resident Aliens. I’ll bet its a great resource. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. says:

    I understand your sentiment. Pushing the post further would force us to consider human relationships “allowed” the clergy. Willimon and Hauerwas seem to contend the expectations a pastor is a friend “to” everyone, but a friend “with” no one is to live something of an untethered life – the lack of boundaries disallow personal reflection and growth, grieving and celebration, exuberation and lament.

    Face a personal crisis and this becomes all too apparent.

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