My mother grew up in Louisiana in the 1930’s. She told a lot of stories about her time as a child. She told me about having to sit in the back of a trolley because she was “colored.” She told me about passing out while waiting to buy lunch in the “colored line” while two or three white people sat freely at an empty counter, eating lunch comfortably. Not all of her stories were bad and focused on segregation. She told me about how she loved to dance. She also told me about my uncle “Dude,” an uncle who died before I was born, who was the life of any party. Of all the stories she told me, one stood out. This short story was just a short incident. It was an encounter that shaped her view and perception of a certain type of position in black society and society in general. This story also had the rare quality of being funny and tragic at the same time.
My mom was always a better storyteller than I, but I will give it a shot:
As a little girl my mom was getting her hair braided. If you don’t know, in Black American society, this could take a good deal of time. She was sitting on the floor as my grandmother was doing this arduous task. I say arduous, because my mother had beautiful, long, thick hair. Well, as aunts sat around drinking coffee and eating plates of food, my mom sat on the floor developing a massive appetite waiting, as my grandmother worked to finish braiding her hair. All of a sudden, the aura in the house changed. A light scramble occurred as everyone got up to start to straighten the room up. One of my aunts rushed to the kitchen to prepare a plate of food. Certainly everyone recognized that the little girl getting her hair braided was hungry so they were all rushing to fix her a plate. Surely they remembered that she had passed out once before, and now wanted to make sure she had a quick bite to eat, especially because there was very little food left. Unfortunately none of this was the case. The pastor of the local church happened to drop by. This was the cause of the scramble. Everyone nervously fawned over this small town celebrity and quickly gave him a seat at the kitchen table. My mom, the little girl with half done hair, watched this occur as she sat on the floor in the living room of my grandmother’s small house. Having a healthy appetite, he continued to eat until he cleaned his plate. My mom could see the stove and kept an eye on one thing hoping the pastor would not touch it. The pastor reaches over to the grabs it off the stove and takes a bite. My mom yells out “Oh Lawd, he dun ate the last piece of chicken!!!” [For those of you concerned about my mom’s grammar, please note that she later earned a Masters Degree from Pepperdine University in California.]
On my mom’s side of the family, they would often sit around and tell stories at family gatherings. Each time they told this story, everyone would laugh. When I got to a certain age, this story was not so funny because I saw it from a different vantage point. I thought to myself, why was the pastor so important that the little girl who hadn’t eaten had to wait until my grandmother could fix a completely new meal for her? Why was this pastor guy so important?
I found that this thinking became a part of my mom’s understanding of the celebrity of pastors throughout her lifetime. I learned that my mom was not the only one who perceived these “messengers of God” as being chiefly important. Some are extreme in putting pastors on a pedestal. I have watched families split because of loyalty to “men of the cloth.”
In all fairness, there are a lot of preachers and pastors whom I believe are true followers of God. I truly believe that a lot pursue a lifestyle that should be admired. Some are my friends and some I admire from a distance. This blog focuses on a trend that troubles me.
The preferential treatment of these men has its roots even in the Bible. Look at 1 Corinthians 1:11-13. Paul had to resolve a rift because some folks at the 1st Church of Corinth preferred certain leaders to others. The battle was heated because some actually put Paul, Apollos and Peter parallel to Christ. These were Christians battling over who’s teaching should be followed.
Let’s look at these new celebrities in what I describe as the Entertainment Ministry. Obviously there is a Biblical function for pastors, but what is that function? A lot of weight is put on a position that interestingly, is only mentioned once in the New Testament (Ephesians 4:11). The word pastor comes from the Greek word Poimen, which simply means shepherd. As this new thing called the church was growing during Paul’s time, he wrote in his letter to the Ephesians that God divinely appointed shepherds to lead His people in His direction. To put it in proper context, the pastor is the shepherd/teacher. I understand that shepherds are important, but if we look at their modern incarnation, they are different from what Paul described in some church members eyes.
Pastors have be elevated to more than what they once were. Not to many pastors are just pastors anymore. Now pastors have grown to be every office in Ephesians 4:11. Many modern day pastors now consider themselves evangelists because of their broad exposure via TV. They also consider preaching at other churches across their city or country a form of evangelism. Pastors are referenced by some as prophets because they are considered the voices of God. Now many Pastors strive to become overseers like in 1 Timothy 3:1-2. The popular position for pastors is to become a bishop. A bishop is one who shepherds churches. It’s not good enough for some pastors to shepherd one church, a pastor must now shepherd a number of churches. This means that one guy now is taking on 5 functions. If you couple this with pastors also acting as CEO’s, executive producers, songwriters, writers and more, it’s difficult not to esteem these men as a little more than mortal.
Have you heard the phrase that the jack-of-all-trades is the master of none? How did it get this way? Why are so many pastors multi tasking? In most fields, the more functions or titles one holds, the more streams of income they can accrue. Why just hold the office of pastor when you can have an income from writing? Why just hold the office of pastor when you can get a second income from speaking around the city or country at other churches? Why just hold the office of pastor when you can plant churches that give 10% of their church income to your church? The answer is simple: money. In all forms of entertainment, the goal is to expand to make as many streams of income as possible. If Sony relied solely on record sales to make money, they would have tanked a long time ago. Diversification is the key.
This pastoral diversification has created a great profile for the modern day pastor that has resulted in his celebrity. But this diversification is not where the “PaSTAR” was born. It goes back much further. In society especially black society, many people were unable to find a place of importance that would bring them power and attention. The only place to garner this power and attention could be found in the church. The one person who holds the power in this parallel society is the pastor. As time moved on, pastors wielded this power for political purposes. In Dr. King’s time, this was beneficial. After the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s ended, this power became merely a platform.