I thought that would do it. It didn't.
He kept up the entitlement idea until I finally said, "Well, sometimes I guess we have to ask ourselves where would Jesus park."
We had a bit of a stare-down, then he left.
I have transferred into church areas to replace pastors who cultivated the idea that they were indeed a rare breed of men and seemingly accountable only to God.
That certainly makes for a nice setup. When their specialness spills over into the real lives of the sheep, the minister always wins and the sheep always lose.
But a clergyman is not a special kind of human being. "Minister" is a job description. Ministers who think they are called to be special can get uncalled or recalled just as easily for failing to get over this basic fallacy.
"He who is greatest among you" (shoot, I even hate how Paul said that!), "let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:27).
It almost sounds like "He who is really special, let him act like he is not really special, but we know he really is."
No. Get over being special and join the human race. You weren't chosen before your birth or from the womb, as Paul said he was along with Jeremiah and Jesus. Your mom was not a virgin, and, while you would be missed, you will not be taken up to heaven by a fiery chariot when you die.
- Don't expect and certainly don't ask for "ministerial courtesies."
These are along the lines of free carpentry work on your home or office; free labor to put the roof on your house; free car repairs; and free food grown by the members, organically, of course, because that's how you like it.
Also free dental care and doctor visits; free memberships at clubs; free products from members' businesses.
- Do not charge anyone at any time, under any circumstances, to do a funeral. It's tacky and makes you look stupid, selfish and about as compassionate as a Delta Force in Iraq. If you are paid by the church, the funeral is free--as is the wedding, by the way.
These are things you are paid to do. No one wants to suffer through a funeral and then have to find you aheming with your hand out for payment.
If you are a lay pastor, not on any church's payroll in your ministry, it's still free. You don't need the money that badly and it makes you look opportunistic and not pastoral.
It would also be to your advantage not to turn down doing the funerals of the backslidden and those who don't attend as often as you might think they should to hear your amazing sermons.
People have real lives. They get discouraged and sidetracked.
And, please, don't agree to do the funeral if you plan to preach them into hell. Unless you receive a telegram from God Himself about the fate of that soul, shut up.
(If you do receive a literal telegram from God, you're Ron Weinland, and you will have to be the subject of another column.)
And weddings: Just do the ones you are invited to do and don't worry about whether they kissed too often or may have fooled around or are right for each other or are marrying for the wrong reasons or meet your approval. Those matters are none of your business, and you stand a good chance of being wrong anyway.
I got into the habit, after first moving into a new area, of visiting all the people the previous minister had kicked out, embarrassed, corrected badly and, literally or de facto, disfellowshipped.
I had the maddening habit of inviting most back to church to give them another chance and be encouraged.
I always thought the encouragement given by the encourager should actually be encouraging to the discouraged.
This practice drove some people nuts, especially the deacons and elders who liked the other guy's style and loved being in the know with the minister.
But, of all things, the stinkers blossomed in most cases. A little attention goes a long way. Just do your job.
Mr. and Mrs. Right
- You don't have to decide if a couple are right for each other. That is up to them, not you. You don't have to refuse a wedding just because you don't approve of the couple, how they dated, how long they have dated or whether they have taken your spiffy six-week course in how to have a happy marriage, like that is really going to make it so.
I have news for you. In time you will see that your 12 steps to this or that happy, God-ordained or foolproof way of being is probably not how it works.
Life has too many twists and turns, and you can't know and shouldn't even try to think you can.
I have done weddings where the bride and groom were just perfect, whatever that means. Looks, money, jobs and family support were abundant and overflowing. What a show that wedding was. But of course it didn't work out. I have done weddings for the premarital-sex types who did just fine. Go figure.
At any rate, just do the wedding you are asked to do and leave your judgment, its rightness or wrongness, at home. The universe is not waiting for your deep insights into the unknowable factors in any relationship.
We make kids promise never to change from this day forth even unto death and then fail to inform them that everything around them, by the way, will change even unto death. A bit unrealistic, I'd say.
Winning the lottery
- Don't think that everything you come up with should be seen as emanating from God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the apostles or prophets. It just might be that you're looking for a way to justify your own thinking, ego and agenda.
Get over the idea that the Bible is speaking about you in Ezekiel or Revelation. It is not.
You have a better chance at winning the lottery than being right about your being one of the Two Witnesses, the End-Time Elijah, The Watcher Over All Mankind or God's Apostle.
I have met well over a dozen of the Two Witnesses of Revelation. One man believed he was both of them, thus cutting down on his need to be accountable to anyone else.
I have met a few Elijah and Elisha wannabes. Where I come from, the Elijah to Come has already come and gone, and those who cannot give up this special biblical sense of themselves as reported in Scripture are making a career and a killing off this foolishness.
The people who sit in their audiences and take this stuff on the chin really puzzle me.
- Don't make your standards the equivalent of God's as you understand Him. The foods you like are not the foods God likes. Jesus doesn't drive your brand of car, and Paul would not envy your taste in clothes. The angels do not think your color scheme is fabulous.
This may come as a shock to you, but as you grow and mature you'll see how much it does not matter what you personally think about other people's likes and dislikes.
People will see you coming, quickly change the channel, lower the skirt, change clothes, put away the cigs and smile sweetly just for you.
They also will be duplicitous and phony because you're inspiring them to be so.
Meet people where they are, not where you think they need to be according to your tastes and preferences.
Taking a bath
- Keep your sermons on point. Jesus probably won't return before you have another go at it next week.
A pastor in my past consistently delivered two-hour sermons every week. That was because he couldn't get past point No. 1.
This man was hilarious because he started every sermon by declaring there had never been a sermon "quite like this one today."
Be merciful to the kids and elderly who simply can't sit for hours on end (so to speak) because you're disorganized or think you have so much to say at once.
Also, it's best not to say stupid things if you can help it.
Some preachers specialize in this, I realize. Others show their ignorance by saying things that only a comatose audience would let go by without question.
Like the radio minister who said Bathsheba was called Bathsheba because King David lusted after her while she was taking a bath. Argh!
Pardon our French
- Don't even begin to allude to your sexual perspectives as being just like God's. Some kid in the audience will come up to you after church and ask why God has no wife and His grown Son lives with Him, even though He's married to the church.
Don't decree privately, and certainly not publicly, about frequency, positions and locations. It's none of the church's business, certainly not yours.
There is precious little in the Bible about these matters, and what is there was written by men who thought women should keep their place and have babies painfully.
I went to a meeting where my church, based in Pasadena, Calif., had a ministerial seminar on sexual practices for Christians or some such nonsense.
It turned out to be a short event when the moderator announced he found the topic distasteful and the French pastor yelled, waving his hands: "Stop! Don't make any decrees on that! You'll lose the entire French church!"
We all fell down laughing and changed the subject. Whew, close one.
These matters are none of your business, even if Paul expresses his opinion that the only reason to get married is to avoid fornication.
- Don't overburden the church with your pet fund-raisers, seminars and studies. People are busy, and when they are not busy they are tired and need to be left alone.
Ministers often invent work for the congregation and to create a job for themselves during the week.
Part of a church's goal is to control every category of person in the congregation, from the babies to the dying, but it gets old for those who have several ages of people represented in their family.
- Visit the loneliest, the most sinful, the sickest and the most in need of encouragement first.
Forget about lunch with the successful, the rich, the nice, the stable and the easy to talk with. They will BS you anyway, and they don't want to be encouraged. They want to get back to work and make bucks.
I work at a hospital weekends and often watch the parade of pastors coming to visit the sick. They don't know my background.
Most visits are perfunctory and obligatory, judging by the time they don't spend with the sick.
Some can walk in, go up nine floors, make a visit and be out the door in five minutes. The vast majority don't stay 15 minutes.
I know that some of the patients don't want a visit from a minister. Don't visit people who don't want a visit or who don't belong to your church just to please their relatives who do.
Wisdom and suffering
After you have had an entire day of encouraging the average, the lonely, the sick, the marginalized and the discouraged, you can then go have fun with your big-time tithers.
- Keep learning. Trust me: They did not teach you every bit of historical, psychological or theological truth in Bible college or seminary when you were a lad, and they still don't.
The knowledge you acquired about spirituality, the Bible, its origins, meaning and history was incomplete and tended to simply justify whatever your denomination wanted you to know.
No one has a corner on truth. You may think you understand two or three Gods in one or the real history of the Old Testament or the real origins of the biblical canon, but I daresay you don't.
You might be able to repeat your unstudied mantras about Bible inerrancy, but most theologically savvy teens with Internet access can tie you in a knot on that topic.
You might think Christmas and Easter are Christian or the story of Jesus is unique and the birth and death stories of Jesus uncontradictory, but you need to think again.
You aren't doing your job if you don't have a few topics you know you can't bring to your church because you'd lose your job and they can't handle what it is you understand.
You were taught what those you gave your brain to wanted you to be taught. Much was left out.
All the truth there is about the Bible is not all the truth you personally know at this point in your life.
Know when to quit
If you find yourself mindlessly quoting "The wisdom of man is foolishness with God," "My thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Eternal" or "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" as excuses not to grow in your knowledge of your professed field, then quit--because you are a professional purveyor of ignorance perpetuated, and you'll know inside that you are.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot: "With much wisdom is much suffering." Well, it's not nearly as much suffering as inflicted by ignorance.
That's about it for now, guys. I used to be one of you and outgrew it. I have to warn you that learning things is a killer for pastors.
If you will pastor or minister to people, do it from your heart and use common sense even if your church tradition seems to discourage it.