Posts Tagged ‘professional ministry’

MICAH 3:5-12

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
    who put nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without revelation.
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin.

Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
    and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
    and pervert all equity,
10 who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with wrong!
11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
    its priests teach for a price,
    its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
    “Surely the Lord is with us!
    No harm shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

There is a strong (perhaps irresistible) tendency in organized religion to arrange itself around professional services, where administrators (“rulers”), officiants (“priests” and pastors), and ethical agitators (“prophets”) are paid for what they do. So strong is this tendency, in fact, that it’s difficult for us to imagine what a non-professional religion would look like, or if it could even work in our present culture. Just about every role in society has become specialized and valuated to the point where a person can earn a living at it, from presidents to professional parents.

Religion’s primary role is to bridge the inner and outer realms of human experience, to connect our spirituality (inner) to the rest of life (outer). Inevitably religion will get involved in morality and politics, art and science, education and business, working to help coordinate these various arenas and disciplines in a way that honors a deeper sense of the grounding mystery within us.

From one perspective religion begins to fail when its primary role gets overwhelmed by a felt need to occupy and defend cultural market share as an institution. Its tradition rapidly loses currency amid social change, modern innovation, and normal generational turnover. As its worldview slips out of relevance, more emotional investment and less rational scrutiny – in the mental phenomenon called belief – are required to keep things going.  Eventually other people (experts: rulers, priests, and prophets) are employed to manage religion for us and we become religious consumers.

Back in Micah’s day (8th century BCE) religion was already becoming a pay-for-service business. Such an arrangement is a setup for abuse, as religious professionals shift the burden of their livelihoods onto the shoulders of parishioners, and the parishioners, as consumers, start to use their pocketbooks to solicit only what they want to hear. This can give the impression of a religion that’s vibrant and growing, when in reality it may be little more than a personality cult whose roots have lost anchor in the grounding mystery.

Bankruptcy and ruin are its destiny.