30 November 2010
Superpastor Must Die
Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell
“Sitting in a chair in a storage room behind the sound booth, I could hear the room filling up with people, and all I wanted to do was leave.” - Rob Bell
I’ve just finished reading Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell. Having watched nearly all of Bell’s NOOMA video series - which I highly recommend - I have to say that much of the book did not seem new.
However, what I did find new and very compelling was Movement Four: Tassles (pp. 96ff) where Bell writes about “superpastor.”
Bell tells the remarkable story of how his church, Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, drew 1,000 people on its very first Sunday and then exploded to 4,000 people in the first six months. Two years later, they had 10,000 people to three Sunday gatherings. He writes, “in the middle of this growth and chaos was me, superpastor.” Here’s how he describes it:
“Superpastor is always available to everyone and accomplishes great things but always has time to stop and talk and never misses anyone’s birthday and if you are sick he’s at the hospital and you can call him at home whenever you need advice and he loves meetings and spends hours studying and praying and yet you can interrupt him if you need something - did I mention he always puts family first?”
Now, 99% percent of pastors never experience church growth this scale, and yet, we have all struggled with the superpastor. Ministry, while not glamorous, is deeply seductive in feeding our need to be everything to everyone, to be wanted, needed, celebrated, and to focus on other people’s issues while ignoring our own. Superpastor is essentially a false self.
Bell’s advice: Superpastor Must Die.
I couldn’t agree more. At my ordination, a good friend of mine preached and said that, like St. Peter, we in ministry must own and embrace our own brokenness. Basically, St. Peter was the first superpastor - insisting he would never deny Jesus. We know how that worked out. When you are 29 you intellectually understand that (I’d read plenty of Henri Nouwen by that point) but the superpastor is strong.
A few years later, my superpastor was killed off for me. I remember the moment - crying in the arms of my young daughter—just sobbing, not able to stop.
As a good friend recently said to me, “Yes, I think that was the gift of that time for you.” And it was. The illusion of superpastor was forever shattered.
But superpastor is persistent. When we lose sight of our limitations, perhaps after a string of successes, when we start taking ourselves too seriously, or forget that God is in charge of this thing, the superpastor sneaks back in and tries to highjack us. The superpastor must be put down over and over again.
I’m grateful to Rob Bell for sharing his story and for the much needed reminder.
photo credit: Daniel Oines