I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I had never considered it before until I was interviewing fallen pastors for my book. I wrote about it, but I hadn’t considered it until now.
Here’s a passage from my book: “For many pastors, the place behind the pulpit is powerful. Before their ministry began, they were not seen as strong or outspoken men. But after being called to preach and receiving a seminary education, they become empowered. Each week, they proclaim the words of God and receive praises and affirmation from the congregation. Without proper reflection dosed with humility, the pastor will find himself in a trap of pride and idolatry.” (p. 134)
If most pastors are nerds, or come from a “nerdy” background, it might have a significant impact on their fragility when they enter the ministry. It’s a lot to process, so hold on for a minute.
The interviewee was Kris (name changed in the book for anonymity sake) and we were talking about his issues with pride. His story is a great read for any pastor who is dealing with pride issues or any fallen pastor who was elevated to a level of greatness in a large church. He knew he had a problem with it, but he kept feeding into it.
As we talked, the interview went somewhere I didn’t expect it to go. He basically said, “In high school, I was a nobody. I was a nerd. But here came the call to ministry. I studied, preached and suddenly I was an expert on the Bible and people were listening to me. The nerd in me was no more. I was powerful because I was in a leadership position. I had never been there before.”
I understood what he was saying. I wasn’t an introvert in high school or college, but I wasn’t the most popular person in school. I was in advanced classes and studied hard. I took college seriously and felt pressure to make good grades. I was a good kid and rarely did anything wrong. Yeah, I had a little nerd in me.
The call to ministry came. I went to seminary and absorbed all kinds of information. Lots of it. In fact, it was overwhelming. Truth be known, it made me a little cocky about what I knew about God. I went from a nerd about a few things to a serious nerd about the Bible.
Think about it. Pastors are people you ask when you really want to know something about the truth of God. They are the repository of knowledge about all things God. Right?
Imagine all the impact these things have on a guy who was a little nerdy growing up and may have been introverted or a little subdued.
First, he now has a large amount of knowledge that a group of people care about. He has Bible knowledge. That is stuff that a congregation cares about. Don’t believe me? Go ask a medium or large sized church what one of their main qualifications for a pastor is - it’s a seminary degree. They want a man with knowledge. And hey, a nerd fits right in. He’s in a position where for years, his nerdiness has been made fun of, laughed at or ridiculed. But suddenly, he’s praised for it.
Secondly, he gets a platform to speak from. For a long time, no one really listened to his thoughts or ideas about his dreams, hopes or visions. Now? He has a Master of Divinity from a respected seminary. He has a captive audience each week. Not only that, but he has been given the keys to the ship. He’s the spiritual leader of a church. No one has ever respected him that much. Honestly. Before, he was seen as someone to get answers from on test day. He was the guy that people wanted to copy his homework. Now? He’s in charge.
There’s a lot of respect that goes along with being a pastor. Bro., Rev., Pastor – all of those names carry respect. Respect that the man may have not gotten before. Every Sunday he gets accolades from people when he preaches and does great things in the church. And it’s an awesome, unexpected thing. It has never been felt before. And it a gateway to pride – if the pastor does not expect it.
Third, this is a thing I have witnessed. When I was in seminary, I struggled a little bit. And I consider myself a smart guy. But there were people there who were a thousand times smarter than me. I was the guy who did the best he could, but was still listening to the NCAA Tournament on headphones during church history class. I made great grades and soaked a lot of it in. But many of the guys around me were just super smart. They went above and beyond what I was doing.
I remember one time right before my church history final (I had a B at the time), I was still having trouble wrapping my head around all the information. I hate history. My brain does not process history. It never has. I was walking through the commons at seminary and I saw a group of students who were always sitting together having theological conversations. They were nerds. I knew most of them from class. I said, “Hey, eggheads, can one of you give me a quick rundown on the Anabaptists?”
They did. It was disrespectful of me to call them that. And they knew it. And I was expecting a one minute answer and I got a ten minute convoluted answer. And I think they did it on purpose. But guess what? I was an egghead too.
I remember when I pastored, people often said, “You have to remember we’re not as smart as you. You need to find a way to relate to us better.” That was their nice way of saying, “Dumb it down, fool.”
Jesus did that. I mean, get this – Jesus learned with the best of them in His day. He was one of the most learned men around. Yet He spoke in parables, agricultural terms, and in ways his audience would understand. When I was a pastor, I would sneak in a big word just to show how smart I was. That’s pride.
And that’s my point. Every pastor has to shake off the pride. We aren’t there to show off what we know. Yeah, we do know more than most church-goers. We’ve been trained in the Bible. We are a little nerdy. We have more book knowledge than people in the pew. But what does that really get us?
So what if we can explain off the cuff what a parable means? So what if we can tell a church member the differences between the minor and major prophets? So what if we can use big words in our sermons and show our awesome education?
If there’s not love and compassion behind our words, we’re nothing but a bunch of crass nerds. Worse, if we continue in that behavior, it turns to pride. We think we are better than the people we serve. And we are not. We are less.
And those of you who know the Scriptures are already thinking about Christ washing the disciple’s feet. No seminary degree, no amount of years behind a pulpit, no amount of Bible knowledge will make you better than anyone else. Trust me. I know.
The second we fool ourselves into thinking that we are better than any single one of our church members, we have fallen into a trap that can quickly lead us into a serious fall.
Hey, it’s okay to still be a nerd. Just be a humble nerd for Christ. Serve those who need to be served. Love those who need to be loved. Show compassion to those who no one else is showing compassion to. Don’t treat God as a thing to be studied, but as one to be worshipped and in awe of. If you do, the people will follow.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Fallen World.” It is available in Kindle form as well as paperback.