Brother Martin or Pastor Superstar?

Rev. John Marshall Crowe, D.Min.

According to a consultant for Lutheran churches in North Carolina, they are seeing conflict increasing in churches and with that greater pressure on pastors. With that is the increase in the desire that congregations have to survive and progress. They see the "right pastor" as the key element in this. Does this sound like many non Lutheran churches? Sad to say it does. In our day of technological perfection, modern churches and denominations look for clergy who have it all together (as if they ever existed).

When we ask for a definition of the “right pastor”, we often hear a cartoon version of Super Man. Thus the desire for Pastor Superstar leads many denominational leaders and local church leaders to expect “Pastor Clark Kent” to become their hero. However, Superman was Clark Kent who had his weaknesses. The man was vulnerable to kryptonite.

The stated or unstated desire for Pastor Superstar helps create anxiety driven clergy who are driven by the demands of others. Occasionally, but very rarely, you might hear slip in an unguarded moment. Once, I heard such a Superstar Parson say rather flippantly and sarcastically, “and they think I’m a caring person”?

These co-dependent souls seek to meet their personal needs: attention, love, significance, control, status, and security by trying to fit into the image of a Superstar Pastor. They will over function as much as they needed to create and maintain an image as the omni competent, never tiring, ever present, ever ready to preach or teach without preparation, expert money raiser, resident church growth consultant, whose counseling ability far exceeds that of Dr. Phil as the church’s super pastor. They are often heard talking Super Pastor talk by saying they’d rather burn out than rust out for God.

Most often, the superstar parson appears to demonstrate a superior gift of faith by how they trust God to preserve their health, marriage and family. The spouse and children hardly see “Pastor Superstar” for they usually come home just for a few hours of sleep, even less time for their spouse and basically no time for their children. Sad to say but while “Pastor Superstar” knows many so well, they too often only know about their children by what their spouse tells them right before going to sleep.

However, wherever the spouse and children of Parson Superstar went, read in the newspaper, or saw on TV, they experienced a constant reminder of how much he or she was loved by so many while doing great things for God and helping so many in Christ’s name. While their beloved “Pastor Superstar” appears to be attaining sainthood among those who really don’t know him or her very well, the parson’s family will never forget how this person really is when at home. They know all to well that “Parson Superstar” has clay feet and what their own kryptonite is.

It may seem almost impossible to be the tenth pastor after Rev. Dr. Superstar. However, the stories one might expect are not always what one hears. With confused faces, people will speak of all “Pastor Superstar” did to help their church progress beyond just surviving. However, as they tell you what happened either then or since then to the parson’s marriage, family and sometimes even to their beloved former pastor, they can hardly stop the crying.

Brother Martin, unlike Pastor Superstar is almost post-modern although he lived in much earlier times. This author of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and the leader of the Reformation saw no reason to hide his battle with depression. He felt no burden of shame this problem nor was he hindered by any stigma to keep him from sharing about it with others. He would include his battles with depression in some of his sermons, teachings and writings as a way of offering pastoral care to others as an authentic wounded healer. He also used this problem when instructing other pastors concerning their ministry of pastoral care.

Postmodern local church leaders and others in religious leadership seek and support spiritually authentic clergy like Brother Martin. They don’t expect their clergy to act as if their lives do not include our common human experience of both pain and joy, tragedy and victory.

Examples of Brother Martin type pastors include  Jim Cymballa, Doug Murren, Rick Warren, and the pastor who wrote Escape from Church Inc. plus lesser known people.

Within one congregation of any denomination some people might really want a “Pastor Superstar. Others may strongly desire a Brother Martin. Such church’s experience conflict because their identity is conflicted. One group is looking for a multi-gifted, omni-competent pastor. The other group is looking for authentic spiritual leadership of the church as the multi-gifted body of Christ.

In a traditional denomination, it is possible to find individual churches either hoping for either Brother Martin or Pastor Superstar. They often experience conflict around mismatches between church and pastor. Some of this conflict though has more to do with kind of a midlife identity crisis that older church groups seem to be going through right now. Thus, their conflict issues are more intense.

Post-modern churches are often outside of mainline denominations and sometimes part of an emerging church organization. They very rarely want a Pastor Superstar. They know all too well that all that glittered in the old days of church growth was not gold in God’s eyes. Very often, these churches are those who value the importance of church health the most and for the sake of having healthy ministries for a hurting world. These churches very seldom need to read an article or hear a church consultant tell them that their pastor’s health is quite often a reflection of the congregation’s health. All in all these churches and emerging church organizations tend to experience conflict issues that are more typical of groups with a clear identity.

All of these dynamics create a very challenging and often quite confusion church environment for both clergy and laity. They also help us understand why different kinds of conflict arise here and there.