30 Signs You Might Be a Mainline Pastor


30 Signs You Might Be a Mainline Pastor

(1) Over half of your sermons contain quotes by Barbara Brown Taylor or Nadia Bolz-Weber.

(2) You admire Shane Claiborne for his radical commitment to Jesus, and you are truly inspired by him. (You also feel guilty conflicted when you read his books: “If I didn’t have a mortgage, I’d totally join the Simple Way!”)

(3) When you’re out and about evangelizing, you don’t say “Can I tell you about the good news according to the Gospels?” nearly as much as you say, “Can I tell you about the good news according to Marcus Borg?”

(4) You abhor the movies “God’s Not Dead” and “Fireproof,” and while you support freedom of speech you aren’t entirely sure it should apply to Kirk Cameron. You also wonder why, when it comes to popular public debates about religion, your sympathies frequently lie more with the skeptic than with the strong believer.

(5) If the organizers of the Wild Goose Festival switched locations from North Carolina to, say, Colorado or Oregon, you would be in favor of that because of, well, reasons.*

(6) The vast majority of your congregants are at least 20 years older than you, and you’re not even young enough to qualify as a millennial.

(7) Instead of usually wondering, “Could it be Satan?” (like the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live), you usually wonder, “Could it be social injustice?”

(8) Even though Rob Bell is still just a wee-bit too evangelical for your tastes, you really like him a lot, and you especially wish his Oprah Winfrey Network show would’ve made it, mostly because you are out of Nooma videos and need some new material to show to the two kids (probably your own) who might show up for youth group. Also you think Rob’s old pal Peter Rollins is a far more interesting theologian, but you can’t show the youth group Pete’s videos because they’re too damn depressing.

(9) When somebody uses the word intinction, you know what they mean.

(10) You believe the Eucharist, and not the sermon, is the focal point of the worship service.

(11) The “new” wing of the church was built in 1955.

(12) Since you bought all of the Feasting on the Word commentaries, you no longer have to read your Bible nearly as often as you used to.*

(13) Your inbox is full of daily alerts from the New York Times, Human Rights Commission, Sojourners and the Huffington Post. Also, Barack Obama still wants you to give money to him.

(14) You desperately want to tell people that everything is going to be okay, and you think it’s your job to tell them that, but, you know, sometimes you wonder.

(15) You don’t know how in the world Rich Mullins could’ve penned the horrendously awful song “Awesome God,” because most of his other music is actually pretty great, and it’s just about the only “Christian” pop music you can stand. You also are sad that Bono is no longer very cool.

(16) You prefer telling people that you went to “grad school” instead of seminary. Also, you know how to spell Walter Brueggemann.

(17) You’d rather quote Friedrich Nietzsche than Billy Graham.

(18) You’re free to talk about a bunch of theological perspectives in your sermon, but by God don’t you dare mess with the Sunday schedule.

(19) You can’t quite figure out how the church can sing Mary’s Magnificat every year and still not understand its (radical) implications.

(20) Sometimes you wonder if there should be a question mark at the end of Dr. King’s famous line about the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.

(21) Other times you wonder if anybody is going to update the church website. Then you remember that’s your job too.

(22) You’d rather listen to the roundtable on Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show than to 99.9999999 percent of the sermons on the Internet. You’re also really going to miss Jon Stewart. But, hey, at least now you’ve got more time freed up to watch Colbert!

(23) When someone you just met asks you what you do for a living, you first respond with a bunch of disclaimers so that when you get to the point where you actually have to say “I’m a pastor,” they won’t think you view the world the same way as, say, Sarah Palin or Pat Robertson. (Pro tip: It’s not a lie to say, “I’m in non-profit work.”)

(24) You cringe when a congregant says your sermon reminded them of something John Hagee just said the other day. You also get tired of reminding people that his idea of the rapture is a modern day convention. And that it’s the book of Revelation, not Revelations!

(25) Every time somebody pulls out a chart or graph at the denominational assembly, all the numbers are trending downward. Including minister’s salaries related to inflation. And minister’s salaries not related to inflation.

(26) You wonder how many times you have to explain that the word tithe (as it’s used by the church) isn’t synonymous with the word offering, and that it actually means giving 10% of your income to the church. At the same time, you understand that family budgets are tight, student debt is real, and living wage jobs are hard for your people to come by. Sometimes you have to remind your board of this.

(27) Given your appreciation of multiculturalism and pluralism, coupled with your sheer distaste of triumphant religious hegemony, you find it moderately problematic that your favorite magazine is called The Christian Century. You also look for any excuse to say hegemony.

(28) Your denomination has been engaged in church-wide “revitalization and renewal” efforts for as long as you’ve been in ministry and you wonder if there will be full-time church work available for you ten years from now.

(29) You are oh-so-tired of people talking about what formula or style or program can get the Millennials back into the church! Enough already!

(30) You’re pretty excited about the prospect of being able to legally officiate weddings for same-sex couples.

Feel free to add your own in the comments!

*Disclaimer: I was just being playful with a number of these, especially 5 and 12, so don’t report me to the church authorities too quickly, because some of these are simply jokes. 

Updated disclaimer (12:12am July 10): Because there’s been some confusion, let me clarify: #5 is not a jab at NC; rather, it refers to laws recently passed in CO & OR, which, for the record, wouldn’t even affect any mainline pastors I know, including me. It is a contextually rooted joke that works by playing on the notion that Wild Goose is just like a Christian Woodstock (which is another running joke in mainline circles), but it has nothing to do with putting down NC as a state. As far as #12 is concerned, it’s a playful way of saying mainline pastors really like Feasting on the Word commentaries, and they frequently reach for them as quickly as they reach for the Bible, mostly because they’re lectionary-based preachers and Feasting on the Word is an excellent resource for lectionary-based preaching. But lest one get the wrong impression, rest assured that every mainline pastor I have ever known reads the Bible frequently and carefully. This is a light-hearted, playful reference! 

So to be clear: some of these items are serious, some are jokes, and some are a combination of both.

34 thoughts on “30 Signs You Might Be a Mainline Pastor

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