I know that lots of Christians get themselves in a twist over the BBC’s satirical sitcom, ‘Rev’, but I for one have enjoyed all the series thus far and certainly hope that the Beeb will consider doing more. Although the key character is an Anglican vicar in quite a different church setting to many of the people I know, there have been several points during the series when I’ve more than identified with the thoughts, emotions, feelings and prayers of the Rev Adam Smallbone.
The concluding parts of this last series are particularly poignant and bring to the forefront a topic that still has a lot of stigma around it – that of pastors/ministers/priests getting to the point where they can’t hack it any longer. And, having got to that point and the persons intentions to resign becoming public, there is then the shame and disappointment inflicted on the individual by congregations who more often than not fail to understand the dynamics at play and make it feel worse. After several years of pastoring the struggling inner city church, it all come crashing down, alongside his own personal distress. And then, at the end, that small sign of hope as he sings the Easter prayer with his motley band of disciples.
The tendency is to start pointing fingers at individuals, either the leaders themselves, those who lead them or the congregations they lead, but in this whole area I’m continually reminded of the need to own no man/woman as enemy. As well as external pressures the world brings, there is also the church systems that have been inherited which, over the years, I’ve spoken at length about on this blog.
Having ‘stepped out’ of church leadership around 2010 and then being thrust back in, I’ve been glad to become reacquainted with the good things of church leadership and have been glad to mend and heal from many a pain, although the scars remain. But I still fundamentally hold the view that we will continue to see ‘pastor fallout’ so long as the current church structures remain. Communities need structure, of course. But more than that, they need realistic structures.
The unrealistic expectation upon individuals to be the ‘resident holy man’ who can do no wrong, think no wrong, speak no wrong is also entirely flawed. Church is community, not a corporation. Leadership is plural, not singular. The tools for leadership are prayer, conversation, scripture and devotion to Christ….and more prayer, conversation, scripture and devotion to Christ. He is the Head of the Church, not us.
I admired the bravery of the fictional Adam Smallbone, standing before his Bishop, saying ‘let me go.’ I admire, greater, the bravery at the end when he says ‘Lord, I appear to be wearing a cassock again’ as he leads his closed congregation in Easter prayer in his boarded up building. There is a cost to count in leadership, but there can also be an unkindness in ‘the system’ that most people wouldn’t believe.
‘Rev’ doesn’t do the church any harm at all…what does the church harm is the church forgetting its identity, calling and allegiance to and in Christ, who has a hope and plan for his church as a Community of the Resurrection. Lord, help us see your Kingdom come.