Four Questions to Ask Every Pastor/Elder/Spiritual Leader

In any organization, the beliefs and actions of its leaders influence the mission immeasurably. Our world is evolving spiritually in a powerful and positive way. In order to embrace the fullness of this journey, here are some questions we should ALL ask the leaders of our faith communities.


1) Do you think our truth/tradition is the only pathway to God? How can religious faith ever present itself as exclusive? There is no greater red flag! It speaks of a narrow, anthropomorphic vision of God. More arrogantly, it assumes that we human beings – with our finite minds – can understand and categorize the full purposes of our Creator. It’s like pinning the butterfly of faith beneath glass. Make sure your faith community is not only open to the truths of other people, but is willing to embrace their images and stories through authentic dialogue. Remember this quote from Karen Armstrong: We can either emphasize those aspects of our traditions, religious or secular, that speak of hatred, exclusion, and suspicion or work with those that stress the interdependence and equality of all human beings. The choice is ours.

2) Is leadership at the highest levels open to ALL people? So many churches describe themselves as “welcoming” on their website or brochures, but here’s the painful truth. Some of us can only enter part way before we hit a wall that excludes the full exploration and offering of our gifts. Women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, addicts, divorcees, those with physical and mental limitations – many of us can tell heart-rending stories of exclusion. This must not be!

3) Is the selection of leaders a democratic or autocratic process? There’s a fancy word – polity – used to describe how decisions are made within a community of faith. Make sure this process isn’t limited to a handful of oligarchs. Make sure your community of faith elects its leaders democratically with a full voice for every member. I once pastored a congregation in a large metropolitan setting. A nearby Megachurch was growing exponentially, applauded for its vibrant worship, youth outreach, even its community involvement. Yet I asked people to look behind the curtains. Who called the shots? They found a close-knit cadre of men – all of them white – appointed by pastors and making every decision. No!

4) What portion of our budget is spent on healing the world beyond our walls? Many a church highlights its expensive building program, the addition of new staff, or investment in cutting-edge technology. Meanwhile, in their community, the poorest of the poor struggle to make ends meet. Nearby prisons are filled, immigrants languish, and the homeless lack adequate services. In the Christian tradition, we frequently pray The Lord’s Prayer, reciting these words by rote: Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. Make sure your church is helping bring God’s justice and mercy to the streets. Make sure it is pouring itself out to the world at large. Make sure it goes far beyond tithing in its mission giving.

Socrates famously said: the unexamined life isn’t worth living. It’s the same with an unexamined church life. Question everything!

3 thoughts on “Four Questions to Ask Every Pastor/Elder/Spiritual Leader

  1. If you’re speaking of a Christian pastor, he really has no choice but to say that Jesus is the fullness of God’s revelation to us. This is the heart of Christian Tradition. I would qualify that, by noting that western tradition, especially that of the Reformation, drove a wedge between God and creation. St. John speaks of Jesus as the incarnation of the Logos of God, and I think it only reasonable that we understand that the way someone raised in Hellenistic culture would, even a Jew. There were many Hellenized Jews at the time, including a Jewish Philosopher from Alexandria, Philo. He also talked of the Logos of the Supreme Being, in rather personal terms, as the mind of the Supreme Being in action, imbuing, informing and sustaining the universe in all its complexity and splendor. There is no question St. John’s Gospel is addressing Hellenists, and we should understand that the way they did. When Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “no one comes to the Father except through me” it has to be understood both an inclusive and exclusive sense. To understand the Logos as indwelliing and informing us from the molecular to the whole of us, body, mind and soul. We believe that all people of good will are trying to behave in a way that is consistent with knowledge of God. But Jesus is also being represented as being the Logos, and thus all cultural relativism is sliced away. So we honor all honest striving after what is good. Of course salvation is not exclusive to those who follow Jesus, nor is calling oneself Christian a guarantee of it. Thus we proclaim, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace to people of good will.

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