Something has happened in the church—in fact, it has been around for quite some time now. What was it? The church began to abandon preaching through the liturgical calendar. Soon after, the practice of taking a book of the Bible and systematically preaching through it began to dwindle. Quickly, the art of providing parishioners with self-help sermons began to be all the rage. Before long, the office of pastor, which was ordained by God to preach the Gospel to all nations, making disciples, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, was reduced to the vocation of…”Life Coach.”
I recently experienced this first-hand when, at the request of my wife, I visited a typical purpose driven church. The new sermon series was a play on Instagram concerning the family. The premise being that people tend to portray their families as picture perfect on social media. Yet, in reality, we are dysfunctional, blemished people trying to do life with each other. The perspective that we are not all perfect, and we should stop living under the pressure that everyone else is, was a bit of a breath of fresh air.
The pastor read from Genesis 26 and 27 recounting the story of Esau and Jacob. This set up perfectly the tales of the dysfunctional family. Isaac and Rebekah choose between the two who is their favorite child, there are lies and deception in Rebekah getting Jacob to steal Esau’s blessing. It has all the drama to give a word picture of our modern, dysfunctional families—so relevant it hurts.
The pastor then switched to a “Christian” book on parenting, written by a doctor (of what, I don’t know). We then got a list of six types of dysfunctional parents. Boy did those six types hit me right in the head. I think I am guilty of five of them, for sure. In the end, we got a tiny bit of Gospel—show the same mercy and grace to ourselves and family members as Christ gave to us. The sermon concluded with steps to stop being so dysfunctional. You have probably heard them. In brief, stop trying to control everything and give control over to God, fix your own spiritual life before you can expect others to change, and so forth. Basically, more law. You failed at those first six parenting rules, so here are four more.
The obvious conclusion to this is, and brace yourself, simply “giving it over to God” doesn’t necessarily fix all our worldly issues. But what if you have people with mental disorders in your family? What if there are physical illnesses that are chronic? Simply giving me more law is not the de facto answer. In my mind, this raises a major question: Why am I getting my parenting advice from a pastor on Sunday morning at a church?! Wasn’t I supposed to come to church to hear the Gospel? Wasn’t I supposed to hear the Word of God read and taught in context? Wasn’t I supposed to hear of the forgiveness of sin and receive his grace?
I honestly don’t know when the office of pastor became the vocation of Life Coach. My first inclination is to blame the purpose driven pastors that started this movement as well as the itchy-eared goats that are demanding life skills week after week. This is really doing a disservice to both pastor and parishioner. It isn’t even fair to put this task (burden) on the pastor. Did your pastor pass the Series 7 exam? No? Then why would you want financial advice from him? Did your pastor get their masters in Clinical Psychology and then get certified by the State Board—can your pastor properly diagnose mental disorders from the DSM manual? No? Then why would you expect therapeutic advice from him? Your pastor (should) have gone to seminary. He is supposed to handle God’s word, admonish, preach Christ crucified, and the forgiveness of sins. All of that good 2 Timothy, Chapter 4 stuff. But this Life Coach job, it isn’t what a pastor is called to do, nor is it what they have been trained to do.
When a pastor takes on the roll of Life Coach, he will ultimately twist the Scriptures to provide false promises and false hope to the hearers. The problem with false promises is that they don’t always come true. When they don’t, you have hurting people, who put their trust in a false bill of goods which was advertised to be God, not trusting in it anymore—which means they don’t trust God anymore. The Life Coach Pastor has the risk of doing so much damage to the body of Christ. Parishioners, if you need financial advice, head over to Merrill Lynch. If your family members need therapy, go to a Licensed Practicing Clinician. And please, Pastor, do all of us a favor, stop doing what you are neither called to do nor trained to do. You have one important job: Preach the Gospel.