KTF Press
Shake the Dust
Why So Many Pastors Are Unprepared for the Job, and What We Can Do about It

Why So Many Pastors Are Unprepared for the Job, and What We Can Do about It

Season 3, Episode 9

Remember, send in your questions to shakethedust@ktfpress.com about anything you’ve heard on the show for our season finale!

Today, we’re talking about the trend of pastors who are not prepared for their job, inspired by a recent somewhat viral article by a minister on why he quit his church. Polling says almost half of pastors are thinking about following his lead. We’re breaking down how the idols and theology of colonized faith set many pastors up to fail, and what we can do about it.

Mentioned in the episode:

-        The article that inspired the conversation: https://www.restorativefaith.org/post/departure-why-i-left-the-church

-        The Start Up podcast’s series on church planting – Here’s the first episode: https://gimletmedia.com/shows/startup/llhekv

Shake the Dust is a podcast of KTF Press. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, and Twitter. Subscribe to get our newsletter and bonus episodes at KTFPress.com. Transcripts of every episode are available at KTFPress.com/s/transcripts.


Jonathan Walton – follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Sy Hoekstra – follow him on Mastodon.

Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra – listen to the whole song on Spotify.

Our podcast art is by Robyn Burgess – follow her and see her other work on Instagram.

Production and editing by Sy Hoekstra.

Transcript by Joyce Ambale and Sy Hoekstra.


[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending — F#, B, F#, E, D#, B — with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]

Jonathan Walton: I think it's a radical thing that Jesus does when he says, “Come and follow me.” And someone says, “I just bought this field, and I’ve got to go look at it.” And he's like, “Okay.” He doesn't try to woo them, he doesn't try to win them back. He says, “Okay.” There’s something in us that must be secure enough to let people be.

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]

Jonathan Walton: Welcome to Shake the Dust, leaving colonized faith for the kingdom of God. I'm Jonathan Walton.

Sy Hoekstra: And I'm Sy Hoekstra, thank you so much for joining us. Today, it's just Jonathan and I today. Jonathan, it's been a while. Actually, I looked at this, it's been a year since you and I did an episode just you and I.

Jonathan Walton: That's a long time.

Sy Hoekstra: It's a long time, but I like this format and I hope listeners do too. Because this is how we do the bonus episodes, which are coming back by the way, at the end of the season. Okay, today we're going to be talking about unprepared pastors. Pastors who are unprepared to pastor you.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: And we'll get there in a second, but the reason we're talking about this is because it intersects with a ton of the topics that we talk about with colonized faith. A lot of idols, money and power and security and the repression of emotions in favor of conformity. All these things are kind of wrapped up into this topic that sort of went a little bit Christian viral recently because of an article from a pastor in Illinois explaining why he was quitting the pastorate, and why so many other pastors are quitting according to, or wanting to quit, according to polling. So we'll get into that in a second. We have a couple of announcements. They're a little bit different than the regular announcements, so listen up [laughs]!

Quick reminder, send in questions to us. We're going to do our season finale mailbag is our next episode in two weeks. So send in your questions about anything you've heard this season or previous seasons. Anything you've read on the newsletter, send your questions in via email, or you can send us a voicemail as an attachment to your email as well, to shakethedust@ktfpress.com. Really, I give you that as like just having one specific way to ask us questions. But any way you have to get in contact with us, social media or even personal email, whatever, doesn't matter. Ask those questions anyways you can, but shakethedust@ktfpress.com.

I am going to be at the Evolving Faith Conference, me and Gabrielle, my wife, who has been in a couple of these episodes, Tamice Spencer-Helms, the author of our most recent book. Come and say hi, if you're going to be there in Minneapolis in a couple of weeks. We have a booth where we will be selling our books, we'll have some free swag, we'll have a deep discount on our [laughs] Substack subscription. So come check us out there and say hi, we would love to meet you in person. And we're changing some things up on our website and our social media. Go check them out, continue to look at them as the weeks go by. We're going to have some new content and just everything has a new look.

We have a new logo, new art for this podcast, all kinds of things. Robyn Burgess helped us out with that and will continue to help us out with that. And we're really appreciative of that. She's doing some great work. So yeah, go check out the website.

Jonathan Walton: And while you're on the website, please consider becoming a paid subscriber to KTF. That's the best way to support what we do, centering and elevating marginalized voices to help people leave colonized faith for the kingdom of God. That gets you the newsletter we send every week with media to help you in your discipleship and political education. And it gets you the bonus episodes of this show, which we will do once again after this season is over.

Sy Hoekstra: Okay, so let's jump into it. There's this pastor in Illinois, I'm going to summarize what he wrote in his article, just for the people who didn't read it. We'll put the link in the show notes. By the way, we're going to be largely disagreeing with what this man said in a lot of ways and we don't mean to demean him or any other pastor that is feeling these things, we just think it's really important to talk about it. Especially because there are just so many people who are looking at the world around them and what's coming from the fronts of their churches and kind of struggling to figure out how Jesus fits into all of it and trying to figure out the disconnect. So anyways, here's my brief summary of what the pastor said in his article.

He basically said there are kind of five main reasons in Barna polling, that pastors are considering quitting their jobs, at least in the US. And it's about half of pastors who are considering quitting their jobs. It was even higher than that at the height of the pandemic, but the two that he said he really resonates with are the top two reasons, the stress of the job and how isolating the job is. And then the next three reasons are divisions over politics in the church, unhappiness about the effect that the job is having on the family of the pastor, and then just not being optimistic about the future of the congregation that the pastor is overseeing. So he basically said, “Look, the experience of being a pastor is not what you think it's going to be. You might have understood how difficult it can be, but feeling it is kind of different.”

And he kind of said there's this mental and emotional reality of just being enmeshed in so many people's lives and having to deal with all the difficulty of in his case, a few hundred people's lives just really gets you down. And he said, basically, all those people are also kind of your bosses. Meaning if you do a job they don't like, if you do your job in a way they don't like, they're going to make your life really hard. He actually had some people kind of campaigning for his removal in his congregation, and he basically said, “Well, if this is what I'm going to get out of all the work I'm putting into this, then is it really worth it?” And then he said you have to do at least three years of graduate studies, and you have to do a bunch of internships and you have loans to repay.

And if you're in his denomination you're making about $55,000 when you come out of all that training, and that's not enough to live off of let alone pay your student loans. Then he says you have a huge range of responsibilities that in any other organization would not be one person doing all these things. Like being the public speaker, being the keeper of the orthodoxy, being the CEO, the HR director, a counselor for a ton of people, and then just like a pillar of virtue, moral blamelessness within your community [laughs]. And then he said, most Christians kind of want to be reassured that they are, they are going to church to be reassured that they are doing and believing the right things, and not really going to be challenged to grow.

And he's just someone who, he said he's just kind of fundamentally in his faith, growth oriented and actually welcomes change and difference, and his congregation wasn't into that and so he constantly ran up against that wall.

So I said that in as neutral a way as I could…


…because now we're going to bring in our opinions [laughs]. Jonathan, you and I had pretty different reactions to this. So just talk about what your kind of initial thoughts were when you looked at this?

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. So when I first read this message, and just to like locate this person.

Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: So this is a White male, suburbs of Chicago, congregation about 300 people, educated, well connected, stable in his position.

Sy Hoekstra: The congregation is larger than 300, but he was like personally involved in probably 300 people's lives.

Jonathan Walton: Oh right. Yes yes. Yes, he named that as a very specific burden…

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: …of being involved in the birth, deaths, funerals, weddings, just the most intimate parts of people's lives…

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: …with 300 people, that was too much. And so… [deep sigh]

Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: I don't want to dismiss this person's feelings, the suffering and the hardship that he's going through. At the same time, when I was growing up, I didn't know any professional Christians. Like no one received a salary for being a pastor, and all of the things that he was frustrated by, confused about, seeming to blame the congregation for the predicament that he found himself in, all of those things to me seem like this is just the expectations of a pastor. Someone who is supposed to be a reasonably good presenter and preacher of the word, is supposed to be someone who's able to articulate their faith in word and deed and power. It seemed to be to me that there must have been a problem in how he was set up and put in this position and what his expectations were, but none of that was named in the owning of his own expectations.

Particularly for me is I come from a background where every single pastor or leader in a church was bi-vocational.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: So my pastor growing up was my bus driver to elementary school [laughs]. I saw him six days out of the week.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: Some days all seven, because we would go to church meeting on Saturday morning [laughs] and I’d see him preach on Sunday morning, and then he would pick my behind up on that dirt road every day.


Jonathan Walton: So I think there are two things that bothered me the most, and they were that he seemed exceptionally unaware of the impact of what he was going to say, and radically dismissive of the privileges that he holds. Particularly the reality that, someone actually commented that his salary is above the median salary of his congregation. And so to be aware of the reality, the things that you are complaining about, other people would actually love to be involved in. Like to have a salary, to have resources, to be intimately involved in people's lives, there are pastors and lay leaders all over the world that would actually say yes and amen to everything that was on his plate.

Sy Hoekstra: Can you tell me what the—you said he was unaware of the impact of what he was going to say. What's the impact that you're thinking of?

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. So the impact that I'm thinking of is that like when we communicate publicly about our faith, I think we have to consider the most vulnerable and marginalized person as the priority reader. And so I may think to myself, “You know what, I don't care who reads this,” but I don't think that is me loving my neighbor. So I have a responsibility as a follower of Jesus, as somebody of leadership and influence to shepherd the folks that are downstream of me. I do understand how someone in his position, a White male at a suburban church and a Presbyterian, I totally understand it logically.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: But what I don't understand is as a person called by God to serve and love the flock that he has been given, to say those things about his pastorship, disregarding how that's going to impact the most marginalized in his congregation and those who might see it, boggles my mind. I don't understand how he arrived at a point where you could feel those things, yes. But then to me what feels like accusing the congregation and the elders and the leaders for not taking care of him, that doesn't make any sense to me.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. So here's, I think this is where we differ, not because I think you're wrong. It's just not my reaction because I did grow up with professional Christians.


Sy Hoekstra: Nothing but professional Christians, in fact.

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: Oh that's not true, there were lots of volunteers at the church, but you know what I mean. And I think I'm just used to pastors in positions like his who really feel like a deer in headlights when difficulties come their way [laughs]. That's like standard to me. I mean, there are some places where some congregants come against a pastor and try and get rid of them, and the pastor gets really combative or whatever. But those weren't the churches I grew up in. So because of that, my reaction was, yeah, it seems like this guy is giving a pretty good summary of the challenges of being a pastor. And he has figured out that because of those challenges, this job isn't for him and so he's leaving, and that's a good thing.


I totally understand and agree with your critique, it’s just that was my initial reaction. I was like, “Yeah. Good, right. This job is not for you, you should do something else.” [laughs] And the specific way that I think he seemed kind of like unprepared or confused about where his kind of… he talked about his congregation being his bosses. He kind of contrasted, like you said some people would think that the pastor's boss is like the board of the church, or whoever can literally fire you, but you have all these people you have to keep happy. So they're kind of your bosses. And at no point did he talk about, God is my boss [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: Like I'm at all concerned in this role as a pastor with whether I'm being faithful to God, and that would be kind of like my measurement of success, or my measurement of what makes this a job well done.

So it just came off, I guess this is similar to the privilege, but it kind of just came off as like just I really hadn't counted the cost [laughs] of what it takes to follow Jesus. And to me, it really did start… you're someone who is trying to lead people in following a man who was crucified for doing what he did, and so were a bunch of his followers. And there was a ton of suffering and marginalization. And it's just, it's always so interesting to me that White people in America constantly talk about being persecuted. But when it comes to something difficult actually happening to you, you're like, “I’m out,” and you just walk away. You're trying to lead people to follow Jesus and there's all this stuff that happened to Jesus and all of Jesus’ followers.

And I think that a lot of us White people kind of look at that and go, “That can never and should never happen to me.” That the consequences of following Jesus, that shouldn't happen to me. And like me personally, Sy Hoekstra, nothing remotely that difficult has ever happened to me [laughs] because of me being a Christian. So you can take whatever I'm saying with as many grains of salt as you'd like. But I don't know, that just seems kind of fundamentally contradictory to me if you're trying to lead people in the way of Jesus.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. And I think that engagement with God and intimacy with the Father, and prayer and discernment and all of those things, was completely absent from the piece.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, there wasn't a lot about... [laughs]. There was I don't think anything about that.

Jonathan Walton: Right. So when you're talking about counting the cost, examining the role of suffering in our faith, and then putting our suffering in perspective with those who are downstream and upstream of us in our faith, and all of that stuff like that, it just wasn't there.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: And so that to me, I think that distance gets into the bigger picture of what I think we're going to talk about next, is just like, what happens when our faith moves from being a community rooted in following, like you said, this Jesus with dirty feet,

Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: to like a CEO of a spiritual superstore?  

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. So let's get into that. Let's get into some of the pitfalls, how we end up in this place. What are some of the pitfalls that churches and congregations and structures are creating for pastors to kind of end up in this situation?

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, I think one of the things that became super clear to me in looking at Jerry Falwell, and writing and thinking about, in our anthology, we're reflecting on Trumpism, and all of that.

Sy Hoekstra: When you say looking at Jerry Falwell, you did a master's thesis about Jerry Falwell [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. And so the very clear contrast between what he was starting in the 50s and 60s, versus what we talked about a few episodes ago with Dr. Gustine and Reverend José Humphreys, is that we can either set ourselves up as the center of the community, or we can set ourselves up as part of the ecosystem of what God is doing in the community. And the idea that… what Jerry Falwell did was he got a church, he put a thing on a map in the middle, and then drew a circle and said, “Every single person needs to come to my church, and they need to be part of my congregation. And my success will be measured by my growth, and our giving and my exposure.”

And so if he went to someone's house and said, “Would you like to come to church?” They say, “We're already part of a church,” he goes, “Would you like to come to my church?” Right? And so the idea that we are going to be bigger, better, faster, stronger, for the sake of being the most dominant and engaged with community is something I think that is fundamentally against what Jesus set up. And the reason for that is like in John chapter three, when John's disciples come back to him and say, “There's this man named Jesus, he's preaching, and he's baptizing and we need to make sure that he's right.” And John sits, he knows his place. John the Baptist knows his place.

He says, “I'm just a voice crying out in the wilderness, I'm supposed to prepare the way.” He doesn't then say, “Well, you know what, let me kowtow to all the people in front of me that want me to be big and great and good, and go do more.” He doesn't set himself up that way, because we are not in a spiritual foot race, where we are competing against each other trying to lead the most people to Jesus. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are pursuing him together alongside one another in this beautiful, in Jesus name beloved community.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, amen to that. And I think what we're talking about here is effectively a capitalist slash business mindset of a church. Right? That's kind of what you were just describing with Jerry Falwell, was the focus on growth and expansion as a measure of success. It really shifts focus away from obedience as the measure of success [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Right. And specifically, numbers growth and money growth and influence growth.

Sy Hoekstra: Yes.

Jonathan Walton: And if anybody wants another resource around this, Sy, we could put this in the show notes. There's a podcast called Startup, and they actually follow a church plant. So they get into this new world of church accelerators, and grants and pastors coming and pitching their churches to people with money. If we can imagine this is very far away from Paul and Timothy going to visit Priscilla and Aquila. Very far away from the apostles going to visit Lydia and Phoebe. They're not going to get investors [laughs], right? We have moved very far away from Acts and stepped into something blessed by the economic structures that we find ourselves in. And I would just, yeah. Can we get away from that?

Sy Hoekstra: So there's like church planter Shark Tank?

Jonathan Walton: Yes, absolutely [Sy laughs]. So there's a pastor like he talked about his nervousness. He talks about, how am I going to please these people so that I receive these resources? It's not surprising, and it is profoundly disappointing, the choices that they make, the compromises that they make to get money. And I've talked to many pastors about that reality of I need to make sure that I'm getting enough money from these people. And that I think, is something I just, I cannot imagine and there isn't scriptural evidence of Jesus ever doing.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Which is not by the way to dismiss the realities that pastors gotta eat [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Yes, absolutely. I am also, I'm not a pastor, but I'm on staff with Intervarsity and understand the fundraising, the ministry partner development, like all those things. And I think it is incumbent upon every Christian leader to be willing to take up the cross and follow Jesus. Like, if there is someone who wants me to say, “You know what, maybe White supremacy isn't so bad, let's stick to the gospel,” just for that check, then I think we know who the idol is in the room [laughs]. So I actually have to believe that Matthew five, six and seven are true, to do my job effectively, and to follow Jesus effectively. And since I'm a professional Christian on staff with Intervarsity they happen to be the same thing in this stage of life.

Sy Hoekstra: When you say Matthew five, six, and seven, you basically mean the Sermon on the Mount.

Jonathan Walton: I do mean the Sermon on the Mount and his promise to provide for us.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. So some of the downstream problems you're facing here, that this pastor and a lot of pastors are facing, [downstream]of everything we just said, is if you're trying to grow, then what are you going to say about politics? You're going to say as little as possible about politics, and you're going to say things that don't rock the boat with your congregation. And if there are political divisions in your congregation, that's going to cause a ton of anxiety, because that's not like an opportunity for community or growth or to teach people things that are good and true, that is a threat to your funding. Right?

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: Because you don't know if people are going to leave, you don't want to take sides because people probably will leave if you do. But at the same time now there are so many people who want you to take one side or the other, that they might also leave if you don't say anything. And so it's just nothing but stress. Whereas if you have set up your funding in some way where the people who are funding you, or like you said Jonathan, looking for you to take up the cross, you're going to be able to help people work through those things and speak truth. You have to be pretty emotionally healthy in order to do that. And another thing that we do is make people kind of push down all their questions and feelings [laughs] in favor of conformity for the same reasons, because conformity also creates growth and consistent loyal members and that sort of thing.

Jonathan Walton: Yes, it does.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, right.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: But these are all kind of these pitfalls that we have to deal with. Also, when you're worried about church divisions like that, it becomes really easy to blame your congregation for problems. They are the most immediate people in front of you. So if there's somebody there trying to get rid of you… this pastor is asking, “I'm putting a lot of work into this and if I'm just going to get these people harassing me back, then what's the point of all this?” And again, that's hard. If you're trying to serve people and they're actively rejecting you, that’s very difficult. But also the focus on blaming them instead of just trying to continue to be faithful, that's the line that we're talking about. That’s the difference that I think we're dealing with here.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. And to press into that a little bit more, I think when we are set up, like if we just juxtapose, play side by side, life, liberty and the pursuit of property slash happiness, depending on how far you want to go back in the historical stuff. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness slash property, and then a fake spiritual meritocracy that we find ourselves in. This dude was set up by his seminary, by his family, by our society to think that if I do all of these right things people will follow me, I’ll have a large platform, I'll be a successful pastor and I will retire with all the experiences and wealth that I need to go to Jesus empty handed. But on this side of heaven, I did really well. And I think that is a lie.

There's nothing gospel-centered about doing exactly what we're supposed to do and receiving the just and right treatment for it. As Sy said earlier, Jesus was blameless and they killed him [laughs]. The apostles loved their neighbors, fed the marginalized and sat with the vulnerable, and they crucified them. They quartered them, they destroyed them, they threw them into dens of lions. This is what happened to those people. So to have a faith, and then faith leaders that believe the fruits of their work will be financial success and job security is antithetical to the entire New Testament. Yeah, but that's a hard reality, because our structures are set up to support what he's talking about.

Sy Hoekstra: And not just our church structures, but our whole societal structures.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah.

Sy Hoekstra: Here's another pitfall that creates these problems, privilege.


Sy Hoekstra: Just in general, privilege makes things hard. And I said that as a bit of a joke, but this is, it's real. It's not just because when you're someone who has privilege in society, suffering in general is just harder for you, because you haven't done as much suffering. But a White male pastor in a suburban church has not had to think as deeply or as personally about the issues dividing the US because they aren't things that have affected him personally. You know what I mean? You just think about it is a reality. It would be nice if this wasn't the reality, but you think about things more when they affect you, right?


Jonathan Walton: Right. Just a true thing.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, it's just a true thing. This guy is not going to have thought about police brutality as much as you, Jonathan, right? This guy is not going to have thought as much about ableism as I have. It just is what it is. So then when those things kind of flare up in society and your church wants to talk about them, you have less to say because you haven't thought as much, and you end up saying ignorant things, or nothing at all.

Jonathan Walton: Right. And I think Sy, that is where something that you've been a gift to me is that, the freedom to ask the questions and to not know, right? So, this pastor, many pastors, and we throw in the Christian industrial complex into this box, is that we're supposed to have every single spiritual goody that a person would need. And we're going to provide that at exceptional levels. And if I don't have it, I'm just going to go figure it out. I've used the example before, but like Tim Keller, when he was invited to speak about climate change, I had this message on CD, I bought it when I was at Columbia.

Sy Hoekstra: On a compact disc.

Jonathan Walton: Oh, yes, that's a compact disc friends for our young listeners out there.

Sy Hoekstra: [laughs]

Jonathan Walton: You put it inside of a player, it spins and it's red and it plays music.

Sy Hoekstra: [laughs]

Jonathan Walton: Similar to a record [laughs]. So all of that to say, he literally said in the beginning of the message, “I got invited to do this. And I just started thinking.” And I was like, yeah, pastors who are asked to talk about intimate partner violence, pastors who are asked to talk about climate change, pastors that are set up to talk about insurance fraud and the unjust healthcare system that we have, that should not be a question necessarily they're asked. Unless like Sy was saying, they've got some personal experience, they have some education, they have a background. Like we can actually lean on one another in the body of Christ to pursue his kingdom together, as opposed to assuming that the person in the pulpit is an expert in all things human.

Sy Hoekstra: We basically see them as like a superhuman.

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: Like, you have to know, you have to be an expert in everything. And this also gets to our view of scripture [laughs], because it's kind of based on the fact that you're an expert in the Bible, and the Bible is supposed to teach us everything, like about every subject. And that kind of this is a comprehensive, you don't need anything other than this basically, to navigate the world. And in some ways that could be true if you're in a real desperate situation, but also if you want to learn about climate change there are lots of people who have studied it very extensively.


Sy Hoekstra: And you don't, you know what I mean? Again, not to… Tim Keller said a lot of great things over the course of his life, but you don't need to ask Tim Keller about climate change [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Right. And I think something… Okay. This is not in our notes, but I have a thought. The things that most stress this man out about being a pastor are the things that pastors are most expected to do.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: And that is to be present with people who are suffering, and to be available to those who need the ministry of presence. Someone to pray with them, to sit with them, to be with them. And that I think, is one of the most powerless feelings, is when we can't actually help someone overcome the problem that they have. We can't actually help someone be healed, or have their marriage come back together or liberate them from addiction or raise them from the dead. We can't… that's not there, but we can be with them. And I think if he had not embraced and we had not embraced this reality of a pastor being Jesus, as opposed to a pastor that would pursue Jesus, then I think it'd be a fundamentally different experience for him and his congregation, where the chief reality and the chief pursuit is a ministry of presence as opposed to being a subject matter expert and a spiritual superhero for all people.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, being Jesus is a really good way to put it actually, because that is kind of what we expect from a lot of pastors, which is…

Jonathan Walton: Omnipresent, omniscient, right?


Sy Hoekstra: Right. That is kind of what you're describing, yeah. But I think it's also just the fact that… and again, this is very tied up in like conformity and right behavior and right thought, which is something that we police a ton in colonized faith. You have to be perfect as a pastor, because you are the person up there trying to demonstrate for the community what it is to be a Christian and what it is to be a Christian in a lot of people's view is to behave correctly, and to be morally blameless. I mean, he said that.

Jonathan Walton: He did say that.

Sy Hoekstra: He said, “I was supposed to be blameless and a pillar of virtue,” and you should be preaching against that idea.

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: Anyways. So yeah, saying that the pastor needs to be Jesus instead of help you follow Jesus, I think is… or have to be present with Jesus is a good way to put it.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, and to ground what we were... Where it says that, Paul describes himself in Romans seven, “I don't do what I want to do, I want to do what I don't do. Somebody deliver me from this body of death.” He's confessing his limitations. He's confessing that he cannot transform himself. The image from Romans seven is that when you murdered someone, you would have the body strapped to you and have to carry it around.

Sy Hoekstra: As a punishment.

Jonathan Walton: I'm sorry, yes, as a punishment. And so what Paul said is, “Someone deliver me from this body of death.” He is saying, I am preaching and broken. I am standing before you as the chief of sinners, yet somehow God has entrusted me to testify to this blameless, wonderful God slash man named Jesus. And so like if we were able to do that, I think it would be transformative for congregants. One, to be able to liberate pastors from what…[laughs] We've talked about this a lot. When Michelle Higgins said, “Liberate White people from the burden of supremacy,” colonized faith leads us to think that we have to somehow sit atop a race-based, class-based, gender-based environmental hierarchy, and we need to pursue that ideal, when in reality we're all racing to get to the foot of the cross. To be on our knees, confess that we are limited and we are not God, and we need him and one another to actually live this life, to have abundance that he has promised us in him.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. So the next thing in our little outline here was the ways that we can do things differently. And I think you just started us on that point by taking us straight to Jesus, that's good.


Sy Hoekstra: The interesting thing about Paul is nobody had any real questions about what his sins were. because he was actively kind of terrorizing the church for a long time. People have described him as like a literal terrorist.

Jonathan Walton: Yes [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: He was going around killing people, that's what he was doing. Or overseeing them being killed. And when we have a lot of, a lot of pastors today, what I'm about to say is a little bit subtle, or a little bit, you have to be careful with it. But a lot of times when you see a pastor give a confession today, it's a confession of a sin that isn’t all that serious [laughs], or it's a confession of a sin that they struggled with in the past, and now everything's fine, they don't do it anymore. And it's like, a lot of times it's still sort of hedged. It's still designed to make you feel okay with the fact that now this is like a blameless, pretty blameless person, you know? They're doing all right. And what I'm suggesting is hard, but you do need pastors who can say that they are actually sinners and mean it. Like they actually have real problems.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, I think setting up… And I think this trickles down to Christians in general. We can only talk about a sin that we've overcome and are totally fine from. We can only communicate a struggle, so long as we communicate how hard we're fighting against it and all of the tools that are coming along with it, when in reality it's like for me I struggle every day with the amount of money that I spend and look at the gospel. That's an active struggle that I'm wrestling with. I don't know how to reconcile mortgages and retirement, and caring for my family, and paying for things with the generosity that I see in scripture. And that is something that I feel could disqualify me as a person following Jesus.

But I am not disqualified to point other people to Jesus, because I have not figured it all out because I'm not perfect in some way. I'm qualified to tell people about Jesus, because I've decided to follow Jesus. I just need to tell people why I decided to do that, which is what the disciples were doing. Like Simon the Zealot was an angry, murderous person, and Matthew stole lots of money from people [laughs]. I cannot imagine them sitting with Jesus, and I think the only reason they felt they could be there is because Jesus was willing to be with them.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: And followers of Jesus, if we were able to realize that Jesus wants to sit with us and lead people to that, then I think pastors could actually be present with us, as opposed to being people who we think are supposed to be, we expect them to liberate us. And that's just not their responsibility.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. I think you, in addition to all that, totally agree, you have to just stop expecting people to be more than human, which is the opposite of the problem that we said earlier. But there are specific ways that you do that, and I think one of them is making sure that you are never kind of broadcasting the lie to your congregation that being a Christian makes you a better person, or a more moral person than others. It will transform you as an individual, but the idea that any given Christian is just better than everybody else, that is implicit in so many messages you hear in church. And that's constantly talking… especially evangelicals I feel like, are constantly talking about how much your life will be better than other people's.

How you can't even think of how you could be a good or happy person without Jesus, which is wild. Everybody around the world [laughs] has found ways to feel happy and fulfilled and be kind to each other regardless of whether they knew Jesus or not. That's not like a… I don't know. That doesn't lower the status of Christianity.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs] right.

Sy Hoekstra: It's just kind of like an observed fact about the world.


Actually, you know what? You and I Jonathan, one time… I will be very vague on details here.

Jonathan Walton: Okay.

Sy Hoekstra: We were at a funeral where the pastor was speaking to a crowd that was definitely not just Christians, and actively saying to this crowd, “I don't know how you can grieve and move on with your life when someone dies if you don't believe in heaven. I don't know how you can go on, and that's why you need Jesus.”

Jonathan Walton: Yeah.

Sy Hoekstra: And he got some amens [laughs]. It was the only place in the whole eulogy where he got some amens. And I was just like, man, that is a wild thing to say to people while they are grieving because, A, it's untrue. Again, every culture that's ever existed has figured out a way to grieve and move on. And to say that to people at a funeral is just, we are so stuck in this kind of Christian supremacy. Everything's going to be better if you're us.

Jonathan Walton: Yes, Christian supremacy and like, if we are to maintain Christian supremacy then you're actually in competition with other people.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Jonathan Walton: And I think someone… like I got a phone call once from a very concerned dad, about his daughter participating in one of our programs. And he said, “I'm just concerned because I want to make sure you are a soul winner for the Lord.” And I said, “Yes, I do desire for people to follow Jesus, and I think it's problematic when we are trying to win.” Like I am not in competition with other people. I'm not in competition with other faith leaders. I'm not trying to tear someone down. And this goes back to, there's a passage in Acts where many followers are saying, “Are you for Paul, are you for Apollo, are you for Peter?” And the competition, the competitive nature and the attraction of like, my leader is better. My spiritual person is better. My spiritual bag of goods is better than your spiritual bag so come and take mine, so our group can get bigger.

That is just, it's just not a thing in the kingdom of God. And I think it's a radical thing that Jesus does when he says, “Come and follow me,” and someone says, “I just bought this field, and I got to go look at it.” And he's like, “Okay.” He doesn't try to woo them, he doesn't try to win them back. He says, “Okay.” There's something in us that must be secure enough to let people be. And I think pastors, particularly for we who are like, we're set up to be the end all be all, and we got to get them there and we got to make sure they stay there and sit in the pews, and give money and come to small group and come to men's group and come to Bible study and come to… list out the spiritual infrastructures that we have. We could allow people to walk with God as though he is pursuing them. As though he is creating spaces to meet with them.

So yeah, everything you said Sy. We can walk out of that supremacy into humanity and point to Jesus in ways that are transformative and helpful. And what you said off-mic about Dr. Lamar Hardwick, and the invitation to being human, if you could repeat that.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, I think all of this is tied up with the fear of being human, which is what we talked about, or one of the things we talked about with Dr. Hardwick when he was on the show a couple years ago, that we keep coming back to. Just the fear that we have of our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses, and instead of embracing those things as a part of being who we are. That plays into this because it's wrapped up in this need to be superhuman, right, and this need to be a perfect pillar of virtue. And if we can let go of those things, then that pressure to be perfect will disappear. So you don't have to be superhuman. You don't have to be better than people who are non-Christians. You don't have to do better than your congregation.

You don't have to be any of that as a pastor. You just have to be faithful to the best of your ability, and people are going to accept that about you or they're not. If they don't, then you might have to find a new job [laughs], but you will have been faithful.

Jonathan Walton: Right, you will have been faithful. And this is not part of our podcast, but please pray for Dr. Hardwick. He is still suffering with cancer, has recently transitioned from pastoring full time to focus on treatment and living. And I think as you were saying Sy, like he has exemplified for me what it looks like to be human in front of your congregation.

Sy Hoekstra: Oh, absolutely. We talked about this in the newsletter recently one time, because there was this clip [laughs] that he sent around of, he had to have… man, I can't remember what the procedure is called. But basically because of the colorectal cancer he's had, he now has to have a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. And he was just openly talking to his congregation about this and being like, “Listen, I know it's going to make funny sounds. You can laugh. It's okay. His name is Oscar.”


Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: Just kind of like someone who is utterly unashamed of who they are and what's going on in their life. He's a really good example of that and please do pray for him.

Okay, so here's another one that I think is a good tip for congregants to help out your pastor.

Jonathan Walton: Yes. Yes.

Sy Hoekstra: Be friends with your pastor [laughs]. Just like regular friends, not like—meaning don't always go to them for spiritual help. Don't always go to them for prayer or for comfort when things are hard, just hang out with them sometimes. And this is, the first person who told me to do this was my dad a long time ago, who's like done this a couple times with pastors. They've come to him and said, “Hey, would you be in like X, Y, and Z committee?” Or, “Would you volunteer in this way?” And he did those things eventually. But when he was first at a church, he would say, “No, do you want to hang out though?” [laughs]. And like that was… it's extremely… he’s had like at least one pastor, maybe more note that to him as something that's really helpful. Because the job is so lonely and isolating, and people are always just coming to you for stuff.

They're taking and consuming from you and you need ways to be replenished. And pastors have to find those ways on their own sometimes, but we can help. The other one that I… well, I have two more that I think are a big deal. Learn some emotional health, please.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs and claps a few times] No, I think you need to read what you wrote. You said “learn you some emotional health.” That’s a great phrase [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: Yes. In our outline that we're both looking at I wrote “learn you some emotional health and some healthy conflict resolution skills” [laughs]. It's hard work and it's not something that any seminary is going to ask you to do [laughs] unfortunately. But it is so necessary to be able to identify the stressors when they start and not when they just explode all over you and the people around you [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Yeah.

Sy Hoekstra: Jonathan, this is your bag. What do you have to say about this?

Jonathan Walton: No worries. I just want to say [laughs] I'm like leaning on the mic, right? I think every follower of Jesus needs to take serious responsibility over their own spiritual growth, and emotional growth, and health and well being. My mama would say that every tub has to stand on its own bottom.

Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: And the reality is like, there is no one that can attune your heart to God more than you. We have to actually be discipled by people, that's absolutely true. And no one can turn our hearts to God but us. And so before we meet with our pastors, pray, discern, sit with the Spirit. Go to scriptures, go to communion, ask what God is doing so that when we show up to these conversations, we're actually full to have conversations, not on empty just waiting to be filled by the spiritual gas station sitting in front of us. Just because pastors and leaders and the spiritual infrastructure that we have has turned us into things that produce money and funding and numbers, does not mean we then need to turn every spiritual leader into the store that they claim to be and say, we just need to fill ourselves up.

We can actually break that terrible economy of spiritual goods that get passed back and forth, where we just reduce each other to what we need each other for, that's very utilitarian, which, if you want to look at Jesus again, his disciples were not the most useful.

Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Let's be clear about these men [laughs]. And so we can take responsibility for our own spiritual emotional health, awareness, growth, and intelligence. I think that would be just a gift to each other as a body of believers, and definitely to pastors, as they try to do a very hard job of being present to us in ways that are transformative and helpful.

Sy Hoekstra: Jonathan, spiritual gas station is a very good metaphor.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: Everybody, that's why you go and get a creative writing degree in college [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: This is to say… yes, that's true. This is where it comes into play.


Sy Hoekstra: Here's my last one. And this is not going to surprise you, if you listen to this show. Center and elevate marginalized voices [laughs] as a pastor, because it's actually going to help you. As we said before, privilege makes suffering harder to handle, and it gives you less perspective. And doing the opposite of that, listening to people, meaning, this could be like in your media consumption, or in your friendships or whatever. But I'm also saying in your church, it will just help you because you're going to have people who have dealt with more day to day difficulties than you have. And I think, by the way, I think this is a little bit counterintuitive for some White people, because White people are so used to being told that we're the logical, detached ones, and everybody else is so emotional, and can't deal with… Like the thing that we think about all the time is like when racial tensions flare up, right?

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: So it's like, okay, something happens about police brutality or something and we're very dispassionate and removed from it because it doesn't affect us. And Black people are very emotional and upset about it, because it affects them very directly and very deeply. And I think a lot of White people, like those are some of their primary interactions with people of other races. And you just come away from that thinking, we are more logical and whatever.

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: And suffering must be harder for them. And when it comes to the everyday stuff, if you're actually integrated in communities of where you really do have regular ongoing interactions with friends or family members who from marginalized communities, you will find that it is quite the opposite [laughs]. You are much less skilled at dealing with suffering and emotional stress and difficulty than your marginalized peers.

One more side note on this by the way, the pastor who wrote this article is from the PCUSA, and has fairly progressive theology, and I assume therefore, also politics, but I don't know about his politics. So another note for White people, you can't progressive theology or progressive politics your way out of being White


You have to dig down deep and deal with, as we talk about, colonized faith, or you're going to end up… there would be no difference in how I would talk about… well, not no difference. There would be very little relevant difference in how I talk about this person's complaints as a mainline White Protestant versus a conservative Evangelical.

Jonathan Walton: The differences would be subtle, not substantive.

Sy Hoekstra: Right. Exactly.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah.

Sy Hoekstra: Again, “subtle not substantive.” That's why you're a professional writer.


Sy Hoekstra: Anything else before we wrap up, Jonathan?

Jonathan Walton: No, just Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. I had a conversation on the basketball court on Wednesday with a kid and he said he'd been kind of living his life and he said he had an encounter with the Holy Spirit. He said he doesn't know, he can't interpret it all. He's even uncomfortable with religion and institutions and all those things. He said, “But I cannot deny the love and acceptance that I felt.” He said, “I just can't deny that.” And so now he's going to start coming to our church. And he came to play basketball with us because his boss knew someone and told him to come and I just think that like, for all of our preaching and podcasting and writing and emailing and newsletters and books and products.

But I think we would do well to remember that Jesus is still meeting people as they lay down to go to sleep, as they drive, as they pump gas, as they sit in church pews or sit outside clinics or at hospitals, he is still pursuing and lavishing us with his presence. So we can liberate or be liberated from that burden, because Jesus is still, he's still moving.

Sy Hoekstra: Amen. That's a great place to end us, I think. Everybody, thanks for joining us so much today. Please remember to go to ktfpress.com. Check out the new look of the website and the social media. Consider becoming a subscriber. Get yourself our weekly newsletter. Get the bonus episodes of this show. If you like this episode, a lot of our bonus episodes are kind of like this, just me and Jonathan talking. Remember to send us your questions for our mailbag episode. Or send your text questions or your voicemails to shakethedust@ktfpress.com. Our theme song as always is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our new podcast art is by Robyn Burgess and we will see you all for the season finale in two weeks

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]

Sy Hoekstra: A lot of our bonus episodes are kind of like this, just me and Jonathan talking. [faint sound of honking in the background] Ugh, firetrucks. Hang on, sorry.

Jonathan Walton: I thought you were going to say another F word. Aw, [holds the “f” sound for a second] firetrucks.


KTF Press
Shake the Dust
Seeking Jesus, confronting injustice–Shake the Dust features candid interviews and informed discussions that guide us as we resist the idols of America.