Shuck and Jive

Monday, December 08, 2008

Let Us Worship the Tall Steeple Pastor

Beau Weston, a sociology professor from Kentucky blogs at Gruntled Center. He calls himself a centrist. He wrote an essay for the PC(USA) entitled: Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment. There is a Facebook page about it.

Tomorrow, Tuesday December 9th, at three p.m. Eastern Time, he will be having a podcast conversation about it with moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow.

Everyone is all in a tizzy about the denomination. They assume that we are in "decline" and whatever. Then they assume they know the reasons and have the solution. Weston's solution is that we need more white guys in control. "Tall Steeple Pastors" as he calls them should be the ones who run the larger denomination.

According to Weston, pastors of large, wealthy congregations are the best leaders because of their experience. You don't get to be a pastor of a tall steeple church without doing a lot of sucking up. That is true. Those guys really do know how to suck up.

I thought it would be fun to offer some dos and don'ts for those who want to be a leader in Beau Weston's establishment church.

You need to look the part. You shouldn't be ugly or short. Tall pastors are best for tall steeples. Can you be a woman? Well, probably not. Unless you are incredibly good looking and tall.

It is best to be white and certainly straight. If you are gay, forget it. If you support gays, forget it. Although if the wind is right you might voice support but be careful not to do anything about it.

It is also not wise for you to be outspoken in regards to other issues you care about, especially social justice issues, the environment, war and peace. In fact, it is not wise to have much of an opinion about anything, except how to make money for your church.

Whatever you do, don't talk about the historical Jesus. The guy who was executed by the establishment is not a good role model as you engage in your steeple chase.

Don't encourage the congregation in regards to higher criticism of the Bible or in questioning their inherited tradition. Questioners are meddlesome. You really want believers--especially believers who tithe--and especially tithers who give to your ministry.

It is good to talk about charitable things, such as giving to the Salvation Army at Christmas. But don't talk about underlying issues of justice. Encourage giving to the homeless shelter but don't ask too deeply as to why there are more and more homeless people.

War? I'd stay away from that topic pretty much altogether, except of course to pray for the president and the troops. White wealthy suburban congregations will love you and reward you handsomely.

I think Dr. Weston is right on in regards to how to build an establishment church.

The question is whether or not this is a church Jesus would be caught dead in.


  1. Oh my, sounds like someone I know! You are so right. I think it's in the Bible somewhere, blessed are the suck-ups for they shall meet their budget goal.

  2. Really interesting paper. Particularly the part about rich tall-steeple pastors being the natural leaders.

    So, note to pastors of poor congregations (inner city or rural): we don't want your leadership.

  3. Oh, and at least someone is finally being upfront about their desire to return to a Catholic bishopric.

    What, precisely is "centrist" about these notions?

    (Not that I'm surprised, I used to read his blog regularly and never saw anything remotely centrist about it. Being a right-winger who occasionally has a moderate position doesn't make one a centrist.)

    Unless "right wing elitist" is now a synonym for "centrist".


  4. I love that you pull no punches here. Really excellent.

  5. I say let the tall steeple pastors sit on their spires and spin.

  6. He seems to blissfully ignore the fact that the trend is away from Mega and toward the neighborhood churches. THAT'S the future of the PC(USA).

    I will give him points for being so unashamedly Freudian with the "look at my big steeple" crap...

  7. Many of those high steeple churches are costing our denomination dearly. The cost of energy to heat these monsters in the Northeast is outrageous.

    They glorify wealth more than they glorify God.

  8. You know I don't mean to pick on the poor saps who got sucked into the capitalist mentality that says they are only successful if they gotta big honkin' steeple. They are people too.

    But the best leaders of the church? No freaking way.

    Fly, right on. The future is not mega, it is neighborhood.

  9. If they're the leaders of the church one wonders...

    What, precisely, is stopping them from leading now?

  10. According to Weston, as I understand him, term limits and policies of inclusion on committees keep the old boys from staying in power.

  11. Even though I have been a tad snarky with this post, I do hope to have made a point. Tall steeple pastors can be leaders in our denomination and are.

    I disagree with Weston that they should be privileged above others for leadership.

    He reminds of the neo-con philosophy of the Bush administration. We are the most moral and powerful nation, therefore we should be leaders of the planet.

    Look where that got us.

  12. Yeah, because what this denominations is really lacking is more old, straight, white guys in power.

  13. I actually tend to agree with John Shuck about this (an unusual enough event for me to post here). Big steeple pastors do not have a divine right to influence or authority because of their position.

    For all of our differences, John, neither one of us worships the establishment.

    I don't see this so much as a Left-Right issue though. I recall that the Covenant Network was launched by two white, male, late middle-aged, tall-steeple pastors ... John Buchanan and Robert Bohl.

    Which by the way points to another issue ... theological disunity. If for example we grant authority to tall steeple pastors, that will not necessarily produce a unified vision. What has John Buchanan to do with David Swanson, for example?

    John Erthein
    Erie, PA

  14. Hey John,

    I like it when we agree on things.

    I don't think it is a left vs right thing either. I am not sure if it is centralized vs local thing either. Could be. Might be an efficiency vs. integrity thing. Perhaps success vs gospel.

  15. Howdy folks,
    New to the blog here, will certainly add it to my "daily reading list".

    Count me amongst those who aren't 100% on board with what Weston has to say but find it interesting, and maybe even a little bit insightful.

    Two quick direct comments:

    To John Shuck: I think your characterization of Tall Steeple Pastors (TSPs as I've taken to calling them) as somehow exclusively white, male, straight, conservative, and old is maybe a bit misleading (I know, Weston talked about it directly). Just right off of the top of my head, I can think of at least a dozen 'TSP' that break that mold pretty handily...and I'm from Texas for crying out loud!

    To John (the other): When you say "For all of our differences, John, neither one of us worships the establishment.", I'm assuming that you're indicating that Weston's paper leans towards "establishment worship" to a degree.

    I don't agree. I think there's an important difference between recognizing the unique role/importance/centrality that the institution presents and "establishment worship". My read on the Weston paper sees him leaning towards the former.

    Come on over to our neck of the woods sometime and drop a line!

    We're chatting about this too!

  16. i'd certainly stay away from talking like our hero amos. you might stir up trouble.

  17. wait.. so... how do you really feel about steeples? ;-)

  18. June,

    Boy howdy.

    Jairus' Daughter,

    Welcome! Official definition of a tall steeple pastor:

    Any pastor whose steeple is taller than mine. : )

  19. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for visiting.

    My real beef with the article is the assumption that bigger is better.

    When I think of the biblical narrative, the parables of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the faithfulness of Israel and the church, it was a critique (and a strong one) of the big is good philosophy.

    I am not even saying (expect via hyperbole to make a point) that big is bad. It is just that privileging big seems to be the opposite of the way that the mysterious YHWH seemed to work.