The pastor-to-congregant connection has traditionally been a relational one, but your church may now expect its pastors to function more like ministry machines.

These machines only say what you want to hear, and they never step on your toes too often or too clumsily. New material and fresh sermon illustrations are always racked and ready.

They plan great worship services to get you clapping, raising your hands or just smiling as you bask in the glow of Jesus. When you leave church, it’s like walking out of a spiritual Golden Corral.

And this never ends. Ministry machines, Sunday after Sunday, bring you comfort and only as much challenge as you feel like you can handle.

These machines aren’t programmed with their own convictions. You can program them with your own sense of morality and don’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable around different views.

Newer models even have a scanner that automatically detects your views and aligns with them. You won’t feel a thing.

This vision of a ministry machine is essentially a commodified one. As a result, too many churches have become entertaining spectacles.

Just as our celebrities have been hung out to cure like pieces of meat, pastors in many churches have been subjected to the same judgmental attitudes.

If a church only offers a ministry machine, then the pastor is to the church what Brittney Spears is to pop music.

Paulo Freire, author of books about teaching and transformational learning, writes that “unfinishedness” should be a key virtue of leaders.

Brittney Spears may be expected to have everything polished and perky (her dance moves, girlish figure, voice, even her family life), but Freire paints a different picture. In his alternative vision, a good pastor or educator has room to grow and rework some of his or her beliefs.

Freire also writes in his “Pedagogy of Freedom” that perhaps the most important bond between teacher and student is the relational bond – the bond of caring and, yes, even love.

We need to stop envisioning our pastors only as polished performers and begin seeing them as people with whom we are in relationship. We are valuable to them, and they (and their successes and failures) are valuable to us.

It’s easy for anyone to feel squeezed for every available drop of productivity like a wet sponge. And it’s easy to slip into that model at church. Although ministers are paid personnel, a church is still primarily a community of people in relationship with each other.

Your pastor may need accountability and other forms of support, but he or she doesn’t need the expectations of a ministry machine.

Miles Catlett has worked with teenagers in churches and schools for nearly a decade. He blogs at

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