I got a phone call yesterday afternoon, and it still bothers me.
I know it shouldn’t. I’ve received dozens of phone calls like this one over the past three years of sharing a ministry position with my wife. Both of us have.
All of these calls start out the same. I pick up the phone, and then after a short delay an energetic young man or woman (in this case a man) from Texas (why are they always from Texas?) introduces themselves to me so quickly that I never catch the name.
There’s the sound of voices in the background and I can always hear someone typing.
Then the first question comes “I’m calling for a Pastor Patrick Nafziger, is he there?”
(Why don’t they ever ask for Christine? I wonder to myself.)
I resist the urge to hang up. “Yes, this him.” I always roll my eyes even though I know they can’t see me.
They have me cornered, they know this is a church and they know I’m a pastor so I can’t be rude, I can’t cut them off, and I can’t just hang up on them (actually that last one isn’t true—I have hung up on more than one, but it just doesn’t seem right, you know?).
So it begins. “How are you doing today, Pastor?” (why do they always insist on calling me ‘Pastor’? It just feels like a manipulative ploy to stroke the fragile egos of those clergy who can be brought on board with a simple recognition of their position).
I feel like replying “we both know that’s not relevant—you’re going to keep talking regardless of how I am today”. But my better judgment rules. I resist the temptation to snark. Instead I give him the traditional “Fine—how are you?”
From that point I might as well put the phone down and get some work done while he gives me the pitch. He goes on and on about his business (oops, I mean ministry).
He uses words like contemporary and relevant.
He drops names of Christian leaders I’ve never heard of (but obviously I should have, according to him).
It’s always cutting edge and I should really care because whatever the product is that he’s selling, it’s really going to transform the way my ministry impacts the community.
The only chance for any response on my part has to do with whether or not I’ve ever heard of big-name, famous Christian heavyweight who’s active on the speaking and writing circuit, which of course I always say I have even though most often I haven’t because let’s face it, I don’t want to come across as detached from the popular Christian scene.
After all, I’m trying to be a hip young pastor too.
But this time he was exceedingly pushy. I wondered if he had somehow developed a unique breathing system where he could breathe and speak at the same time.
So it was 2 or 3 minutes before I finally found out what he was trying to sell had something to do with CONSUMERISM!! (?*?)
Now here came chance for engagement number 2: “Pastor, of course you’d agree that consumerism is one of the biggest problems facing your church today, right?” (hmmm…) “well, umm…”
“Because we’ve teamed up with big-name, famous Christian heavyweight who’s active on the speaking and writing circuit (the one I’ve never heard of but have already pretended like I have) to bring churches all across the country this exceptional teaching…” (at this point I wasn’t really listening anymore because I was still trying to wrap my head around a telemarketer trying to sell me something contextually relevant about consumerism from a place as far away as Texas). (I live in Ohio).
So at this point I scrambled.
“Oh, Hey, you know, I hate to interrupt, but a cat just wandered into the church office and threw up all over my shoes. I’m really going to have to go and take care of this.”
“Oh, Pastor that’s alright, I can call you back.” (I wonder what kind of commission he gets!)
“No, that’s OK. Please don’t call me back. I’m pretty sure you’ve got nothing that we’re interested in at this point.”
He does make me feel powerful though. I take the receiver away from my ear, listening to his little voice diminish with every inch it gets further from my ear.
This moment makes the whole call worth it. I am filled with a sense of God-like power as I move his chattering little voice slowly and deliberately from my ear to the cradle (I still use a corded phone; hanging up is so much more satisfying on a corded phone) and replace it with a satisfying “click”.
It really shouldn’t bother me, you know? He’s just doing his job, everybody has one and he was better at it than most telemarketers I’ve talked to.
So why am I still thinking about it, more than 12 hours later?
Well, I think it’s because the act of trying to sell me a DVD about consumerism sends a message that is a lot more formative than the DVD could ever be. (enter Shane Hipps, Marshall McLuhan, Mark Van Steenwyck and others)
But such is the world that we live in.
I am concerned that ‘mainstream’ Christian voices today are established not by the local communities of faith who hear them, who interact with them and know them…but they are established by powers like publishing houses who have vested interest in the sales of their books and ideas.
So the voices that we hear (at least as far as the church is concerned) are voices that have been screened (or you could say, censored) by people who have financial motivation; a vested interest in the ‘sale-ability’ of the book or the personality.
It’s an important question to pay attention to. The problem isn’t that there are too many religious books or that the authors are necessarily flawed in what they present. The problem isn’t only that anyone can publish anymore (like this blog or a million like it)…rather the more insidious problem is that the local church is in the awkward position of letting a market-driven sales team from a different locale altogether determine which voices are guiding, teaching, and ethically forming our people.
Maybe someday I’ll write a book.
Maybe then I’ll change my mind. 🙂