Pawn or Person
Webster’s Dictionay (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pawn):
pawn noun ˈpȯn, ˈpän
1: one of the chessmen of least value having the power to move only forward ordinarily one square at a time, to capture only diagonally forward, and to be promoted to any piece except a king upon reaching the eighth rank
2: one that can be used to further the purposes of another
A pawn can be defined as one of the most numerous pieces on a chessboard, one of eight. It is ordinary in appearance. It has limited movement and is often sacrificed in order to protect the schemes of more powerful pieces. Reading Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, brought to mind the game of chess even as it moved us through the history of people, politics and economic evolutions and revolutions over the course of several centuries (which I confess, I still don’t completely understand). He writes about the changing perspective that we as humans have encountered as we look upon each other, no longer through sociological eyes, but rather from an economic vantage point when he states that, “it also hints at the tragic necessity by which the poor man clings to his hovel doomed by the rich man’s desire for a public improvement which profits him privately.” (p.37) And again, “But labor and land are no other than the human beings themselves of which every society consists and the natural surroundings in which it exists. To include them in the market mechanism means to subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws of the market.” (p.75)
Pawns indeed. Let the match begin.
One of the most baffling experiences in my transition into the position of Lead Pastor have been the interactions that are afforded with others who serve the Lord in the same capacity. There have certainly been some that are meaningful and have provided needed perspective as they willingly allow me to glean from their experience. Unfortunately there have been others that just leaving me shaking my head, asking questions that I never thought I would ask about myself and about leading an organization called the church.
The usual discussions revolve around questions like: “How many people are you getting out on a Sunday?”, “What are you preaching on?” and once in a while it extends to “What programs are you running?” It was along the line of the last question that talk of a particular program was brought from the sidebar into a more general discussion. Interest was shown, questions were asked until this statement was made: “We’re dropping that program because it isn’t adding to our numbers on Sunday morning.”
It’s easy to look at the political and economic world and point at all the people being used as pawns to fulfill the needs and coffers of those more powerful and wealthy. The secondary definition for pawn conveys that very idea. But there are economic realities to the running of the organizational church in our culture, which, to our shame, carry the same thought pattern. This point is not lost on Polanyi: “A new way of life spread over the planet with a claim to universality unparalleled since the age when Christianity started out on its career, only this time the movement was on a purely material level.” (p.136) Is it possible that we can ignore the real needs of the people we are called to reach and instead view them only as a statistic or as a source to either increase or strain our finances? Is the church also guilty of making people into pawns, limiting their potential and willing to sacrifice a few simple ones for the sake of those more elaborate?
This line of questioning isn’t always welcome and is difficult to pose in some circles given my position. My observation is that many churches place the achieving of budgets at a greater priority than the redeeming of people. My observation is that many people in ministry seek the generally moderate but reliable flow of income provided by a role in ministry. Too many, it seems view their roles as merely jobs instead of callings, and in turn view their congregations as suppliers instead of people in need of spiritual direction.
The result is that we have congregations where people have forgotten the miracle of redemption and grow more focused on comfort, ease, predictability and safety. What happened to being co-labourers, co-heirs, co-ministers? “The true criticism of market society is not that it was based on economics—in a sense, every and any society must be based on it—but that its economy was based on self-interest.” (p.257) In this sense it is certainly possible that we (as western Christians) are being hemmed into the corner, having lost track of that which God in ages past made as simple (in large part) as black and white, we now also find ourselves rating the handiwork of our pieces which is blinding us to the plans of the advancing foe of materialism and perhaps deafening our ears to the challenge that now awaits:
“Check!”…the move is now ours and the time seems short.
It’s time for the church to respond, to recognize that every piece on the board is valuable and is capable of defeating the enemy that advances, even the pawn.
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