So how should a Pastor behave? The problem with unexamined expectations and mythology.

It was a simple workshop exercise; write down one word or more that describes how a Church Pastor should behave. The 100+ counsellors and pastors attending the webinar hit their keyboards and the chat stream filled up faster than you could say ecclesiastical theology.

There were literally hundreds of expectations listed. Several overlapping like, ‘kind’, ‘have sound bible knowledge’, ‘caring’. But plenty of variance including opposing expectations like, ‘openly vulnerable’ and ‘not overly disclosing’. At the end of the exercise I asked them to scan the list. Jokingly I said, ‘I don’t think even Jesus could meet all these expectations!’. I still stand by that.

I went on to explain that within the average local church (of 120 people), it is inevitable that the local Pastor/Minister/Father/Priest/Reverend/Elder cannot possibly fold themselves into the collectively constructed expectations of the entire congregation – let alone a mega-church Senior Pastor or large para-church ministry leader. I then repeated the exercise asking their thoughts on the expected behaviour of clergy spouses and children. Again, the chat filled up with impossible and conflicting behavioural standards.

Why do we do this to mortal men and women? Why have we, for thousands of years, treated those in positions of power and leadership as if they are some kind of demigods and demigoddesses? If it’s not religious leaders, it is workplace bosses, school principals, country leaders, sports stars, parents etc. Are our expectations unreasonable? If not, what is the baseline?

Now, before quoting 1 Timothy chapter 3, producing a denominational prerequisite list or charting a rubric of job requirements, I wonder if it’s worth asking ourselves an important (and rare) question: Why do we conjure up these expectations of those in positions of power and leadership – some fair and reasonable – some of them wild – many of them unexamined?

Over the past few years I’ve become fascinated with the psychology and theory of archetypes and mythology. Particularly, the body of knowledge that has emerged from Carl Jung’s work. Jung and others suggest that within each of us lie various energies and characters that form archetypes. These archetypes evolve and emerge to move us through the story of our lives. You may hear someone talking about being a Victim, a Warrior, a Queen, a Child, a Hero etc. These are all examples of archetypes.

The best storytellers have made an art-form of enchanting us with archetypal characters for thousands of years. Disney are masters of this. They captivate us because the archetypal energies in the story characters actually live deep within our psyche; including the King archetype. Yes, we all have many active, twisted or latent archetypes within us. In fact, if you are really enjoy this article it is likely to be your own internal magician archetype who loves discovering wisdom and knowing secrets! But back to the king archetype.

Side note: As I write this article, the news is full of reports about mega-church Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston. His personal well-being and behaviour have come into the spotlight. He has resigned from his high position amidst the scandals. I don’t think many Jungian analysts would argue that someone of Mr. Houston’s age, stature and command very much embodies the king archetype.

In mythology and story, the king (or queen; pre-patriarchal) has two main purposes.
1/ Bring Order to their Kingdom.
2/ Bring blessing and fertility (prosperity) to their Kingdom.

Before you read on, ask yourself if any of these two purposes are unreasonable and if you do not hope or strive for the same things in your life. Of course you wish for order, blessing and prosperity! Jungian experts would suggest that the king/queen archetype is the force in you that longs to live in order, blessing and prosperity. You may not be doing it well yourself, but I suspect you might want for it and wish to be associated with a king/queen who displays these virtues in whatever subjective form you believe is good. They may be pastors, business leaders, community leaders, artists etc. Some would argue that having kings and queens in our lives is very important for our own sense of safety and survival – particularly if we haven’t been able to cultivate and regulate the king or queen within ourselves.

Of course, these forces/energies/archetypes need to be stewarded well. Ideally, the King energy is balanced and mature. When the King is unbalanced and immature, they become the over-inflated active Tyrant King or become the deflated passive Weakling King. Examples of these evil grandiose Kings and Queens can be found thousands of stories and myths. For example, consider King Herod of Jesus time, Queen Jadis in Narnia or Scar in the Lion King. We long for the good, fair and just King or Queen to inhabit the throne, don’t we? Something in us wants Jesus, Aslan or Simba to be the righteous King who brings order, care and prosperity back. It just seems right! Consider the conflict in Ukraine right now. Who is the Tyrant King in this scenario? Who is the Warrior King?

With that quick and dirty introduction to archetypal psychology and mythology in mind, we jump back to my original question – because if we can answer this question honestly, I believe our treatment of them may change: What inside us conjures up these great expectations of leaders (including religious ones)?

I would first answer this question by suggesting that many expectations are largely created by the archetypal needs within each of us – including the king / queen energy within us that we may, or may not have, recognised and regulated. These subtle parts of us create expectations and project them on leaders we revere or have disdain for. For some, these expectations we hold leaders against are the same we hold ourselves to – punishing or praising ourselves according to our success. For others, these expectations are beyond anything we believe we could be held to but still raise our voice in disappointment and demand. ‘This person should do X and Y! After all, they are in charge!’ It is as if there is a built in ancient ‘knowing’ that leaders should be like great gods who rule, protect and nourish their subjects.

In the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover authors Moore and Gillette write, “It is the mortal king’s duty …to take the right order of the universe and cast it in societal form but, even more fundamentally, to embody it in his own person, to live it in his own life.” They go on to write that the mortal king’s first responsibility is to live according to this expectation (The Law, The Way, Ma’at, or Dharma, or Tao). If he does embody it, according to the mythology, everything in the kingdom—that is, the creation, the world—will also go according to the espoused right order of things. In other words, we believe that the kingdom will flourish if the king practices what he preaches. In many instances, the king becomes a god of sorts.

On the other hand, if the king does not live according to espoused way then nothing will go right for his people, or for the kingdom as a whole. Moore and Gillette go on to explain that “The realm will languish, the Center, which the king represents, will not hold, and the kingdom will be ripe for rebellion.” In simple personal terms, something in us may fundamentally believes that we are personally doomed if the king doesn’t embody the espoused kingdom order, blessing and fertility (prosperity).

Prospering and Decaying Kingdoms in Mythology. Adapted from Hamlet.

Let’s consider this theory in light of all the messy devastation that occurs within Churches and Religious movements when the person(s) at the Center of these mini-kingdom fail to embody what is espoused.

Well, many followers seriously freak out! People might immediately move to defend the shortcomings and allegations in a sort of unreasonable denial! For these people, it is as if there is an entire cosmic structure riding on this person’s ability to handle stress, power, wealth, privilege and esteem. It’s like we want them to live blameless forever, die peacefully in their sleep and have perfect eulogies read over them at their funeral – as if they were Christ himself! To continue in this ironic tone; we certainly don’t not want them on anxiety medication or drinking alcohol to cope with it all. Right? Surely, they cannot get divorced, have affairs or abuse their power. The subjects of the kingdom may mess up but this is simply not possible for the king! (And yes, this untouchable divine king might even translate to US Presidents -they may even be profiled as the inflated trickster-king who knows how to tap into group psych.)

Now, what I’m not saying here is that any kind of abuse of others should be tolerated or ignored. All allegations should be independently investigated and the law measured out within the governing justice system. Truth must be revealed and weighed accordingly. Predators and Wolves should not belong in the pulpit and places of power, in the Church. What I am trying to have us consider here is why expectations on church and ministry leaders is so high and why so many feel a sense of despair when they – like mortal men – fall from their throne. Or, heaven forbid, the pastor fails to remember your child’s name after you’ve introduced him 5 times this year!

If an archetypal and mythological framework helps to explain why our expectations are so high, unreasonable and varied, perhaps it can also be used to move us towards a kind of healthier future. Both for those who are mourning an empty throne – and those who see thrones as problematic pedestals. Because let’s face it, it keeps happening.

I’d like to suggest, as I have before, that we could minimise tragic repetition if maturity was considered a greater virtue than morality. Sure, morality and ethics are very important – but should they not emerge from and lead towards maturity? What would the world look like if more people took the honest time (read: years) to examine themselves and their personal inherent motivations. So many of us are blind to the fact that the real problem lies within our collective selves. As a result, general reflexivity (look it up) is dangerously low. Our self-preserving nature blinds us. We rarely notice the log in our own eye, choosing to focus on the splinter in another’s eye, the one that won’t pain you when removed.

By all means, find kings and queens you can esteem in your youth. Follow, emulate, serve and revere them. Understand, however, that you are ultimately holding a mirror to your own inner king / queen. BUT there must come a day when you decide to become a king or queen yourself. Several Jungian analysts believe the king is the last archetype to evolve. After the warrior, lover and magician. Those who cannot create their own sense of order, blessing and prosperity are bound to want it from another. They are bound to worship and revere leaders who embody their espoused virtues/morals and critique and crucify those who do not. Either way – I think it points to something in us that still NEEDS the religious leader to BE a certain way – fearing that things may become catastrophic if their rule continues or ends.

When asked what I think about Mr. Houston’s news (or Ravi Z. Carl L. Haggard etc), I answer two things: Firstly, that I’m not surprised – all things end. Secondly, beyond the first point, I don’t think about it much at all. But I do make an effort to think about myself. I take time to consider the kind of leader, father, husband, friend, lover, priest, warrior and king I am becoming. I invest time and resources around this desire to mature. I do what I can to move towards being a more integrated person. I fall. I fail. I sabotage myself – thankfully, all this is not in the media spotlight, but I have decided that I will be most useful to those that love and follow me if I watch for grandiosity, inflation, passiveness, manipulation and deprecation in my own life.

I can say that I’ve had many heroic king people in my life – men and women I esteemed and wanted to be like… but I’m a middle aged man now! How long must I hang my identity and worth of another king’s crown when the Christian scriptures confirm what we have always suspected – that we fallible, mortal creatures are all kings and priests. That taking up the king’s mantle internally is optional, but falling and failing is not. That the large role of church ministry work is to establish spiritual foundations in a believer’s like, not be the foundation. That all my expectations on myself and others must be considered in the light of my own commitment to becoming who God has called me to be… Beloved.

Which brings us back to the opening question, how should a Pastors behave?. Knowing they are sincerely God’s Beloved sounds like a good start for all of us.

Shalom
David

3 Comments

  1. Jennifer March 29, 2022 at 3:26 pm

    David,
    Thank you for sharing. I do think that most often we place demands upon ourselves and others, especially those in ministry, and/or other leadership roles, that Jesus never intends. I do also think that these are even unconscious at times. If we could but just truly learn to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength AND love others as ourselves. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Gail RussellBaker March 29, 2022 at 3:41 pm

    I don’t go to church anymore. I became a paraplegic 18 years ago and got dumped by the church I was very active in however nobody bothered with me after I couldn’t attend. I have not seen a Pastor or leader from the church since then. I’ve discovered Jesus more on my own since then. He’s been faithful even at times when I wasn’t.
    I have a more personal relationship with Jesus that would never have been possible in church.
    I’m grateful now for what happened to me. Much suffering brings cracks that the light shines through.
    I’ve been able to help more people now more than ever. I have church with Jesus alone.

  3. Judy Dean March 30, 2022 at 9:10 am

    I stopped going to church and my faith has grown. I started my own bible study and God’s presence was there. I felt more freedom to move in the power of the Holy Spirit which is the way it should be.

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