Adele Richards is an amateur parent of two exceedingly fabulous little girls. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away...
In my last article (How to go back to the future) I talked about going back in time to give my younger self some advice. If I could actually do this (I’m still working on the technology – pass me a spanner) one of the most important things I’d tell myself is to not put people – especially pastors – on pedestals.
A lot of disappointments, a lot of hurt, a lot of misplaced energy has gone into this particular habit of mine. It’s been a hard lesson to learn and I’m not sure I’ve totally got it yet. I find it so tempting, over and over again.
Around a charismatic Christian leader, I’m a moth to a flame. I’m happy to follow someone who knows (or appears to know) where they’re going. If they’re inspiring and wise and passionate and experienced, all the better. I’ve always had a respect for authority, well, I’m the eldest child – wired to be responsible not a rebel. In fact I’m so respectful of the police, that if they drive past while I’m out running – jogging, you understand – I find myself slowing down. Don’t want to get caught speeding after all.
Pedestalitis (putting people on pedestals of adulation) is pretty widespread in society – we like to put celebrities, athletes and actors up on pedestals – and then judge them when they fall off in a spectacular fashion. The church too has a healthy dose of pedestalitis, we love to put our pastors and preachers and prophets up there where they’re closer to God than us, so they’re responsible for our spiritual lives. We’re more comfortable relying on our leaders to meet our spiritual needs than learning how to go direct to God. (Ouch).
If you’re suffering from this phenomenon, don’t think you’re alone. God’s chosen people, the Israelites had more than a spot of pedestalitis, a couple of thousand years ago. The Israelites were being led by the almighty living God himself, his presence was with them, and yet they asked for a king. They wanted a buffer between themselves and this uncomfortably intense God of theirs. He seemed a bit lively and dangerous, if truth be told. They were more comfortable with a leader they could put on a pedestal than dealing directly with God himself.
And this guy Saul, well they literally looked up to him, what with him being head and shoulders taller than anyone else. He was also a looker. All in all he seemed like excellent king-material. I don’t want to ruin the end of the story, but it didn’t work out too well with hunky Saul.
Of course, respecting authority, and being able to recognise, follow and support a leader is a good thing. But if you put someone on a pedestal, they’ve only got one way to go. (Clue: it’s not up).
So how do you know if you’re suffering from pedestalitis?
If you’ve put someone on a pedestal:
1. Every word they say is true.
2. They don’t make mistakes.
3. You want to be just like them; you model yourself on them.
4. You go to them to hear from God. (They have a hotline to God)
5. You believe they are closer to God than you.
6. You want them to make your decisions for you.
7. If they say, “Jump,” you say, “how high?”
8. You don’t feel able to question their decisions.
9. If they something even vaguely critical of you, you crumble and feel destroyed.
10. You compete for their attention.
11. Their opinion outweighs everyone else's.
12. If you have their opinion, you’re happy, and you don’t go to God or the Bible to check it out.
How many statements did you agree with?
In general you have a healthy respect for your leader, but with a small dose of pedestalitis. Be careful not to let it spread. Wash regularly.
You are on the brink of tumbling into full-on pedestalitis. I know it feels lovely to adore someone so much but really, it’s only going to end in tears.
You are riddled with pedestalitis. Attend to this quickly: it’s a serious risk to your relationship with God and with your leader.
(Disclaimer: There’s a possibility this may not be a highly scientific questionnaire developed in high-tech labs. It might just be a bit of fun made up by a girl in a coffee shop on a sunny Friday.)
I may be making a joke about it, but for some of us, pedestalitis touches on some pretty deep issues. For me, this tendency to put leaders on a pedestal is all part of my search for the perfect father-figure; someone to give me approval, identity and affirmation. It’s very tempting to make your pastor or spiritual leader that person, especially when it really is a deep heart-need. And many of the very best pastors are just that, fathers of the faith; they make you feel safe. That is a gift from God, but one that I have abused.
It’s dangerous to put a human on a pedestal in your heart, where only the truest and best Daddy has a right to live. Not only does it put a block between you and your Abba (Daddy God) but it sets you up for a huge emotional fall when that very excellent human pastor lets you down, even unintentionally.
This is hard. It’s much easier to trust an exceptionally gifted pastor, preacher or prophet who’s standing in front of you in the flesh, than it is to trust the best pastor, preacher and prophet ever – Jesus. Fundamentally we like things we can see and touch and hear with our funny-shaped human ears. We can go to our God any time of the day or night for help, cuddles, wisdom, pastoring, but so often we prefer to wait for five minutes of our pastor’s time instead. But if we can get our heads round it, we really do have the best pastor in the world; just check out Psalm 23 for a description of his style of pastoring. It sounds pretty fabulous.
I’m grateful for all the wonderful, godly, fallible pastors and leaders I’ve had in my life so far. And I’m sorry for the stress I’ve placed on them by placing them on pedestals they never asked for. To tell you the truth, I still hanker after a super-pastor that will inspire me, see who I truly am in my heart, call me into my destiny, make me laugh and give really amazing bear-hugs. But I’m slowly cottoning on to the fact that I’ve already got him. And not just on Sunday mornings. I’ve got his full attention 24 hours a day.
Are you searching for a super-pastor?
Sign up to receive a periodical digest of some of the best content from this magazine.