True confession: I love Atlas Shrugged. I think it is a wonderful romance novel, complete with striking beauty Dagney and the bevy of men who wish to bed her. I think the next edition of Ayn Rand’s hot masterpiece should include an image of Dagney, corseted under her stern suit, breathless in the arms of John Galt, immortalized by Fabio who has cut his hair short for the occasion. Really, I think that’s the only way to read this Rand-y romance. And I have, more than once, though I’ve never made it through the 70 page manifesto/radio address/proclamation of love by John Galt in the latter part of the book. There’s something romantic about the notion of leaving all those talentless mucks behind and creating one’s own utopia of talent, hidden away in the gorgeous and rugged landscape in Colorado. A brain drain is afoot, and John Galt is behind it all, whispering to the best and brightest to come away, to leave the world, to create a community where their talent will be tested and validated.
Every so often I feel that way about the church – not that it’s full of talentless mucks; not that at all. But when I learn of another pastor friend leaving the parish, or of a parishioner who has decided he or she is done with church, I wonder: what is luring them away? Is there some spiritual equivalent of John Galt that whispers to them, “There is more… come away… leave it all… you are better than this… enjoy your Sunday mornings….”
The people I know who have answered a new call to non-parish ministry are good folk. They are faithful. They are talented. They have not made this decision lightly. But every time I hear a friend is leaving her or his congregation to head up a non-profit, or to go into counseling, or just to take a break, a part of me gets so very sad. The church needs them, I think. But I also think, is the church so broken they had to leave?
I don’t think the church is that broken, or better put, I don’t think the church is any more broken now than it ever was. We are an imperfect people called together into community, and that right there means brokenness. I think my friends who leave parish ministry leave not because of brokenness but because of faithfulness – faithfulness to the call they discern from God, faithfulness to their true selves.
We pastors are broken people who minister to other broken people in a broken world. We are all in the process of mending. We are not super-human, uber-faithful, crazy talented folks who deign to share our gifts with the undermasses. We are not Dagney Taggart; we are not John Galt. We understand that however flawed or perfect we are, there is One who is more perfect, One who accepts and even uses our flaws. And if that One calls one of us to go do something new, to minister in a classroom or a counseling office or a non-profit, then okay: it’s not that the one is leaving the church, but taking the church and God to the world.
So Miss Ayn, you can have your John Galt luring the arrogant away. You may have all those people. I’ll keep the rest, in the church or in the world or in the home. But thanks all the same for the trashy romance novel.