Everyone pays the price for playing the puck

June 12th, 2019

I am not much of a hockey fan. As a kid growing up in central Missouri, I kept up with the St. Louis Blues on the nightly news, but otherwise never played, attended or watched a hockey game. This year, however, the Blues made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and I thought I’d give it watch. I don’t really understand the rules, and I don’t know any of the players or their numbers. But it’s a lot more exciting than I thought. I especially like the full-speed hits into the wall and the controlled chaos of it all.

Last week one of the announcers, after watching player after player get slammed against the boards, wondered how long the teams could keep up their physical play. Just then, yet another player with the puck got jacked into the wall, and the announcer said, “Everyone pays the price for wanting to play the puck.”

Not only is the spontaneous alliteration fantastic, but the saying rings of truth in all areas of leadership — especially the pastorate. If you intend to lead, to forge a new path, attempt something of meaning or aim for a huge goal in life, work or religion, you’re going to get hit.

And hit hard.

That’s the nature of leadership, especially Christian leadership, which claims to follow a crucified savior.

Yet herein lies the church’s problem — our leaders want the puck but don’t want to pay the price for it. According to Christianity Today, most pastors are afraid to speak out on social issues because they’re worried they’ll offend someone. Think about this. The church has spent millions of dollars and several decades on leadership conferences, books, seminars and coaching, yet our pastors still refuse to take the puck on things most relevant to the health of the church, its members and our common good for fear of paying the price. This, of course, explains years of refusal to speak out on racism, economic injustice, homophobia and sexism gathered under our steeples. Apparently we want to appear to be leaders, but we don’t want to pay the price for actually being leaders.

Then, when one of us does actually speak up and the price-paying begins, we drop out of ministry because of how badly we were treated by denominational leadership or the church. And while I do not want to dismiss the very true feelings and experiences of ministers who have been harmed by their churches and their denominations, and while I appreciate that there are appropriate times of sabbatical and rest after periods of trauma, I also do not think suffering eliminates our calling.

What exactly did we expect when we got into this vocation? What exactly did we expect when we took on the mantle of Christian leadership within the larger narrative world of the Creed’s declaration that we believe Christ was crucified and “suffered under Pontius Pilate”? Who told us that taking the puck would be painless?

Again, I do not intend to dismiss and degrade any leader’s suffering. I’ve experienced my own fair share. I know it takes time to heal. I know it takes time to process. But we also need to be reminded that the Christian life is, itself, a call to be crucified with Christ. Why would Christian leadership be any different? We are literally the lead sufferers. Paul wasn't speaking metaphorically.


And this approaches my larger concern. If our congregations watch us take the puck and avoid paying the price, then they will not see that their own faith will cost them something. If our congregations watch us pay the price and then drop out, then they will also be baffled when they experience suffering. We are modeling a religion for our congregations that communicates there is no price to pay. We are teaching that suffering should not be expected. We are proclaiming the falsity that God intends, above all, to keep us safe and comfortable.

But that religion does not reflect Christianity. It’s crucifixion-less and, therefore, resurrection-less. The religion of Christ is not a religion of people pleasing - it’s going to hurt sometimes. Every page of the New Testament indicates this.

Jesus warned us that everyone who wants to play the puck will pay the price. We should expect nothing less. We should also, however, hold on to the hope of the gospel that getting slammed into the wall, that paying the price, that getting crucified is not the end of the story. Christian hope is resurrection hope; resurrection hope begins in crucifixion. Pastors, we must be willing to pay the price. If we’re not willing, we should pass the puck to someone else.

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