Thursday, September 17, 2009

Screwtape's Strategy for Pastors


My Dear Wormwood:

Concerning your correspondence about your new assignment, you are correct: preachers must never do anything they can get caught at.

The old list of seven has proven deadly to many and those sins certainly further our cause. But taken to their logical conclusions, they put our targets out of business. I won't recite our victories; you know their names. Their demise is often well publicized, but then we must begin the long and tedious process of wooing another.

There is a more excellent way to disable the servants of our Enemy. Why it is not one of the "deadlies" I'm not sure. But it is very effective. It hobbles our prey without disqualifying them. It's the only way I know they avoid being accused of the first seven. Indeed, it is an answer to them.

I commend to you the pastor's deadliest sin: keeping up appearances.

When feeling proud, have him look humble. When lusting, look chaste. When envious, have your subject publicly congratulate the popular contemporary-worship pastor across town who is making his own congregation look like altar-call troglodytes. He needn't like his competitors, just compliment them.
(Hypocrisy is hard, Wormwood. Watch C-SPAN until you get it down. Politicians are naturals at this art.)

Gluttony is hard to mask, but it can be done. At big, must-do dinners, your pastor should say loudly, "I'll have my dressing on the side!" When the salad comes, urge him to dump it over the top when no one is looking.

If the menu is fried chicken, he should say, "The fat is in the skin, I always tear it off." Then whisper to him how Mother Teresa would eat this. He will nibble the skinned part while looking as if this chore is interrupting his quiet time. (Here's a delicious tip I picked up from an assignment in Kentucky: take the skin home in a napkin, microwave it for 40 seconds—on the defrost setting so as not to toughen it—and presto! he can eat the crunchy part and keep his testimony.)

When it comes to cars, Toyotas look sincere. If the pastor must have something larger, it should be a maroon Dodge Caravan, at least two years old, to be used when taking shut-ins to cash their Social Security checks. One preacher of mine bought a new, red Taurus and lost his witness. Red is not a humble color.

The congregation should never doubt that your project is a true minister. He should carry a Left Behind Sky Chart with his Spiritual Formation Bible. He may read Anne Rice, but keep Janette Oke novels on the desk. The key is to imply, imply, imply.

Also, I have made good use of sanctimonious phrases. Say a deacon asks, "Did you see the last episode of The Sopranos?" The proper reply is "No, that's the only time I can work in my Experiencing God notebook." This does two things: it makes the deacon feel like a Unitarian and it elevates the pastor to president of Essenes International.

And these have proven useful in preserving approval ratings: "Mrs. Jones, I went by the hospital to see your husband, but he was asleep" and "I tried to get you on the phone this week, were you out of town?"

And he must never say, "I'm going out to play eighteen holes!" Instead intone, "I'm off to visit the Greenes!"

After all, Wormwood, keeping up appearances is what it's all about. In twenty years or so, he can drive a red car and winter in Biloxi; in the meantime, he'll have done our side little harm.

Your devoted uncle,

Screwtape

Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

2 comments:

Doug Hagler said...

I can only wonder what prompted this post. I thought it was insightful, and was definitely a departure from the mainline-contempt or political-themed posts I'm more accustomed to. Are you having trouble keeping up appearances, or is it someone else?

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

You got me...closeted lib, classical self-loather.

No...I'm actually trying to get back to the posting scheme I outlined a few months back: Worship Wednesday, Theology Thursday, Funny Friday (and - of course - Feast Days as they occur).