“Authenticity is what matters,” everyone says. “Just be yourself.”
Unless you’re a jerk, I guess. Then please try to be someone else.
They say that’s what people really look for in a pastor these days, as well. But instead, there seems to be a lot of image consulting going on. Gone are the suits and ties of the past. Today’s pastor is in jeans and probably a t-shirt for the Sunday sermon. And he works out…a lot.
So what that pastor is saying is that he loves you, but he’s no wimp. In fact, if you don’t accept Christ right now, he might very well decide to dropkick your butt straight into the Kingdom of Heaven!
I saw a guy my age (50s) preaching on the web recently. He was wearing a shirt with tight short sleeves to accentuate his moderately puffy arms. There was also a tattoo on his forearm.
I don’t have a problem at all with tattoos. But this mature, pudgy gentleman looked so incredibly awkward, like Santa showing up for the mall photo shoot in leather pants on a Harley. There wasn’t anything immoral about what he wore, it just looked so very self-conscious. And a little creepy, to boot.
If tattoos and graphic tees are who you really are, then more power to you. But when we conform to someone else’s random definition of “hip”, we’re forfeiting the divine dork God may have intended us to be.
We’ve traded in the unique “masterpiece” he crafted through the trials and struggles over the years, and pasted a generic smiley face on the Mona Lisa.
I guess I feel qualified to say all this because I’ve felt the same pull. As my age and waistline expand, I sometimes wonder if people will stop listening to me. I’ve looked at other pastor’s webpages and church buildings and wondered why I bother to preach my little messages in my church.
Am I irrelevant? I sure hope not. I’m running out of non-wrinkled places to put a tattoo.
I’m having lunch today with a friend of mine, Todd. He’s a pastor too. Maybe that explains why he irritates me.
He always likes to talk church strategy, from a business perspective. You know, “what demographic group your church is focusing on”, and “which churches are blowing and going in the area and which are not.” He’s actually pretty knowledgeable with all that stuff. But something about it really gets under my skin after a while.
“Hey buddy, I visited another church’s service last week. The guy preaching was their associate pastor, and he was AWESOME!”
Oh really… (trying to act nonplussed). What was so great about him?
“Man, he got up and did the whole sermon without looking at one note. And the guy was young, good looking, athletic build. They’d better hold on to that guy!”
Then he switched topic to the church’s programs.
“The place ran like a well-oiled machine! Their systems, children’s ministry, all top notch. The service started on time and was out right at an hour. These guys have really got it together!”
I’m nodding, but thinking to myself, “In and out in an hour – just like Jesus did it. Praise the Lord!”
I spent the rest of the day highly irritated.
Why? Because I knew what Todd had described wasn’t anything like my church, and I knew he knew it as well. You see, he’d visited us a few times to give me the benefit of his “expert opinion.” He was no longer pastoring, and had dropped by to check us out. So this talk was his way of trying to “challenge” me to “up my game” and “move to the next level” and a hundred other expressions you read on motivational posters.
My little church? Well, we’re a family, and we love each other. I care for them with a pastor’s heart, and we’re a true spiritual community. But…we’re not real impressive, facility-wise. Since some of our folks come from a different cultural tradition, we rarely start right on time. And since we don’t have a lot of money, a lot of our “systems” are a little more “organic” than others.
Sometimes, we’re just trying to make things work. Admittedly, it’s not always professional-looking, and I probably am not as impressive as the young buck he heard at the other church.
And that brings us to an honest evaluation of me.
Young? Nope. I’m in my early 50s.
Athletic build? Um…let’s just say I try to wear a sport coat when I preach, to cover over “a multitude of sins.”
Memorized sermon? Not likely. Unlike Todd’s new pastor-crush, I preach EVERY WEEK, not once a month. And if I’m sick, I preach. If my wife and kids are home sick, I preach and leave them to fend for themselves. That’s because there is no one else to step in. It’s all on me.
I’m irritated today because I really try to avoid the kind of talk Todd is doing. It stirs up a competitive spirit in me—one that I’ve witnessed taking over the hearts of too many pastor friends.
I’ve learned a few things over the years about what ambition will do to you in the ministry. Sure, I’d like to have the big church, but I know some guys who got them by feeding their big egos. Not all, of course, but more than you’d guess. I’ve worked for pastors who drove their staff like a foolish teenager drives a car with no oil or up keep. Just drive it into the ground until it breaks down.
They’re like my friend Todd, whose ambition angered his leaders so much they had no problem eventually giving him his walking papers. His ministry was impressive on paper, especially the blueprints of his buildings. But he seemed to be more about success that helping people. .
In truth, Todd’s a good guy at heart, and I truly feel sorry for him. But I believe he’s been playing a game too many men play. It’s like that game some little boys play standing together in the school restroom…only now they do it with churches and people.
“Who’s the biggest?”
What my friend doesn’t realize is the awesome young buck he heard preach at that oh-so-perfect church isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. As an associate, he gets a month to work on one sermon, as opposed to the rest of us who have to come up with one every week. And as far as having his sermons memorized, I know a little trick he has from when I wandered onto their stage once at a conference…
He has a TV monitor recessed into the pulpit. Yeah, how cool is that? It flashes all his notes on it. There are also monitors on the floor, so he can move around and look like he’s saying his brilliant thoughts extemporaneously off the top of his head.
I guess he’s playing the game too. Trying to look a little better than the guy down the street. Hoping to build a church just a little bigger than the guy in the stall next to him.
He still hasn’t realized these are just games played by nasty little boys, not the mature men of God they aspire to be.
Remember: to God, size doesn’t matter. And he doesn’t care who’s the coolest. None of those things matter to God.
They only matter to little boys.