I think I have finally put my finger on something.
I have felt it at different times.
Being a pastor exposes you to people’s expectations.
“What are people looking for in a pastor?”
“What do they expect from me?”
I have my own expectations as well which often feel impossible to live up to.
But I think I am beginning to figure some things out.
A few recent interactions have helped me piece some things together.
First, someone sent me a long article written by an attorney basically blaming the whole continuing COVID epidemic on pastors. It was an aggressive article telling pastors to “do your job!” Speak out! Tell people what is really going on behind the scenes! Give out the “real facts” on vaccines.
The real kicker was this.
Pastors should be the ones going down to all these public school board meetings, standing up, preaching fiery sermons that get recorded, and then going viral on YouTube with over one million views.
In other words, pastors can save our nation if they can just make viral YouTube videos where they really tell someone off in a public forum.
Next was someone who was deeply offended that I shared some of my weaknesses and struggles in a public setting. It wasn’t that I said anything inappropriate but that I had exposed a side of myself that was not “strong, bold, courageous, and always sure of myself.”
I was somewhat taken back.
David wrote out many of his struggles, doubts, and weaknesss in psalms that were sung in the congregations of Israel.
Paul boasted in his weaknesses and infirmities in order that Christ could be magnified more in his body.
Yet I discovered that some don’t want me to speak of my weaknesses or show any vulnerability. It somehow diminishes my position in their eyes.
Next, I have been listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. It has been an interesting documentary on the ministry of Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill church in Seattle. There’s much that I admire about Driscoll’s ministry. He was bold, strong, and faithful to preach Scripture. He impacted a city like Seattle with the gospel. But it all came crashing down in a matter of weeks, leaving a lot of spiritual carnage in its wake.
You will have to listen to the whole podcast to form your own opinion but at least two factors are hard to deny. One, Driscoll’s greatest strength was also his greatest weakness. His fiery boldness in the pulpit was also the only way he knew how to treat his staff and it masked a need for absolute loyalty and unchallenged authority from all who were around him. And two, people looked to him as the “face” of Mars Hill. He was their brand. He was the one who made everything click and when he fell, the whole ministry fell.
Bottom line, many people were looking to him as their spiritual foundation…as their spiritual authority…as their representative…as their spokesman…as their champion…and, can I say it, as their messiah.
We are, by nature, messiah-seekers.
We long for someone to set this world right.
We long for a prophet who shouts the truth and shuts the mouths of the critics.
We long for a priest who meets all our needs and always knows what to do.
We long for a king to defeat our enemies and make our lives safe and secure.
We are not much different than the Jews of Jesus’ day.
We want a messiah who takes care of business, who “does his job,” who takes care of all the “junk out there,” and makes our lives easier, richer, safer, securer.
We long for a champion to fight our battles.
That’s why we love to watch movies about bold, brash, and strong superheroes.
That’s why we want bold, brash, and strong politicians.
Bold, brash, and strong political commentators.
Bold, brash, and strong sports stars.
And bold, brash, and strong pastors.
We are like the people of Israel facing Goliath and wanting someone with a bold, confident faith, fearless courage, and five smooth stones to bring him to the ground.
I get it.
I am not immune to the same tendencies.
I am in the same crowd longing for the same things.
We live in a dangerous world.
Enemies are everywhere.
We are vulnerable.
We are weak.
We are mortal.
We are fearful.
We could use a superhero…a champion…a messiah.
But in the Goliath story, we are not the ultimate champions. We are not the ones with the five smooth stones that will bring down all the giants in the world.
We are not the Son of David.
We are not the Messiah.
There’s only one.
And His name is Jesus.
But much to the disappointment of the Jews of His day, He did not come to defeat their external enemies in order to make their worldly lives better.
He came to defeat sin and death.
He came to change them.
From the inside out.
To prepare them for a coming kingdom above this present world.
And most surprisingly, He did not come as a bold, brash, and strong political, military, or religious leader.
But He came as a servant.
Gentle and lowly.
Giving His life as a sacrifice.
He blew all their categories away.
He came as a Lamb.
So what does that have to do with me as a pastor?
It means that I have to take my cues from Him and not from the expectations of the world or from others or even from within myself.
As a pastor, He has told me how I am to live…what I am to do.
There are three books in the New Testament, called the Pastoral Epistles, which define my role and my calling.
First and foremost, I am to follow Him…model His character.
The pastoral role is above all a ministry of character over charisma…faithfulness over fiery sermons…servanthood over superhero feats.
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, skillful in teaching, not overindulging in wine, not a bully, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
I am to be strong in the faith, discipline myself toward godliness, be patient toward all, teach the Word, preach the Word, love the Word, model the Word, pass on the Word to the next generation.
Feed Christ’s sheep.
Care for Christ’s sheep.
Everything else is lagniappe.
I recently read this quote from Matthew Henry, a faithful pastor from the 17th century:
Examples will govern more than rules. The greatest obstructer of the success of the Word are those whose bad lives contradict their good doctrine, who in the pulpit preach so well that it is a pity they should ever come out, and out of the pulpit live so ill that it is a pity they should ever come in.
A thousand fiery sermons mean nothing if one’s character crashes in the end.
And the same goes for every believer.
You are called to follow Jesus.
You are called to model His character.
Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control.
The New Testament letters to the churches tell you how to live in this present age.
Live soberly. Live righteously. Live godly lives.
Don’t live in fear.
Fix your eyes on Jesus.
Hold firm to the faith.
Speak the truth in love.
Let your speech always be with grace.
Sow the seeds of the gospel.
And leave the rest up to God.
The world has enough bold, brash people making viral YouTube videos.
It needs faithful followers of Jesus ministering to their neighbor in the quietness of the day.
The world is still searching for messiahs.
But we already have one.
The Sacrificial Lamb.
The Risen Savior.
The Coming King.
So stop looking to superheroes, stars, politicians, pundits, experts, scientists, preachers, or pastors to save you.
Look to Him.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. (Titus 2:11-15)