February 5, 2009
Pastors or Personalities?
In a self-obsessed culture, pastors have exchanged “death to self” for self-promotion.
I think I was in college when I first saw that title of a magazine that brazenly called itself SELF, and it was so bold it could have been called SELF! Nurtured in a theology that drew its juices from the Bible and influenced by the likes of Augustine and Luther and Calvin, I was taken back by anyone or any magazine that would advertise itself with the word "self." The self, so I was taught, was to die daily (Luke 9:23) or be put to death (Romans 6). In fact, my pastors often spoke of the "mortification" of the flesh (and self).
Nurture, then, put me on my heels when I saw a magazine called SELF and when that sentiment made its nest in Whitney Houston's famous song "The Greatest Love of All." Its clinching words tell us that "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." Well, yes, I say to myself, we do need to have a proper love of our self ? but how can our "greatest" love be one directed at ourselves? The Me Generation has created what Jean Twenge is now calling Generation Me. Others call it iGen. This value is everywhere; it's the air GenMe breathes; and it has made potent inroads into the church.
Recently I saw a church's website where instead of finding "Pastors" or "Staff" it listed "Personalities." A click-through revealed the "personalities" of these personalities, or at least the "personalities" these people wanted others to see. I don't recall all the details, but I read things about what they ate for breakfast and what they'd do if they weren't doing their church jobs. It went on and on, but I had had enough so I clicked the red X at the top and went to my favorite chair and just wondered awhile.
I wondered about the way I was nurtured that led me to be offended and shocked by any pastor permitting himself to be displayed this way on the church's website. My upbringing had taught me certain things about a pastor:
First, it is a sacred calling to be yanked from sin into the place of not only receiving grace but dispensing it. The primary task of the pastor is to "spread gospel." How? As a shepherd of people and as a preacher of the gospel. To be sure, the pastor learns to spread gospel to herself or himself too. The website could easily have reflected this. It didn't.
Second, it is a noble calling to be a leader of God's people in this world. The previous generations created an image of pastors that focused on distance, separation, and holiness, and it sometimes overdid the nobility of that image. This generation has undone that image and, in the process, has become enamored with "authenticity" and "I'm just like you in every way." I doubt the apostle Paul had the latter notion in mind when he sent off his instructions for elders in the Pastoral letters. Leaders lead because they've got something to say and show to others.
Third, it requires a commitment to reverence both before God and about the task of pastoring. Perhaps the biggest needs of the current generation are models of holiness and reverence. That is, pastors who flow into silence before the very Name of God, who speak in hushed tones in the sacredness of God's presence, and who speak of themselves and their tasks with a sense of gratitude and wonder. We need more Eugene Petersons. You might think of others.
Fourth, above all pastors are to be examples of the mortification of the self and the flesh. They are to exhibit daily self-denial. The pastor stands before his or her congregation as a whole package: pastor, father, husband, mentor, spiritual director, sibling, friend, and fellow Christian. As a "fellow" Christian the pastor is a model before everyone of the "death to self, death to the flesh" life and lifestyle. Many today are nervous about putting pastors on pedestals and of elevating pastors above the general priesthood of all believers. That is understandable, but the opposite extreme isn't any better. We cannot lose the expectation that the pastor should be a really good example of what it means to live properly before God.
I don't consider myself old-fashioned; I don't consider myself a stick-in-the-mud. But I'm quite happy to say that pastors are to be holy and reverent and so deeply grateful for the grace to be a pastor that they'd never advertise themselves with the word "personality," which is nothing other than the word "SELF" dressed up in postmodern clothes they picked up on Freud's couch. The best word for a pastor on the website is still "Pastor."