I posted this in my monthly post at Out of Ur blog.
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 learned to pour them into the cups of 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 SELF and that magazine made its nest in Whitney Houston’s famous song “The Greatest Love of All” when 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. And iGen. It’s everywhere; it’s the air GenMe breathes; and it has made potent inroads into the church.
I saw recently a church’s website where instead of finding “Pastors” or “Staff” I saw “Personalities.” A click-through revealed the “personalities” of these personalities, or at least the “personalities” these people wanted to be or 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 and what …. It went on and on and I 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 nurture that led me to be offended and shocked by any leader or pastor permitting himself to be displayed this way on the church’s website. That nurture taught me these things about a pastor:
First, that it is a sacred calling to be yanked from sin into the world of not only receiving grace but dispensing it. The primary task of the pastor is to “spread gospel.” How? As a pastor 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 reflect this. It didn’t.
Second, that 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 all ways.” I doubt the apostle Paul had the latter notions 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, that 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, some 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. We need more Eugene Petersons. You might think of others.
Fourth, that pastors, above all, are to be examples of the mortification of the self and the flesh and 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 model before everyone as a “death to self, death to the flesh” life and lifestyle. Many today are (sometimes rightly) nervous about putting pastors on pedestals and of elevating pastors above the general priesthood of all believers. Yes, indeed. But not at the expense of the pastor being 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 pull out the old word “nurture” and 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 “Pastor.”