Thursday, March 26, 2009

So what?

One of these days I am going to pick up a publication and see an advertisement for some ministry conference that features a presenter from East Podunk, Montana. And underneath a nice picture of the presenter, it will say, "Jed Smith pastors a 14-member church." And I'll smile and think, that's neat.

Let me explain.

The last few times I have picked up an unnamed publication that goes to many leaders in North America, I've noticed an advertisement for a seminar that features some well-known presenters. But one of the presenters, in particular, caught my eye. Underneath the presenter's picture was the obligatory bio-sketch, and the first line of the sketch said these words (or a variation of them - the name and location have been changed to protect the innocent): "Mike Jones pastors a 1300-member church in Florida." The first thing I thought when I saw that he pastors a 1300-member church was, so what? This fact is relevant to me in what way? And yet there it was, in the first line of this guys bio.

Is the fact that this presenter pastors a 1300-member church supposed to impress the reader? Does it add legitimacy to his or her presentations, and encourage attendees to pay special attention to the person? Or could it simply be a reflection of the pride that creeps into all of our hearts as we subtly boast of our accomplishments? After all, typically, when such advertisements are put together, the person is responsible for writing up a sketch about themselves and submitting it to the ones creating the advertisement. I have been there before. (In fairness, maybe I'm assuming too much about the situation. But then again, if the presenter didn't write his or her own bio, I wonder again what the relevance would be of including this information in the advertisement.)

Perhaps you're wondering why I am making such a big deal about this. Why so much fuss over a little thing?

Well, do you want to know the truth? The truth is, I find that my biggest struggle is battling with pride - and I think this is probably a common challenge for those of us who are pastors. It seems as though the ministry naturally lends itself to the worship of self. And so, because of this, I try to go out of my way to deflect any hint of recognition that might come my way. Sometimes it probably manifests itself in a bit of "false humility." But I hope - and pray - that I can turn people's attention to the One that I am working for, rather than anything that One has perhaps done through me.

Thus, I am particularly sensitive to the perception of pride in the hearts of others in ministry as well. I don't like it, for example, when ministers make sure the letters PhD are attached to their names whenever it is printed. In a recent article in Ministry magazine, one of the editors also amusingly observed that many multi-church district pastors will now identify themselves as "senior pastors," thus hoping to bolster their importance. (If it at all impresses anyone who's reading this, I'm not only the senior pastor in my district, but I am also the visiting pastor, the youth pastor, and the administrative pastor. Talk about an impressive resume!)

Of course, the irony of it all is that pastoring a 1400-member church may not be all that impressive to a pastor who has a 5,000 or 10,000 member church. And understanding that reality goes a long way in helping a person guard against pride. It's called perspective.

I may thump my chest because I have written a book, but it would be incredibly embarassing to thump my chest in the presence of someone who has written 20 books. I could boast that I have a Masters degree, but making such a proclamation in the company of a person who has a doctorate or two is kind of humbling. And the reality is, no matter how many accomplishments we have under our belts (or self-perceived accomplishments), there will always be someone else who has accomplished more. Of course, even if that weren't the case and we were the most accomplished person in our field, none of these accomplishments were achieved because any innherant abilities we may have. It's all God's grace - grace emanating from an entirely humble God.

As Carsten Johnsen - who, though the owner of multiple PhDs, use to refuse to wear his regalia for graduation and consecration processions because he thought it only fostered pride - writes,
It may sound bold in the midst of a Greek-inspired culture to speak about the humble God. Throughout our lives we have imbibed the arch-pagan throught-forms of platonic idealism with all its vain-glorious insistence on climbing, climbing - in one's own power - to the stars. What glory could there be to us - children of a Hellenist world - in meekness? But it is God Himself who uses this description about Himself:

"Learn of Me. I am meek and lowly in heart." Matthew 11:29. . . . True Christian love is revealed, not as a way of taking, but as a way of giving; not as a way of human pride, but as a way of divine humility (Agape and Eros, pp. 79, 80).
I don't know, maybe I'm making too big a deal. Or perhaps I am being hypocritical. But this much I do know: we could all take a page out of Christ's book of humility. His humility should humble us. And thus we will be able to sing alongside Isaac Watts,
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.


Anonymous said...

So which is superior--the PhD or the one bestowing the PhD? Where did the first PhD come from? Obviously, it was bestowed by someone who didn't have it himself/herself!

Anonymous said...

I think your 4 titles as a Pastor are good but "Friend" is more impressive!!