Every day I meet people from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds. They all define “pastor” with different mental caricatures. As a pastor, I am “mantled” with these caricatures before I even know it—subtly, silently, in the background of each new relationship. I don’t get to have my own persona. Every new relationship is begun “under water.”
It’s a stark realization. I’m fighting a huge uphill, relational battle—thanks to the title “pastor.” From false teachers, to varying religious structures, to bad ambassadors, to ethical failure and scandals—the title “pastor” has a pretty bad wrap in 21st century minds.
Fortunately, many people are genuine, reasonable, and willing to “give a guy a chance.” With some it takes moments, with others, months. But how I long to shatter the skewed, unbiblical caricatures.
Why? So I can be more “liked” or accepted? No. It’s all about Jesus being magnified. The caricature of pastor also becomes a caricature Jesus and His Word. To the extent that people believe, or I contribute, to the caricatures—we tarnish the light of the gospel and mask the heart of God. To the extent that I live up to the BIBLICAL persona of “pastor” I reflect and express God’s true heart—which draws people to HIM! Not me—HIM! And that’s the goal!
So here’s my list of pastoral caricatures that people subconsciously and cynically “expect” from me. I’d like to shatter these caricatures. I hope you will join me—whether you are a pastor or a Christian friend—the principles apply to anyone who represents Jesus:
Angry Pastor—Human anger does not accomplish God’s work—in any way, in any life, ever. It’s a complete derailment of transforming grace. God’s Holy Spirit grows people, my anger just hurts them. “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
Authoritarian Pastor—Lording over people is thoroughly unbiblical and harmful to God’s work of grace. If I can’t lead sheep to Him, then beating them won’t help. My most powerful resource is influence (example), not authority. See this post for more on this. “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3)
Arrogant Pastor—Sometimes it’s an attitude, a posture, a saunter, a tone, or a general disdain for “messy sheep.” It’s usually born out of insecurity more than over-confidence!Pastors are nobodies. We know it, but sometimes our insecurities make us afraid to say it or show it. Arrogance actually kills real ministry, because God resists it, and so do sheep. My church family has permission to “call me on it” if they see it! “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (James 4:6)
Formal Pastor—Most man-made traditions and formalities are not a product of 1st century Christianity. The word “tradition” in scripture shows up in both positive and negative lights (mostly negative). The positive refers to biblical instruction and the practice of the faith of Jesus. The negative refers to man-made traditions or preferences that have no substantive basis in scripture.
Sometimes we are more married to our formalities as we are to our faith. The people I serve are just as regular as me, and I can’t pretend I’m not “regular.” Many people I meet are highly interested in biblical faith, but find pointless tradition or formality to be a serious distraction. “And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” (Mark 7:9)
Judgmental Pastor—Oh, the anxiety and fear that people experience when they think they’re being “evaluated” by their pastor. The idea that I should be “measuring” my church family in behavior—comparing them against my personal standards or preferences, treating some better than others because they conform more to “my liking.” This is wholly unlike the heart of Christ and the grace of God, and is destructive to authentic pastoral relationships. If the sheep are anxious around the shepherd, something is broken. God calls this “evil.” “Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?” (James 2:4)
Stressed Pastor—True confession—stress makes me hard to live with! Stresses of ministry are real, but taking them out on sheep (including family or staff) is an abuse of position. God confronted my self-imposed stress this way, “Are you going to do this, or am I?”
My stress was a monster of my own making. I was trying to make things happen for God, instead of letting Him fight while I follow, and being content with “whatever He chooses to do!” The stress was born out of fear, anxiety, and self. (“What if I fail?”) Stressed leaders are often discontented and “driving” ministry rather than resting in God’s pace. And stressed pastors produce stressed sheep—which makes for a very stressful Lord’s day! So much for worship! “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
Unhappy Pastor—Miserable pastors aren’t doing the cause of Jesus any favors. God’s call is an exceedingly joyful call. The Christian life is a joyful life. People need, want, crave, yearn for real joy!
Joy is one of the best gospel tracts we have! Lack of it pretty much slams the door on evangelism, disipleship, relationship, and magnifying Jesus with clarity. Few things are as attractive to the human heart as true joy! “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:” (1 Peter 1:8)
Materialistic Pastor—The media is really helping us with this one—you know, private jets, excess, extravagance! Prosperity gospel is a sad caricature of New Testament, local church life and leadership, and it turns people away from real faith. Targeting “upper-middle class” exposes an unChristlike, materialistic motive. Sheep respond well to a contented, gratitude-driven pastor. “…not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;” (1 Peter 5:2)
Shotgun Pastor—No study, no real preparation—just a half page of scribbled bullet-points and a lot of frothy, foamy zeal. Bad idea. Dangerous! Treating the Word like a shot-gun, and shooting from the hip is a really bad ministry practice. We are called to “feed the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2) We are commanded to “feed them with knowledge.” (Jer. 3:15) This requires real preparation, honesty with God’s Word, and meaningful, textual application to 21st century life. Think of the surgical precision of a neurosurgeon. “But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)
Manipulative Pastor (or Legislative Pastor)—Again, this one usurps the work of the Holy Spirit within, and attempts to get people to behave externally according to pastoral expectation or law. The expectation may even be good, biblical, healthy, and best. The behavior or rule may be moral, helpful, biblical, and wise—but badgering someone there NEVER works. My call is to persuade, not control. (Read more on this here.) Beating sheep into good behaviors just bruises sheep. God’s process involves His Word and His Spirit—HIS POWER—from the INSIDE. It looks the same on the outside, but it’s an entirely different process of organic growth over manufactured, legislated growth.
Manipulating people leads to eventual resentment—when they realize they are merely conforming for man’s approval rather than experiencing true, internal transformation by God’s grace. Rare is the temperament type or personality that will tolerate this badgering for the long-haul.
My problem is, I want to get ahead of God. I think I can “get the sheep there faster” than He can. When I manipulate them, they LOOK better, faster—they behave better sooner. But it’s not because of spiritual growth. It’s just because of external pressure. And this always, always—ALWAYS—breaks down eventually. I need to be ok with God working in His sheep at His pace. I need to be ok with them “not being where I want them to be.” After all, they belong to God. “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
Sexually Deviant/Abusive Pastor—I don’t even like to type this one. But sadly, as a pastor, I’ve met many people who presume that spiritual leaders (think multiple denominations, church types, and religious affiliations) are abusive. The minority of tragic stories cast a cloud over thousands of pure, happily married pastors with moral integrity. Not fair—but sadly, a reality. Staying accountable, staying fully invested into my own marriage, not being ostracized or “above” my church family, showing my church family my obvious infatuation with my own wife, staying in a position of dependence upon God, knowing I’m not above sin and its potential—it’s all an effort to remain dependent upon grace. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)
I’m grateful to have been under a couple of godly pastors. I had some good models. While I’ve seen the caricatures, the majority of my life, I’ve been influenced by good under-shepherds. Let’s labor to fall into some different profiles…
Shepherding Pastor. Preaching/Teaching Pastor. Reproving/Rebuking/Exhorting Pastor. Encouraging Pastor. Praying Pastor. Growing Pastor. Repenting Pastor. Humble Pastor. Team-Leading Pastor. Apologizing Pastor. Authentic Pastor. Regular-guy Pastor. Growing-Christian Pastor. Real Pastor. Joyful Pastor. Dependent Pastor. Faith-filled Pastor. Caring Pastor. Responsive Pastor. Reachable Pastor. Human Pastor. Laughing Pastor. Sensitive Pastor.
And my personal all time favorite! (Drum roll… wait for it…)
The one pastoral persona I’d like to fulfill by the end of my life…
The highest compliment I could be paid by any fellow-sheep in this flawed family of which I am an unworthy but growing member…
When all the teaching, preaching, praying, weeping, laboring, investing, serving, and leading is complete…
I just hope to have been a really good…