“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Continuing our discussion of the future of the American Church, I’m attempting to encapsulate my own thoughts and personal opinions about where she is headed over the course of the next twenty years or so. In my previous post, I discussed pastor’s salaries, and how many young preacher boys come out of seminary with the idea that they will be provided with a ministry position that enables them to pastor as a full-time vocation. Being in ministry, and knowing many young pastors, and young men and women who are being trained for ministry, full-time pastor pay seems to be a universal expectation.
But what if being a pastor meant that you worked more than one job to support your family? I’ve done it in the past, and it is a painfully difficult juggling act! I believe it’s also a healthy juggling act, in terms of building an effective ministry. I pointed out that some of the pastors I’ve known over the years who have left the most enduring legacy in our local community were men who planted and led churches while also working full-time as construction workers. In our little corner of Northeast Georgia, the primary occupation of the population is, guess what…..construction worker. Effective pastors are pastors who are hands-on and involved in the culture around them. They understand the demands, struggles, and joys of life of the people they minister to because they are experiencing them, as well.
I don’t have a specific problem with paying a pastor a full-time salary. I have experienced pastors who viewed the pulpit as much a career as they did a calling, though, becoming slaves to the income they receive for their services. This can send confusing messages to the congregation. Pastors encourage us to get married, then charge a fee for conducting a wedding. The most distasteful thing I’ve seen is pastors who have a set fee for conducting a funeral. That’s just gross.
Pastors aren’t called to collect a comfortable income for doing ministry. They are called, like the rest of us believers, to be the light of the world.
In considering the thought, I have to think in terms of BEING light. If I actually AM light, then I have to consider the qualities of light in order to correctly frame the passage and apply it to the topic at hand.
I thought of a lot of ideas as I considered this, such as light shining and being bright and keeping us warm. Those are just too hokey for me to get into, though. So I considered another quality of light:
Light can be bent.
Light can be headed one way, and be immediately redirected in another, less natural, less direct, less obvious path.
Is there any better description of the Christian life? Or the life that a pastor should be willing to lead?
Peter was fishing in Mark chapter 1, when this Jesus strolls by. He’s not bothering anyone, making a living, building a career, tending to the family business. Jesus speaks to him for the first time, saying “Come, follow Me…” (Mark 1:17). Peter’s response is to allow himself to be bent in an unexpected direction: “Immediately they left their nets and followed…”
Peter’s response shows an indication of what type of disciple he’s going to be. He changes direction with ease. He is the light that Jesus later named him and the other 11 to be. In order to do ministry, he allowed space for lack of comfort in his life.
Later in life, Peter would speak with Jesus for the last recorded time, in John chapter 21. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” Peter answers twice with a “Yes”, then emphatically the third time, saying “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
“You know that I love you! Why are you asking me this over and over again?”
Jesus responds by saying something very unexpected to Peter: “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (Mark 21:18-19)
I used to believe that spiritual maturity was determined by how well you behaved. The measure of your “light” depended on how sin-free you were, or better spoken, how sin-free you appeared to be. Henri Nouwen framed spiritual maturity very differently in his seminal work, “In the Name of Jesus”. He described spiritual maturity as “a willingness to be led places that one would rather not go.”
Maturity as a believer isn’t marked by how brightly we shine in the eyes of the culture, but how dim we are willing to make ourselves, so that Christ might shine in us. In a world of upward mobility, we’re called to the downward mobility of the cross. Consider these words that Jesus spoke at different points in His ministry:
Obey my commandments ( John 14:15—“It’s not about you.”)
Love God and others (John 15:12, Mt 22:37-40—“It’s not about your personal need to feel loved.”)
Go and preach to all the world ( Mk 16:15, Mt 28:19—“Don’t worry about the neighborhood you’re in, or whether they really like the message you’re relaying…Just go where you’re called to go.”)
Take nothing for your journey ( Lk 9:3, 10:4—“Don’t concern yourself so much with whether you’re prepared to follow. And don’t use ‘I’m just waiting on the Lord’ as an excuse to do nothing. God is waiting on you to follow. Him”)
Sell all that you own ( Lk 11:41, 12:33, 18:22—“Care more about the kingdom than about your personal security.”)
Invite the poor to eat with you ( Lk 14:12-14—“Consider the needs of others as more important than your own.”)
Give to anyone who asks ( Lk 6:30, Mk 6:37—“Anyone…Not just people who build you up, or that you feel are worthy.”)
If you pray, fast, or give, do it secretly ( Mt 6:1-11—“Don’t worry about whether you receive attention for your spiritual efforts.”)
Take the lowest position in meetings ( Lk 14:8-10—“Be content with where you are. You don’t always have to be in charge.”)
Don’t be called Father, Mister, etc. ( Mt 23:9-10—“Don’t be overly impressed with your own titles and achievements.”)
Rejoice when you are persecuted ( Lk 6:23—“Lack of acceptance can sometimes be a mark of true success as a disciple.”)
Take up your cross and follow me ( Mk 8:34—“Risk everything for something that may only gain you obscurity, pain, rejection, and heartache.”)
David Rawlings is a little known, but incredible musician. He is “the band” for a Nashville artist named Gillian Welch. He plays a 1935 Epiphone Olympia acoustic archtop guitar. The Olympia wasn’t really the best guitar made during it’s time. It was rather cheap when first produced. I’m not so musically inclined, but I’ve heard that it doesn’t have the best sound. In terms of looks, it’s not spectacular. There are plenty of Gibsons and Gretsch guitars from the same era that are coveted by collectors, but not many search ebay for hours at a time for the Olympia.
The Olympia is rather worthless on it’s own. It may have some minimal monetary value, but the guitar itself is incapable of perceiving its worth, and making itself useful. It is capable of producing something of quality, its sound, but not on its own.
It produces no sound, no beauty, no art in and of itself. It creates no magic nor whispers of awe when it sits on a stand in a concert hall. No one sits wide-eyed and stares at the Epiphone Olympia when it is by itself. The instrument cannot sells no tickets nor draws any attention on its own.
But when the instrument surrenders it’s will to the hands of the maker of music, it becomes great indeed. In the hands and will of someone like a David Rawlings, something worthless transcends into something divine.
Alone, it’s pieces of wood and metal and string with no intrinsic value.
Add the musician to the equation, bend the strings according to his plan, and the instrument produces extraordinary results.
What if our pastors were more willing to allow themselves to be bent? To encounter a difficult path in ministry, rather than just taking the easy route? John Wesley wrote, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” We live in an age when pastors desire to devote themselves to ministry as a comfortable career. This is not a dishonorable thing, so don’t take my thoughts the wrong way. I do believe, though, that there are people out in the “real world” who are suffering…economically, spiritually, emotionally, etc. They need pastors who will get down in the ditches with them, live like them, and know the same pains and triumphs that they live on a daily basis.
It’s what Jesus did. He was God, but made Himself nothing. An old Derek Webb song states, “Like the Three-in-One, know you must become what you want to save.”
Pastors who build a lasting legacy in our generation aren’t the pastors who have clever ideas for sermon series, the technology to produce holograms of themselves preaching at multiple church sites, or who have the best bands to lead worship. Pastors who make a difference that endures are the ones who allow themselves to be led places that they would rather not go. Pastors who make a difference over the next twenty years will be the ones who will live out their calling, regardless of whether the ministry God chooses for them demands they be bi-vocational.
Pastors who will make a difference in the future are the ones who are willing to be bent.