The Pastor’s Pastor

Skyscrapers of book boxes teetered nervously in a maze around the cluttered new office; each box grunting under the weight of the heavy reading.  I was grunting too, flopped down in my chair at the desk.

Why do I have so many books?  I ask myself this question every time I have to move them.  And why is my office on the 3rd floor?

First day at a new job.  A new church body.  And my first task is to haul these long-time companions to their new shelves.  My head dropped to the desk just thinking about unpacking them all.

And that’s when I felt the hands on my shoulders.  Big hands.  Broad hands.

Startled, I lifted my head off the desk.  It was my pastor.

No, not the senior pastor.  Not the executive pastor.  Not an associate of men’s ministry or small groups.

It was “Big Al”.  The janitor.

And he was big.  He stood towering over me with a broad build and bald head.  Like a real life Mr. Clean, without the earring. I was pretty sure his hands could crush me and he probably wouldn’t have even noticed.

“Hey, is this your first day?”  he asked.

“Yea, just getting all my books in the door.”

Big Al looks around and smiles, “Has anyone prayed for you yet?”

“Uh no, I guess not.”

“Great then, let me do it right now.”  And before I can even agree, “Big Al” is praying for me to have courage, lead boldly, proclaim Christ clearly, to have passion in my spiritual journey and for my family to be strong and blessed by God.

That’s how I met my pastor.  On my first day as the new youth pastor, he stepped into my office to empty the garbage.  But he wouldn’t leave until he’d made sure my soul wasn’t in the same condition.

I like people like Al.  People who see themselves as part of God’s divine plan to breathe life into every situation.  Even while taking out the trash.

And now several years later, from time to time, Big Al will come strolling into my office to empty the garbage.  And sometimes he’ll stop and look at me.  And ask me a question.

“How are you doing with your relationship with God right now?  Are you feeling passionate or is it becoming just a job for you?”

Yikes!  How about “Hey, Nick.  Nice weather we’ve been having, huh?”  I mean, that’s pretty heavy for first thing Monday morning.

Except almost every time he asks me those questions, they’ve been questions that need to be asked.  Sometimes I can answer that I’m doing really well and other times not.  But, it’s always been a pastoral reminder to me to care more about the relationship I have with God than the job I think I do for him.

And it occurs to me that I can be honest with Al.  As people who are usually looked at to have all the right answers and constantly be the epitome of godliness, it is often hard for pastors to have real discussions of their own spiritual walk.  Those authentic moments of deep honesty are rare.  And even more rare the people that ask it of us.

But the older I get and the longer I’m involved in professional ministry, the more I find it essential to find those rare individuals who will ask the real questions.  It’s too easy to fake it.  Too easy to miss it, while talking lots about it.

After all, it’s often my own soul that needs the most work.  It is my wandering that needs a shepherd. I need a pastor too.

Whoever he or she is, your pastor does too.

Big Al isn’t a janitor.  He’s a pastor that takes out my garbage sometimes.

And the fact that he knows that has made all the difference for me.

So may you see your true identity today. May you remember that you never need a title to fulfill your ministry.  May you discover the people to pastor all around you that you could never have blessed in any other role.  May you find your divine calling in the middle of the moments you label “ordinary.”

And may you be so fortunate as to come across your own Big Al.  Title or not, every pastor needs a pastor.  And he’s about the best there is.

Advertisements

Mega-pastors can be Mega-wrong

Every week, I look forward to one major event:  The Office on NBC.   Seriously.   I could watch Dwight Schroot talk about his beet farm all night long.   And for a few moments on Thursday night what happens in Scranton, NJ is the most important part of my world.

But on this Thursday night, during a commercial break, the local NBC news affiliate ran a teaser headline for the 11’oclock news that had me more intrigued than a Michael Scott office policy meeting.

“Mega Church Pastor Protests High School Students.”

Now, headlines like that tend to catch my eye. So, I tuned into the local Seattle newschannel website to read up on what it was all about (after “The Office” was over, obviously).

The basic story was that each year, high schools in the Seattle area (and probably elsewhere) celebrate a day called “day of silence.” It is an event sponsored by an all student led group—the “gay/straight alliance”—that encourages students to not talk all day in order to bring awareness to and solidarity with potentially gay students among them that are treated poorly, made fun of and often don’t have a credible voice.

A local mega-church pastor, who lived in the community of one such high school, decided to organize a protest of the event. So, in front of many news cameras, he called for 1,000 members of his church and other Christians to come down and picket and protest outside of the school for the whole day, chanting their anti-gay views and “correcting” the sin of a few through the personalized and compassionate forum of a billboard sign.

Now, in one sense, i realize that “day of silence” probably has a pro-gay agenda to it. But, as i read the article, i couldn’t help but wonder, “what is so wrong about not wanting gay students to be made fun of, physically abused or emotionally taunted?” In that regard, as a follower of Christ, i whole heartedly agree with the sentiment of the day. And on any level, what does picketing a bunch of high schoolers really accomplish?

My problem was i had just come home from sitting inside a very promiscous gay bath house in Seattle, where i had been sitting with my friend Rick handing out condoms and information to everyone who walked in. We didn’t personally know any of the guys that came in that night. We didn’t have any signs. We weren’t chanting anything. We simply handed out latex.

[see my previous two blog posts for the whole story]

And as i sat at home reading the news story, the dichotomy of events perplexed me. On the one hand there was a mega church pastor that many people know, calling for Christians to protest teenagers attempting to humanize homosexual people that are often treated otherwise. And on the other hand, there was an everyday Christian that nobody knows, living with AIDS, sitting in a place most don’t know about and would never want to go to, handing out medical prevention (though not perfect) to oppressed adult addicts.

Both men agree homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The issue isn’t the morality of the lifestyle, but of the morality of our response. And because morality is a fuzzy term, let me define it this way. At issue is not whether Jesus approves of homosexuality as God’s ideal, but how Jesus would respond to people that are homosexual.

And in this case, the Mega-Pastor is Mega-WRONG. What the MP (mega-pastor) fails to realize is that protest without relationship is simply verbal violence. What the MP doesn’t understand is that compassion for people who don’t agree with you is “loving your neighbor as yourself.” What the MP has mistakenly accepted is that if you yell loud enough Jesus’ voice will be heard, when Jesus himself yells only at the religious pharisees and whispers grace to the sinner.

And what this reminds me is that, apparently, you can have everything RIGHT in your theology, but not be RIGHT. You can worship God in all the RIGHT ways, but not be RIGHT.

And as far as i can tell, Jesus never organized a protest of anything (unless you count his little tirade against the religious leaders in the temple), he simply went and ate and spent time with people who’s lives missed the mark of God’s ideal, calling them to something more fulfilling. He loved them to “abundant life.” There was no place for protest.

And so, Rick sits in Seattle at a gay bath house. No signs. No chants. He hopes that he is making a difference. Is a condom the answer to the problem? No. The problem is much more complex that what simple latex can fix. There are emotional, spiritual and mental issues that must be addressed. A holistic answer is needed.

But in the vaccuum of that answer, it is the only thing Rick knows to do. And so he does it.

It makes me wish that when people thought of Christians they thought of people like Rick rather than the blow hards that get all the news headlines like our local mega-pastor last week.

It makes me think that if Jesus were here today, he’d probably look more like the average guy, Rick, than the news bite mega-pastor any way.

I often ridicule Christians, mostly because we are such an easy target. But, i really don’t think all Christians are bad. I am one. Or that church is bad. I’m a part of one.

But, what scares me is that there is a vocal minority giving my faith a bad name. No, not my faith, my God. People hear words like they did last week and think that they are God’s sentiment or God’s words. And they never have been. The mega-pastor is simply wrong.

So, here is to you, out-spoken mega-church pastor. I’m pleading with you. Please examine your response to people with the life of Jesus before you speak and act in ways that shame Him and us.

I’ll even keep using the name “Christian,” if you’ll start acting like one.