The truth will mess you up.

– Radiohead, Ful Stop

This isn’t about excusing the recent rash of disqualified Christian leaders or making light of the transgressions which led to their demise in ministry. This isn’t about saying there shouldn’t be consequences for our sins or pitting compassion against justice. This also isn’t about hedging my bets or hiding some heinous sin for me personally. This is simply stating a truth – a truth every person who has the privilege of leading God’s people as a pastor needs to remember. It’s one that can keep you from self-righteous grandstanding when news that a celebrity (or non-celebrity) pastor bites the dust. It’s one which can remind your heart that God’s grace has been, is, and will be the only hope you have. It’s a truth that can keep you on your knees a moment longer in grateful prayer.

What’s the truth?

If God so desired to expose the secrets of your heart,
you too would be disqualified from ministry.

Ministry veterans won’t argue it. They know themselves too well. If you find yourself pushing back, well then, you don’t. Among the fine and beautiful things in your heart, there are also lusts, hatreds, envies, and other gross sins that would likely ruin people’s perception of you, your ministry, and your qualifications for leadership.

Know this my friend: had God in his justice wanted to expose you, you would be done. So would I. Fini. Kaput. Finished. Just another name added to the list of other fallen pastors. Really.

Let me give you some advice. Search your own heart. Think about the dark places of thought, word, and deed in which you’ve privately commerced. It’s not that you’re proud of them or haven’t sought to repent well of them, but they’re there. Just like they are in every man or woman who’s trying to follow Jesus. And God knows every ruinous one of them. As King David says in Psalm 139:2, the Sovereign Lord of the Universe has “discerned [our] thoughts from afar.”

But don’t despair. All of us need of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Every one. Even more, our hope shouldn’t be anchored to our righteousness (or lack thereof), but anchored to the One who has been righteous for us. Indeed, I pray the goodness of that reality spurs me on to love Jesus more and my sin less, and that I grow in personal holiness while fleeing from the sins which so easily entangle me. But until Jesus returns, I will still struggle with sin. And so will you.

So the next time you hear of a pastor losing his ministry because his sin was exposed to the public, please understand that if the Lord so chose to make public what’s been private in your heart, you’d be next. And so would I.

Pastor, be thankful for the grace you’ve been given today. May it lead you to greater obedience, a deeper humility, and a ready compassion.

Recast : to melt something down and reshape it into another form;
to present something in a different way.

Let me give you one simple way to increase the effectiveness of your sermon. It has to do with recasting or presenting your sermon’s main point 1in a fashion that may not be intuitive for some. What do I mean? Often, because of training as preachers and expositors of the Scriptures, many a pastor constructs a main point that’s perfectly true to the text and immensely clear for the listener. For example, this week one of our campus pastors, after working through the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15, constructed the main point of his message as follows:

Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

It’s good. It’s true. But I challenged him to recast it. Why? Because this is a main truth for the head, and it needs to be something more. I told him it needed “truth with some skin on it” – something you could relate to, feel, connect with. Listeners need truths presented in a way that speaks not only to their heads but their hearts as well. That’s why an effective preacher will ask himself if his message’s main point can be recast from a Main Truth for the Head into a Main Truth for the Heart? This isn’t an appeal for emotionalism or guilt-trip gimmicks, but an earnest rephrasing of a truth in order that congregants might better connect with both the intellectual and emotional reality of that truth.

But that can be hard to do. So, I asked my fellow pastor, “What is the emotional center of your message? What moves you about what your read in Luke 15? What stirs you in your gut about Jesus’ appeal to his listeners?” Without hesitation he responded, “Yancey, it’s that he’s there and he’s waiting.” That was it! He had just recast his main point and didn’t even realize it. Can you see feel the difference?

Jesus came to seek and save the lost.   vs   He’s there and he’s waiting!

The recast point has skin on it. It appeals to the heart. It’s something listeners can lean in to and feel for themselves. This is value and power behind recasting. It wraps our hearts into the main point by giving hooks to hang our emotions on instead of solely being in the head. In other words (and to channel my inner Jonathan Edwards), recasting hits after the affections and, as such, makes for a better message.

Try it. Ask yourself this week if your message’s main point needs recasting in order to hit both head and heart.

Notes:

  1. Yes, I generally favor one-point messages


*This post is just me thinking out loud. Likely no moral to the story to be found.*

Doing some research I came across a NYU academic journal article from preeminent social theorist Zygmunt Bauman. Bauman specializes in issues such as modernity, morality, and consumerism. His words on identity struck me. The globally-recognized scholar wrote:

Indeed, if the modern ‘problem of identity’ was how to construct an identity and keep it solid and stable, the postmodern ‘problem of identity’ is primarily how to avoid fixation and keep the options open. 1

In other words, the modern idea of identity is attempting to define oneself in order that one might truly know who they are – and to derive stability in that definition. Conversely, the postmodern idea of identity is to flee from any sense of definition. It wants fluidity and, in Bauman’s words, “commitment-avoidance.” The traditional sense of identity is viewed by postmoderns as too durable, too permanent, and too restrictive. This contrast leads Bauman to summarize, “Modernity built in steel and concrete; postmodernity, in bio-degradable plastic.” 2

We see an example of this shift toward disconnected, amorphous identity with society’s current argument about gender, specifically whether biological males can use the public restrooms of biological females. The very argument exists because of the postmodern idea that one’s identity can change simply because of how one feels about his or her own personhood. Don’t let your anatomy determine identity. That’s too fixed, too “steel and concrete.” Indeed, you may feel differently in the future. Keep your options open. That’s why popular culture doesn’t even blink when a celebrity declares he or she has freely moved from heterosexuality to homosexuality to bisexuality then back again (or that he is now a she, or vise versa). Where moderns think that person confused, postmoderns wonder why all the hubbub. Why commit to even a sexual orientation if you don’t have to – you might feel differently later?

Bauman calls the idea of free-floating identity a recent invention, and if being encumbered or tied down by identity is a problem, it’s been one literally from our births. No one comes into this world unencumbered or disembedded. You are born with a gender, a family, a skin color, in a town, a state, a country; you will have a childhood, an education, friends, etc. Factors such as these “embed” identity into us. They “encumber” us to the world in an inalienable way. I am male, white, an Arrington, son of Gene and Betty, brother to Jodey and Kally, a West Texan, Plainview Bulldog, Baylor Bear, etc. 3 No matter how I feel about them, these things tie me to the world I live in – they are the “steel and concrete” I cannot avoid.

I’m with my Polish sociologist friend, identity-in-flux-due-to-feeling is not only a modern-day invention, it’s a myth. I can change my personhood as much as I can change my gender, my race, or my history. The irony is that postmoderns, for whom seeking some kind of stability in life is a high value, by re-defining identity are actually running from the very thing they want. Even in Christian circles, studies show that millennials want a church experience tied to history, creeds, and older elements that give the sense of permanence and fixity. They are seeking something which defines them more than their immediate experiences.

It makes me wonder if many of our current struggles and heated conversations between moderns and postmoderns are rooted in a genuine disagreement with how we define identity, and who’s right? 4

Notes:

  1. https://www.nyu.edu/classes/bkg/tourist/Baumann-pilgrim-tourist.pdf, 18, accessed May 2016.
  2. Ibid.
  3. I recognize my chief identity-marker is rooted to the Person and Work of Christ. I am listing factors that any American can identify with: skin color, place of origin, educational background, etc.
  4. And no, this isn’t a place where both sides can be right. 😉