Pastor's Blog

In my freshman year the college I attended brought in a new president.  And with the new president came a repackaging of the school’s image.  The repackaging required new pamphlets and booklets with new and updated glossy photos and new catch phrases to present a fresh, new image of the college.

In chapel one morning the new president announced that “all the BEAUTIFUL people” selected to be featured in the new literature needed to go to such-and-such a room after chapel.

“All the BEAUTIFUL people.” 

Those words set off an emotional firestorm among the angry young men on campus, and I was one of them.

We certainly wouldn’t want anyone to think that ordinary average-looking people attended our college, now, would we?  Only ‘the beautiful people’.  All the rest of us ugly people need to be kept from public view.  We’re all good enough to pay tuition at the college and you’re happy enough to take our money.  But we fall short of the glorious image you wish to present.

I apologize for my face.

I had never thought much about marketing up to that point in my life.  But that episode generated a hostile awareness of marketing.  Marketing is not about presenting what is real.  It’s about presenting only the good things you want people to see and concealing the things you don’t want them to see.

Marketing isn’t about representing your product.  It’s about misrepresenting it.
Marketing is about telling people what they want to hear, and only what you want them to hear. 
Marketing, in short, is the art of studied professional lying.

If this had been an isolated episode, I might have dismissed it.  But as my life went on my suspicions about marketing were repeatedly confirmed.  

If marketing involves this kind of misrepresentation, how – in a society where everything is ‘marketed’ and where people are accustomed to and expect ‘marketing’ – does one ‘market’ a ministry, a church, the Christian faith?

Merely asking the question almost turns my stomach – but the topic is unavoidable.

The dream of my college days was to become an academic, teaching on a college or graduate school level.  Providence put me into graduate school at the same time I was pastoring our church.

Somewhere in the middle of all that I switched horses – gave up on academia and accepted the role of pastor.  I don’t recall the moment of decision – the change was gradual – but I remember an episode that revealed to me that I had already switched horses.

I had stretched a two-year degree into nine years, so I was older and had more ministry experience than most of my compatriots in the latter years of my seminary career.  In an advanced theology class we were discussing the destiny of infants that die, and one of the students was waxing eloquent about how it was theologically certain that infants that die are condemned to hell, and any opinion to the contrary was based on ignorance of the Scriptures.

The more the young man blathered on, the more I squirmed.  The prof finally acknowledged my raised hand. 

“What message,” I asked, “would you deliver at an infant’s funeral?  And what comfort would you offer to the child’s grieving family?”

The young student started to stutter.  I turned around and glared at him.
“Ever conducted a child’s funeral?” I asked aloud. 
The room was silent.
“Have you ever conducted anyone’s funeral?” I asked.  I was angry, not at his theology (which I understood) but at the arrogance of his certainty. 

I was surprised at my own reaction.  It didn’t seem that long ago that I would have debated the theological points for the sake of debate.  I came away from that class realizing I disliked theology that exists merely for knowledge, merely for its own sake.  I was very aware that God had led me to switch horses.

Theology is important, but I find it significant that in all the Scriptures that make up our Bible, not one of them is a theology textbook.  Every one of them is written for some practical and immediately applicable end.  The theological perspective is in the background and peeks through the words of the text to speak to the life issues of those that received the writings.  If you want to understand theology, you must peek back through the circumstances in which a biblical book was written.  You must think practically.

I write this because in thinking about where our church must go beyond my own lifetime, I see this as a crucial point for the younger generations to understand.

Don’t get caught up in knowledge for its own sake.  Seek wisdom – how to live the way God intends.

 

 

Here is how I think many evangelicals perceive “the ministry of the church”.

People need to escape hell by hearing and believing the gospel message.
The church exists to SAY the “message”.  Once the church SAYS the message, it has done its job.

If all it takes is “saying a message”, why not put up a billboard or write the words on a placard and sit in some public place where the words can be seen?

Ministry is more than throwing the words at people.  Ministry is about helping them catch the truth.

It’s about more than hearing; it’s about listening.  And being drawn to listen – to want to listen.

If you want people to listen, you don’t just speak.  You build connection with them.

When you come to church, the first steps of real ministry must be carried out before any song is sung or any message is spoken.  Ministry begins with people feeling that they belong.

When you show up on a Sunday God providentially puts people in front of you.  Some you know, and some you don’t.  Are you not curious as to why that person is there at that particular service?  Are you not curious as to why, in God’s providence, you noticed that they were there?

Did God providentially move your eyes in their direction so you can ignore them – or were you moved to notice them for a reason?

Are you waiting for a miracle?  Read the providence of God and act!

You don’t have to impress them with your theological knowledge or spirituality.  Just have enough interest to say something like, “Hi, I’m ___________.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you here before.  What’s your name?”

Be friendly.  Be a friend.  Or at least an acquaintance.

Maybe you’ll discover where they live and work, why they came to church, what they’re looking for, what’s burdening their soul.
Or maybe you won’t find out much beyond their name.
Most importantly, you have begun something – a connection that, at the very least says, “I’m glad you’re here and I want you to feel that you belong.”

We all need to belong somewhere.  It is not good to be alone.  Maybe the feeling you generate will make them comfortable enough, not just to hear, but to listen and receive whatever God wants to give them – whether from a song or a message or a conversation with someone in the foyer. 

Or maybe all God wanted to give them that day was the feeling that they could belong.

This is where the rubber meets the road, where “the ministry” begins.
If ministry never gets to this step, nothing more will take place.

This doesn’t require an advanced degree in theology. 
Just a little love for people and a few moments of your time.
And those few moments may alter an entire life.
Maybe their life.  Maybe yours.

 

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