Alex from the movie Madagascar is a little lion in the zoo that entertained crowds. It soon attained its celebrity status with its famous dance moves—the lion that could dance. Alas! The lion that ought to roar and reign is now inside a ring entertaining crowds. Far too often we live with our masks on. Strangely, we own multiple masks, each that suits our varied contexts. Soon, the convenience and familiarity of personal masks gets so deeply integrated into our lives that we place our identities in the masks we own and trade them for our real selves.
A Mistaken Identity
Pastors have their own creative masks. They are richly colourful with various shades of spirituality. Masks too often cloud the work of God. They often manufacture an unreal imaginative identity that flaunts a sense of spiritual perfection that soon becomes their unique selling proposition—a brand in itself. Such a celebrated brand creates a need to keep its position and promotion at all times that eventually frustrates the pastor who finds difficulty to keep pace with it while keeping the church in deception of who really their pastor is. The imperfect pastor camouflaged in perfection unknowingly begins to compete with God than being complete in God. He succumbs to fabricate a false identity based on the works he does than who he is in Christ. The communitarian pressure to be a perfect person of God denies oneself their legitimate time and space for sanctification. This proposition neither downplays the need for righteous living nor supports licentious lifestyle but acknowledges a shade of hypocrisy that most pastors fall prey to.
The imperfect pastor camouflaged in perfection unknowingly begins to compete with God than being complete in God. He succumbs to fabricate a false identity based on the works he does than who he is in Christ.
Miroslav Volf’s principle from his Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation in building a theology of identity rightly focuses on the very construct of the self before approaching it through the construct of the community—a right pastor makes right communities. He explains that every person has a deeply rooted self at its centre that keeps “reproducing itself” and the only person who would be able to make such judgements are those who dethrone themselves from the throne of their self and recognise that Christ lives in them. For this, the old self needs to be de-centered by partaking in the death and resurrection of Christ and be re-centered by the very same process through faith. The redemptive work of the cross needs to begin from the pulpit—not from the pastor’s perfection but through the perfect Lamb.
A Misconceived Institution
History affirms how the church began with a strong biblical grounding but soon gave way to a more institutional approach as early as in the second century that eventually grew to place institutional ecclesia over the biblical pattern. The writings of Chrysostom, often claimed to be one of the first manuscripts on pastoral theology, in all its biblical and pastoral diligence do present the nascent musings of institutionalism. Over the centuries, this has profoundly grown. This was precisely the challenge with the Pharisees too. They have made an institution out of God’s covenant. Sadly, the greatest challenge today is that of the pastor being transformed into the very institution. This doesn’t undermine or downplay the administrative role of the pastor but regrets the undue systematisation of the role that largely turns it into a man-driven office than a Christ-led church. A system runs; it does not live. It is inorganic and can never bring forth life. It expands but never grows. The challenge doubles up as it gets harder to differentiate pseudo-pulpits from that of true ones since both display eloquence and effort—one through the self and the other through the Saviour. The earlier is a display of institution while the latter is a denial of self. Pastors are called to be instruments in God’s hands; not institutions for God’s kingdom. Institutions claim authority; instruments offer to serve. Apostle Paul always acknowledges being a slave for the Lord—an instrument in God’s hand who is totally dependent and surrendered to Christ. The unusual respect and dependency of the sheep on the shepherd often creates a gracious throne, an aura that is too hard to deny and too difficult to detect. Neither the throne nor the throne room is ours. It belongs to the slain Lamb and we belong to Him. Our pastoral institution is no match to His life-giving blood.
Pulpit ministry doesn’t begin with the pulpit but from the backstage on bended knees. It is born from those prayer closets and intimate moments with God.
A Misplaced Intimacy
A mask that oft catches attention is that of action. Alex almost forgot who he was to what he does. In today’s culture, works often make up and soften the guilt of lost intimacy and fragmented relationships.
Elijah, Jonah and even the older brother in the parable of the lost son had their verbal witnessing of works to the Lord when the Lord sought them in their lowest moments. The temptation of sewing fig leaves comes naturally to us, where we always substitute our self-effort in place of His redemptive work. Sometimes, this is stretched to replace our very relationship with God—a few more conferences, a couple of more retreats or additional campaigns—this is what we base our relationship on. Strangely, the merit of our work is often assessed by the breadth of our work and not by the depth of the cross. Our work is primarily an overflow of who He is and not what we are capable of doing. We do based on what God has done. Pulpit ministry doesn’t begin with the pulpit but from the backstage on bended knees. It is born from those prayer closets and intimate moments with God. Far too often we fall prey to the flamboyance of branded works neglecting our very standing in Him.
Just as we lay our crowns before Him, we also ought to lay our masks before Him. It is from the cross we begin our ministry and it is to the cross we direct all our service.