Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pastors, Pathological Immaturity, and Courageous Un-self-consciousness

From Jared Wilson at Gospel Coalition, on pastors and people in general not being free to be ourselves as it relates to our justification.

The 41 year-old teacher who left his wife and children to be with a former student is “pathologically immature.” This, according to therapist Bethenny Marshall who has interviewed the awkward couple. Marshall elaborates: “This is what we see with teachers who have inappropriate relationships with their students. They imagine themselves to be age mates or peers with the students.”
“Pathologically immature.” There is a real application in this for ministry. We could go one way and discuss the immature compromises made by pastors who cheat on their wives — because what we often see in the details of such events is a disturbing amount of immature “ickiness” from grown men acting like hormonal teenage boys — or we could go another way and discuss the trend among aging pastors to keep up with the wardrobe, hairstyles, and speech of the younger generations, a phenomenon that gets more and more pathetic with time. But the reality is that while pathological immaturity plays into both of those scenarios, it plays into the temptations of all pastors.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” This is what we suppose we’re doing — contextualizing, some call it. It’s being a good missionary, we justify. But the line between what Paul is actually talking about in that passage and the sin of “fear of man” is really not so thin.
It takes guts for pastors to just be themselves. (For anyone, really, but let me start with pastors, since judgment begins with the house of God and that judgment begins with us leaders.) We crave validation, justification so much we will put on any persona we think will work, that we think will help us appear and feel successful, popular, dynamic, attractive, acceptable. We enter into “inappropriate relationships” with our congregations because we imagine we are ultimately beholden to them, dependent upon them. But the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ frees us from hypocrisy, free us to boldly own our inadequacies, our flaws, our failures, and especially our sins.
The pathologically immature pastor imagines himself really getting down to the level of the people he’s trying to reach; he thinks he’s really connecting with them. He’s being authentic, transparent, relevant. But that sort of self-consciousness is none of those things. What did C.S. Lewis say about humility? “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” And so in a curious irony, when we are trying so hard to “keep it real” we usually end up mired in pride, tempted to project an image or put on a persona that really isn’t us. (Because we fear the real us would not be as missionally effective.)
What we need is real humility. Real humility consists partly in the boldness to be yourself. Being reconciled to the Father through faith in Christ, having thus been united with Christ, becoming mystically indistinguishable from him, made as secure as he is through this mystical union, and having this justification from God himself frees us to be our real selves. Having put on Christ, I have nothing left to prove.
When I think of all the fig leaves I put on in attempts to conceal my sin, my weaknesses, my insecurities, my inabilities, my utter ineptitude, I realize that while the fig leaves of timidity and neuroses might make me look humble, they are really self-centered self-protections. And in that sense, I am just as self-conscious as the pastor projecting himself as the Type-A, get-your-answers-here pastorpreneurial guru. Putting on humility — which is putting on Christ — however, frees me from both self-pity and projection. Breathing a sigh of gospel relief, I can be myself, whatever that means for whoever’s watching. If God is for us, who can be against us, anyway? They can get glad in the same pants they got mad in.
Being all things to all people, if this is our ministerial goal, ought to begin with being all ourselves to God who approves us, qualifies us, commissions us, and loves us. We have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us, and the life we live in the flesh, we live by faith in the Son of God who loves us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20, para.). As we mature in the faith, then, he increases and we decrease. And we can put the stupid fig leaves away. They aren’t helping. The gospel is fuel for courageous un-self-consciousness.
And this is what people really need from us! The freedom to drop the pretense, to be radically un-self-conscious — not un-self-reflective, by any means, but un-self-concerned — and so liberated by God’s approval of us in Christ Jesus that we’re okay with owning our non-okay-ness.

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