Friday, November 2, 2018

Just a regular guy. . .

In the silly season now almost over for a time, politicians in Tennessee leave behind their tailored suits and custom fit shirts and their Italian shoes in favor of flannel shirts.  Some of them leave the German or Japanese vehicles in the garage and drive around the countryside in a older model pick up, one that comes pre-dirtied with some splatters of Tennessee clay.  All of this is, of course, designed to make people believe that the folks running for office are good old boys.  Strangely, women seem less inclined to wear the same ill fitting costumes -- though that may be due less to their desire to be seen as ordinary and folksy people than it is the fact that a woman in a shapeless flannel shirt and overalls in a aged pick up occasions more laughter than anything else.  Apparently, the pollsters tell those running for office that we are so naive in Tennessee that we actually believe the hype and drink the koolaid of the lie that these are just regular folk.

If politicians are inclined to this deception, then the second group of people so tempted has to be pastors.  Of all the yearnings known to men of God, the most dangerous is the desire to be seen as just a regular guy.  Pastors wear their hole-y jeans or khakis, their Tees or polos, their sneakers or deck shoes or boots, and they think that they are helping people by appearing to be nobody special.  The pastors who offend this by wearing clericals or a suit or vestments are ridiculed as men who are not comfortable in their own skin.  They are not regular guys at all.  Watch out for them.

Way too many pastors covet the reputation of being a “regular guy” and spend much of their time trying to be ordinary.  I can tell you that the pursuit of ordinariness does not require all that much effort.  Most of us are born to it and grow into it without much help.  Even when we do wear vestments or a clerical collar, we work to make sure that people know we don't feel comfortable in these things and if we had our druthers we would ditch it all in a minute.  We wear them not because we like them but because we are good people and feel a sense of duty to tradition (as useless as those traditions of peculiar clothing and vestments might be).  We want not to be special but to be regular guys and so we diminish our calling and in the process we make it ordinary and regular as well.  Then we cannot figure out why people no longer respect their pastors as men of God, why it is so difficult to get young men to consider the pastoral vocation, and why people are not scandalized by the fact that we make our pastors pay mightily for the education we require to be pastors.

But we just want to be regular guys. . .

Well, I am here to tell you that God doesn't want regular guys and the Church doesn't need them either.  The folks in the pews who are comforted by the fact that their pastors are ordinary men don't think that the means of grace which are conferred upon pastors are all that special either.  And this is the source of the problem.  For what makes a pastor NOT a regular guy is not whether or not he wears flannel shirts or drives an old pickup but that he is called by God and this call is affirmed by the Church and he has been set apart by Word and prayer for an office that is by nature not regular but set apart.  The man may not be holy but the office and the calling is.  We are not benefited in the least by men who make the pastoral office ordinary in the pursuit of being seen like regular guys.  The people of God are not being well served by pastors who make the pulpit the podium of a jokester, who gives more time to relevant stories at the expense of preaching the Law and Gospel faithfully, and who are as comfortable telling an off color story as they are encouraging the faithful to good works that glorify God.

The liturgy is not the domain of regular folks doing ordinary things but the place where the extraordinary God does the extraordinary things of His promise -- through the power of His Word.  The pulpit is not a place for a monologue or comedic wit but the most serious business of preaching the Law to unsettle the sinners in their sins and the Gospel to comfort those who come in the despair of God's all-seeing eye.  Those who lead the people of God need to decrease their personality and increase the focus upon the Christ they preach, the water of Christ they splash, and the body and blood of Christ they distribute.

I am not a regular guy -- a sinner to be sure and filled with obvious and hidden flaws and failings but the office to which I am called is anything but ordinary and regular and the Gospel that I preach is anything but routine and nothing special and the Sacraments which I administer are anything but casual encounters of a close kind.  God is here.  God Himself is present.  God speaking through His Word and in the voice of the pastor.  God delivering the things Christ died to earn and rose to bestow upon a Church that is not His head but His body.  Where the head is, the body will soon follow.  That is something we too often forget.  We do not lead Christ but He leads us and nobody should know this better than the pastor who spends his whole life knowing that he is doing things for which He is unworthy and ill-prepared for a people who do not deserve this grace and who struggle to know what it is and believe it.  But that is how the Kingdom works.  So if you desire to be a regular guy but you have a call from God through the Church, give it up and do what God has called you to do and be who God has called you to be.  That is what I struggle to do -- some days better than others.  God help me.  God help all pastors.


Carl Vehse said...

Way too many pastors covet the reputation of being a “regular guy” and spend much of their time trying to be ordinary.

And then there are those who refer to themselves and have others publicly refer to them with the title of "Dr.", even though they only have an honorary degree.

Daniel G. said...

Well said Pastir Peters.

Joseph Bragg said...

An Orthodox priest with beard and rasso can hardly be taken for an ordinary guy.