Formation

Is Your Pastor Shaped More by a Tablet or a Table?

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Your local church pastor is not as edgy and provocative as your favorite blogger, writer, or podcaster—and that’s a good thing.

I’m the first guy to advocate Christian preachers and teachers have thoughtful, bold, and worthwhile words to say. I bristle when I hear speakers hunt and peck around important, touchy topics for the sake of their own advancement, brand, pedigree, or future opportunities. It’s cowardice! Yet….

There is great benefit to Christians leaders and teachers keeping their mouths shut.

There is great benefit to Christians leaders and teachers keeping their mouths shut. @seanpalmer Click To Tweet

Here’s what I mean…

Frequently, writers, speakers, and bloggers inject some new, provocative, stimulating, or unorthodox thought into the Christian sub-culture which then goes viral. Ideas about sexuality, the church, various Christian leaders, or just about anything else get tossed into the online controversy machine and the Christian subculture goes berserk. It’s tweeted, retweeted, shared, argued, and rebutted.

Sometimes the ideas are interesting, even thought-provoking and challenging, and we need them. After all, vital matters should be discussed and debated.

But there’s something that all Christian leaders need to keep in mind as we lounge behind our laptops:

Someone might believe us.

Someone Might Believe Us

Suppose someone pens a blog post about the uselessness of church life and how they don’t go to church.

Imagine if someone writes how discussions about extra- or pre- marital sex were ham-fisted and guilt-ridden when they were a teenager, and how they were made to feel more badly than they should have, and how their premarital sex wasn’t all that bad after all.

Perhaps another Christian leader gives a talk to anonymous faces at a conference exposing how Christians lean too heavily on the Bible and suppose hearers and readers and followers and fans read and hear all this and…believe it!

Your pastor can’t be cavalier!

Local church pastors know the ideas and ideals we promote find life in the lives of actual people—living, breathing people who possess the capacities for both joy and pain based, to a large degree, on the choices they make which are informed by our teaching. Local church pastors don’t have the luxury of foisting the whims of their personal struggles, questions, irritations, and ruminations on the church.

Don’t get me wrong: our experiences must be a part of our ministry and never ignored or papered-over. But the mushroom cloud of our teaching produces fallout which touches real flesh and bone.

Local church pastors don't have the luxury of foisting the whims of their personal struggles, questions, irritations, and ruminations on the church. Click To Tweet

Ask This Question Before You Hit “Publish”

Let’s be clear: I’m not trying to censor the content of what various thinkers, podcasters, bloggers, and writers say, but I do want to force all public Christian leaders to ask a deadly serious question:

What if people act on what I say? What if they take me seriously?

What if young women and men behave sexually based on your blog post? What if a family determines their participation in a local community of faith should mirror your participation because you wrote a post, book, or recorded a podcast about how you dislike church? What if a bunch of men and women determine they don’t like liberal/conservative/ Calvinists/Anabaptists/ etc…Christians because you said you don’t?

In the age of social media, an age wherein so many of us affect the lives of people we don’t know and will never meet, it is imperative our words carry the responsibility and weight of people’s lives. We don’t and won’t agree about what we teach, but surely we can agree that our words should be aimed at making the world a better place and not just getting something off our chests.

What if we got away from our egos, career goals, publisher’s demands, selling our next online e-course, and trying to book our next speaking gig long enough to remember that we’re not working primarily for web hits, traffic, retweets, and Facebook shares, but to affect lives? What if we remembered that James, the brother of Jesus, urged leaders to be careful because we will not be judged solely on our actions, but also by what we taught?

Shaped by a Tablet or the Table?

For my part, there’s a simple one-question measurement determining which Christian voices to attend to: Is this person committed to a local church or is this person essentially unchurched?

Here are some warning signs for me:

  • If a writer, blogger, speaker, musician, or podcaster doesn’t have to look into the eyes of folks with whom they disagree and learn to love them
  • If they’ve insulated themselves from the push-back they could receive from flesh and blood as they spout their ideas to some “audience out there”
  • If they are not forced to reckon with what fruit emerges from their ideas in the concrete lives of their listeners
  • If they’ve come to call their closed collection of social media friends their “community of faith” rather than humbly engaging the natural differences which exist in public and open churches

…then I’m not interested in their opinions or conclusions about anything else.

They can say all they want about Jesus, but they have no clue about communion. At the center of my faith is a Table, not a tablet.

At the center of my faith is a Table, not a tablet. Click To Tweet
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