Monday, May 14, 2012

Mustache Coaches and Pastoral Identity

100 stinking push ups. 

That’s what one of my coaches in High School made me do because I called him Kareem Abdul (insert his last name).  Apparently, I should have called him Kareem Abdul COACH (insert his last name).  He clearly derived his identity as “coach”, even down to his early 90’s coach mustache.  So, a mouthy freshman teasing him about his less-than-stellar hook shots must have insulted his identity a little too much.  So he figured making the scrawny kid do a hundred girly looking push-ups ought to teach me to respect not only his ‘stache and his hook shots but also his identity as COACH.  Actually it made me give him another title…but that was before I was rescued by Jesus.

It occurs to me that “Coach” isn’t the only one that struggles with these identity issues.  Pastors may be worse.  That is why what Paul Tripp’s article on Your Ministry Is Not Your Identity will prove to be so helpful to many ministers.  Consider this statement:

This is part of the reason for the huge disconnect between my public ministry life and private family life. Ministry had become my identity. I didn't think of myself as a child of God, in daily need of grace, in the middle of my own sanctification, still battling with sin, still in need of the body of Christ, and called to pastoral ministry. No, I thought of myself as a pastor. That's it, bottom line. The office of pastor was more than a calling and set of God-given gifts that had been recognized by the body of Christ. Pastor defined me.

What I take from this article is that there is something deadly that can happen to my soul if I sign things Pastor Mike or Reverend Mike instead of just Mike.  This is something that I have believed for awhile; actually since hearing a kilted Mel Gibson shout, “Men don’t follow titles, they follow courrrrrrraggge”. 

The funny thing about pastoral ministry though…

Nobody is tempted to call the guy who pours your coffee at Starbucks Barista Joe when you see him in Wal-Mart.  But I’m “Pastor Mike” when I’m preaching and when I’m getting faux chicken at the Wal-Mart deli.  And contemporary pastors are not alone in this either.  There is a reason why we identify Paul as the Apostle Paul, because he signed his letters that way.  Paul wasn’t just Paul he was “sent Paul”.  Just as it seems that John the Beloved Disciple was also known simply as “The Elder”. 

Yes, there is a very real sense in which this is part of our identity. 

“Pastor” can be deadly or life-giving depending on your view of pastor.  If you mean an utterly dependent jar of clay that is only shepherding people as he himself is being shepherded, then “pastor” is a constant reminder that you aren’t your own.  But if “pastor” is a badge you wear that means “dude in charge” you’ve crossed the line from life-giving to deadly.  You’re a disciple first and a pastor later on down the line.  Your identity isn’t defined principally by your role in the mission but by the One who sent you on the mission. 

If you are anything like me your root identity often shifts from disicple to pastor to a million other things.  It’s healing, though, to remember that I won’t be wearing a name tag in heaven that says Pastor or Reverend.  It will be my new name given to me by Jesus…which by the way I’m really pulling for Aragorn.  But I can be certain it won’t be “Shepherd” because there is only one of those in heaven and He ain’t me. 

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