From the perspective of a pew, the pastor may look alright. He acts confidently. He preaches eloquently. He shakes hands firmly. He smiles warmly. He is the ideal pastor. But is everything really alright? Among many pastors today, there lurks a danger. It is a danger that rarely surfaces, but which nonetheless eats away at the inner life of the pastor. This danger is the drastic disconnect between his personal life and his public persona.
Toppling the Pedestal: Pastors Are Not Infallible
Very often, pastors are viewed as the pinnacle of Christian perfection. Sure, they might slip up from time to time, but they live a put-together life. They are called a “man of faith,” or a “man of God,” bestowing upon them a status that looms far above that of ordinary people.
This is, of course, an unhealthy way to view pastors — as infallible angels of light, sent from on high to bless us with an holy aura. But the real problem begins when the pastor takes this expectation upon himself, and forces a public persona to match, when his personal life is understandably different.
He’s tired, but he can’t show it. He’s discouraged, but he can’t cry. He’s tempted, but he can’t confess. He’s lonely, but he can’t admit it. He’s burned out, but he’s got to keep going.
Basically, he’s human, but he’s not supposed to act like it. He’s somehow above that. He’s got to continue putting on the act, going through the motions, and draining his soul dry.
In his private life, he may try to numb the pain, but it’s there. In his public life, he continues to put on the Christian show.
Bringing Back Authentic Leadership
Who’s to blame for this pastoral blight? The pastor? The people? Satan? God?
The problem is a collective one — one in which we all share the blame. Thankfully, however, the problem has a solution. The solution is one in which we all must participate.
The pastor and people must work together to help their leadership do the following:
- Serve from faith, not fear of man. When a pastor builds a privacy fence around his inner self, he conducts his ministry out of fear. He’s afraid of what people will think if he somehow lets go for a moment. Instead of fear-driven activity, the pastor should reconnect with faith — a far more reliable engine of ministry.
- Admit faults, not hide them. All of us have faults. Even pastors. Pastors should not feel like they have to hide their faults. The effort to hide just one fault can lead to the pastor’s attempt to hide all kinds of other potential faults — whether they are truly faults or not. He will begin camouflaging real and imagined faults, leading to a dichotomy between his public persona and his true private self.
- Express weakness, not cover it up with busy activity. Often, when we feel weak, we attempt to mask the weakness with a flurry of activity. Frenetic Christian service is sometimes the opiate of an empty spiritual life. Haphazard activity for Jesus replaces the true weakness, weakness in which we are to glory (2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:9). We derive a false sense of Christian strength when we deny our weakness, filling the gaping crevice with a host of feel-good Christian duties. God wants weakness. He repudiates self-sufficiency (2 Corinthians 3:5). The pastor, of all people, is most prone to this danger. His calling, after all, is spiritual activity. Yet we must all admit that we’re weak. All of us. And we should be. And that’s okay.
- Expose brokenness, not put up a front of holiness. Christians are broken people (Psalm 51:17). Brokenness is the posture of repentance. Brokenness is surrender. And even pastors…no, especially pastors, are to model this brokenness. Brokenness is not some cowering, retreating, slithering show of inferiority. Brokenness is confident humility in the face of an infinite God. When we expect shows of holiness from our pastor instead of allowing their brokenness, we set them up for hiding their personal life and putting on a public persona.
All of this requires humility on the part of the pastor. It requires patience and love on the part of the people. This requires a supportive leadership team who themselves are free to be open, broken, authentic, and real.
We want to be people who are whole, restored, hopeful, and joyous. This can’t happen when we’re living two lives. This can’t happen in our assemblies unless we are intentionally loving our leaders enough to let them serve in authenticity.
We live in a community of faith. None of us, not even our pastors, should be looked to as infallible pillars of strength. As a community of faith, we place our faith in God, not our leaders.
Let us keep “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).