May 22, 2012 Permalink
There was a season in the early to mid-90’s when there was a popular (and dreadful) series of novelty t-shirts that all the guys were wearing called “Big Johnson.” Do you remember this? They were sophomoric t-shirts that not so subtly touted the size of one’s genitals with crude, witless metaphors.
I would say at one point, the majority of guys at our school owned a Big Johnson t-shirt. Which leaves open really two possibilities: One) there was a secret virus unleashed upon the public, entirely undetected by science, that targeted only 12-19 year old males resulting in gargantuan genitalia, or two) this was just another display of juvenile adolescent insecurity that really had nothing to do with large genitals (and might actually indicate the opposite), hence more a statement about redneck parents who let their kids wear such shirts than anatomical abnormalities. Science and sheer statistics and probability would make option two seem far more likely.
We can all see how the perfect storm of adolescent insecurity would make high school males want to find identity with silly “mine is bigger than yours” rhetoric. If only this kind of juvenile comparison was limited only to boys in the 90’s! But it is of course indicative of plenty of grown men and women, unfortunately even in ministry. Comparing size is never a good idea, especially when the actual measure is faithfulness.
You would think by now that in a world as stupid as our own, we would have learned long ago that whatever is bigger or more popular is by no means best. If you don’t believe this, then please explain to me the phenomena of the Kardahsians, Jersey Shore, and Nickelback. And yet it would be equally faulty to assume that something is somehow more pure, holy or “deeper” because it is smaller. We all are responsible to steward whatever influence we have for maximum impact within the communities we serve. Crass popularity or lack thereof does not make us automatically either successful or unsuccessful, and we should not have our identities wrapped up in these matters regardless.
Yet there is an interesting twist to all of this. I have found that our endless insecurity over whether or not the world deems us appropriately successful is often not overt. Many of us have sense enough not to wear an ecclesiastical big Johnson t-shirt, but our obsession with comparison comes out in more subtle ways. To quote Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.” When we over-insist that ministry isn’t all about this or that, it often betrays the fact that we are ironically quite wrapped up in unhealthy comparison.
Let me give you some examples that are common in vocational ministry:
1) the pastor you can’t have coffee with without hearing the same endless rant about how “it’s just not about the numbers and production.” Why is he/she always talking about this? Translation: I’m insecure about my church not being bigger.
2) The pastor who’s always talking about how “it’s not just about theology and head knowledge.” Translation: I’m insecure about my lack of theological education.
3) The guy who runs the discipleship program who is always telling anybody who will listen about “how dumb/shallow the institutional church is.” Translation: I’m insecure because I didn’t advance in the last institutional church I was in, and my feelings are still hurt.
4) The worship leader who is always talking about how nobody “gets” their artful music. Translation: I’m insecure because I didn’t get a record deal or a slot leading worship at a big conference.
Whenever you spend as much time tearing down other ministries and/or talking about what church isn’t rather than painting a constructive picture of what your ministry actually is…it’s not prophetic critique. It’s not incisive cultural commentary. It’s thinly veiled insecurity. If in fact you are doing something that really is bold or different, then someone is going to notice (even if everybody doesn’t notice), and there is no reason for insecurity—you celebrate the lives that God is already changing and keep doing what He’s given you to do.
The really sad thing is that on the other side of this self-protective cover, we often aren’t doing anything different at all. We are just navel-gazers attempting to publicly talk ourselves through our own insecurities. If we are doing something meaningful for the kingdom, people will be able to tell what that is without us constantly telling everybody “it isn’t about _________ or ___________.”
I say this as a person who pastors an incredibly “niche-y” church, but with no insecurity about this. I assume if you come to our church you won’t need me to tell you what we value with long rants about what our church is not about. You’ll be able to tell pretty easily what we are about by what we are actually doing.