I just had a week off. It was one of those really good breaks where you feel like the work of rest and restoration has taken place and you're actually excited to return to work. I haven't had many of those in my life and I'm grateful that I had this opportunity.
Part of what made it meaningful was some time I spent alone in a monastery praying, writing, and reading. I had been doing this once a month with some friends before I moved and it was good to have that time again. I took the time to read Paul's pastoral letters: I and II TImothy and Titus. Paul gives some advice to his young apprentices who are carrying his torch in leadership of the church. I was struck as I read these letters as a whole that so little of what Paul asks from these young leaders or the leaders they will train are actual activities. Paul seems much more interested in the kinds of people that these leaders are than what they are involved in. Perhaps a better way of putting that is that Paul is convinced that what they do will flow naturally out of who they are. Their character will determine their work.
Having recently completed the pastoral search process, I'm struck by the fact that no one really asked me who I was. I'm not really sure I would have known how to answer that question, but it would have been good for them to ask. Instead I was asked what have I done and what would I do if I were hired. Those seem like fairly good questions if you're hiring an accountant. But for a pastor, it seems inadequate. I think the assumption is that I have to be a "good person" or I wouldn't be in this line of work to begin with. Oh, but we all know what happens when you assume. Don't get me wrong, I think most of us in this work pursue what we experience as a call from God. That doesn't mean we don't have some rough edges, some wrong motives, some unpacked baggage. I think those things would be important for our congregations to know. Usually congregations don't find those things out until something blows up. Again, I don't know how you go about evaluating someone's moral character in an interview process, but when you are seeking a spiritual leader, shouldn't something be in place to determine where the leader's potential failings might manifest themselves?
Part of what is making me think about all of this is the saga of Mr. Roethlisberger. As a Steelers fan, I look at him as a big part of what got us over the hump from being a team with a great defense to being a championship team with a complimentary offense. His resume in his field is impressive: two Super Bowl rings, a pro bowl appearance, offensive rookie of the year, youngest qb to win a Super Bowl. All of those accomplishments have created quite a fan base for him. But now we get numerous demonstrations that he has some real problems with women. Two accusations of rape with a potential third on the horizon? Come on! I know that for many sports are just a superficial diversion. And I know that we give athletes way too much attention and too many accolades in our culture. But a team has a way of representing a whole city and lifting the spirits of said city. That has, since the 70's, been the kind of relationship that the Steelers have with Pittsburgh. It may not be right, but it is what it is. For me to think about rooting for a guy who has done this kind of stuff... it's unconscionable. Maybe all that will change if he comes back and starts winning...
... and that's the funny thing. It will all change if comes back and starts winning. Tiger Woods came back to golf after the discovery of his numerous moral indiscretions and his fan base has returned en masse. Kobe Bryant, also on the hot seat for rape a few years ago. No one remembers that because he's a winner. This is the standard. Win and all sins are forgiven. There is grace for champions. Of course, that's not grace. You can't earn grace.
Sports and ministry are obviously different, but it's worth spelling this one out. It doesn't matter what I do if I'm not working on who I am. Now I don't personally know Ben, Kobe, or Tiger. Maybe they are all working on themselves. I hope they are. But their standard can't be mine. If I grow my church to a thousand members while letting my inner demons have free reign in my life, that is failure. What I do must emanate from who I am and that means keeping the focus on who I am when nobody's looking.
But there is one more component to this. In my life, the worst things I have done have happened in moments when I felt morally superior to others. I look down my nose from high horse and then I am immediately knocked off. In fact, there have been times where I have intentionally let my focus on my own character lapse in order to avoid my own hypocrisy. Can my character building be a silent project? Can I work on me and still show love and grace for you? Or will I always say, why can't people be as good as I am? Ah, the tension of having standards for myself and grace for others. I tend to live in the reverse of that. Love the sinner and hate the sin my own life. Lord, teach me how.