There was once a large Lutheran Church, we’ll call it Saint Elsewhere, it was without a pastor. St. Elsewhere was graying; and they wanted to attract young people to their congregation. They looked over at the new mega church, where lots of young people were joining. They saw the Pastor there was heavily tattooed and a former rapper.
So, when they looked for a new pastor, they wanted one of those—they wanted to keep up with the Jones, so to speak. When they interviewed their potential Pastor they asked if he could rap, and if he’d be willing to get a tattoo in order to attract young people.
In fact, the members of St. Elsewhere added, they had already picked out a face tattoo for their new Pastor—it would be a Jesus fish, like the bumper sticker logo, but to prove how hip to the young folk’s jive the Church was, it would be a Piranha… or a Shark if the Pastor preferred.
As you can imagine the Pastor was skeptical, and he said, “I don’t want a tattoo… nothing against them, I’m just not a tattoo kind of guy.”
The congregation looked sideways at that, so the Pastor, you know wanting the job, added quickly, “However, I would be willing to look at the neighborhood and help figure out what we need, how I could empower St. Elsewhere to meet the needs of the community.”
And, reluctantly they called the guy, and they listened to the neighborhood.
And they realized there was not a single Spanish speaking ministry in the town, yet 2/3rds of the new residents spoke Spanish at home.
And the Pastor said, “Conveniently, I speak some Spanish. With some practice I think I could lead a Spanish Speaking service.”
And with that suggestion the congregation stopped, took a deep breath, and realized they had several Spanish speakers already in place who could help with the service. It was halting process and not always the hottest game in town, but it did fit who they were, and who the community was.
The Pastor never got his Piranha or shark tattoo, and they never did snatch up those hip young people they’d hopped to snatch up—but they did create a space for Spanish speakers to hear the Word of God and receive the Sacraments.
Let us pray.
“I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”
These are dangerous words Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians. They can be a danger, as the phrase goes, “to ourselves and to others.”
“Becoming all things to all people,” can be a danger to others.
The danger is that in our attempt to reach all people, we end up doing ministry to people, instead of with people—to instead of with.
I think of a famous chapter in the book, “The Poisonwood Bible.” It’s a book about a Baptist missionary family in the Belgian Congo.
In this one scene, the Pastor father insists on baptizing people in running water, going down to the river—and he doesn’t understand the protest of his congregation, until he meets the crocodiles. He was doing ministry TO the Congolese people; if he’d done it WITH them he would have listened to their concerns, and not disturbed the crocodiles.
And that’s really the way to avoid the danger of doing ministry to people instead of with people—you have to listen.
I think of the Apostle Paul, who wrote this letter—when he addresses the Athenians in the book of Acts he points to all kinds of bridges between the Gospel and the lives of his listeners—he quotes philosophers and popular speakers of the time
—If he was preaching today he might have talked about Comedian John Stewart’s interview with Bob Odenkirk, then made sure you knew he’d read the latest James Patterson book, and was at a Lady Gaga concert.
In short, he would respect the people he is ministering to enough to be curious about them, and to listen to them.
So, for example, if you want to tell your grandchildren about Jesus, you need to be curious about their lives, as they actually live them… you need to listen to them, to know what they care about, to find the places where Christ’s story intersects with their own, so you can gently point that place out to them, when it comes up.
Likewise, St. Elsewhere examined young people from a distance—they didn’t want to do ministry WITH the young people, they wanted to do ministry TO young people.
I mean observing a rap concert and watching people with tattoos in a coffee shop (the Call Committee’s prepared for the initial interview with a Pastor by doing both these things), isn’t the same as finding out what drew those young people to the church pastored by that tattooed rapper pastor.
But when they listened—when they got curious about their own community—they could begin to move from doing ministry TO people and started doing ministry WITH people.
“Becoming all things to all people,” can also be a danger to the ones doing ministry.(DTO-S)
The biggest danger is becoming inauthentic, putting on a mask, claiming more than you can bear.
I see this all the time, I’m sure you do too. Pastors and their families pretending to be put together all the time, holding those smiles until they can’t unsmile,
because they think that kind of wholesome family attracts people.
Some folk do that throughout a church service as well—holding those smiles until they shake the Pastor’s hand and head out the door.
I know of a Pastor’s spouse who had addiction issues, but hid them so deep that they went off the deep end… all because they wanted to “be all things to all people,” and in so doing lost their very self.
And this inauthenticity goes against the Gospel
—if you hear nothing else today, hear this
—the light of Christ shines on all parts of our lives
—his life, death, and resurrection redeems all parts of us
—not just the churchy-bits, or the wholesome-bits, or for that matter the socially acceptable-bits
—Our whole lives are made right in him…
to hide parts of ourselves is to cast a shadow where Christ has cast light.
So, in response to the creeping inauthenticity that can come with “Being all things,” I say Church, “Know Thyself.”
Not only will it save you from losing your soul, it also helps to bring souls to Christ—there is a missionary advantage to being yourself—it actually helps you “be all things to all people.”
Take Paul for example, he’s able to be under the law for those under the law, because he studied at the feet of the great Rabbi Gamaliel.
He’s able to be outside the Law and savvy about Rome, because he’s a Roman Citizen.
Now as far as I know, none of us in this room have the high pedigree of the Apostle Paul, but we ain’t nothin’ either.
Think of it, you can tell kiddos about Christ because you’ve been a parent or a teacher (for that matter we’ve all be kids) and know how to talk to kids.
You can talk to members of Job’s Daughters and the Elks, because you’re a Job’s Daughter or an Elk.
You can talk to soccer moms because you’ve been, or are, a soccer mom.
You can talk to new people in town, because they’re your new neighbors.
Talk to your poker buddies as poker buddies, the people you work out with at the PAL, as their Pals…
these things we are… they are bridges upon which the Gospel can cross.
Again, back at St. Elsewhere, a Great White slashed across the Pastor’s face, while he makes references to Ludacris and Pitbull—when he’s a Bob Marley and Peter, Paul, and Mary kind of guy—would have been inauthentic.
So instead, they looked at who they were, and realized they had plenty of gifts—that they could be all things to all people without being a danger to themselves or to others—did they save all…?
no, but they saved some.
Let’s listen to what God is already doing in the lives we hope to point to the Gospel, so we’re doing ministry with them.
Let’s be ourselves, because that’s who Jesus has redeemed, and that’s who our neighbors want to hear from
—not a mask or false face, but the face of the people they love, sharing the love of God with them. A+A