This was some of the advice a friend of mine received from his first pastor-mentor. That advice was born out of the idea that people are always watching, and so a pastor must appear a certain way. Often the reality of pastors being watched was referred to as living in a glass bubble.
While the advice of putting on a suit to get gas for the mower might seem crazy to us today, as pastors, we all know the realities of living inside a ‘glass bubble’ and the challenge of trying to manage that. When I was in college this was talked about as a negative reality that one had to endure. The general advice was to be careful how you live, and protect your children from the negative effects of the glass bubble. It is true that if you are a pastor to people, those people will look at you differently than they look at one another. But I wonder, is this really such a bad thing?
Earlier this year I was in Honduras on a Work and Witness trip. One day my wife sent me a picture of our four-year-old daughter as she was curled up ‘reading’ her Bible in my chair. At first I simply smiled, but soon I found myself reflecting on what my daughter was doing. My daughter can’t read much more than her name, and her Bible is more pictures than words, so what was she doing in that chair? Well, she was doing exactly what she was used to seeing her daddy do there.
As I reflect on this, I am reminded of the powerful effect of modeling. In his discussion on Christian leaders who finish well, J. Robert Clinton says that “all leaders whether they like it or not, are models for up and coming leaders.” He goes on to say, “Many will forget our words but they will never forget the fragrance of a life lived for Christ.” Models have a powerful influence upon the life of another, and this is true not only for parents of young children, but for pastors of congregations as well.
While there is a part of us that might want to break out of the glass bubble that pastors often live in, it seems to me that there is another part of us that should embrace the tremendous opportunity this provides. People look closely at pastors and the way in which they live their lives, and when a pastor lives well it provides a picture of what that kind of life could look like for another as well.
After all, ours is an imitative faith. In his words to the Corinthians Paul said, “you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” We are a holiness people. We believe that the sanctifying work of God makes a very real and marked difference in our lives here and now, and we believe that our lives should bear witness to this work of God in us.
To believe this is not simply to make a theological declaration that it is true. Rather, to believe that a holy life is to live into this promised work of God in our lives. To use an analogy I heard somewhere along the way, to be a pastor who proclaims holiness without living holiness is to be like a travel agent selling trips to somewhere they have never been. However, when a pastor leads his or her congregation by living a holy life for everyone to see, then it has a powerful impact in the lives of all who see.
Unfortunately there are some who would take this to mean that a pastor should never let people see their weaknesses or struggles. ‘In order to lead’ this way of thinking suggests, ‘a pastor must always appear to have it all together. And, when a pastor does not have it all together they should not allow their vulnerabilities to be seen.’ This might be true in the economy of the world, but in the economy of God’s kingdom, nothing could be farther from the truth. To live one’s life as a model for others is not to pick and choose which parts people see, that is acting; rather, to model one’s life for others to see is to live in such a manner that all of one’s life is open for others to observe. A pastor-model shares their highs and lows with their people. They allow their congregation to celebrate their victories, they share their fears, and they even confess their failures.
This kind of life is risky. When a pastor lives this way it is entirely possible that they will be criticized, ridiculed, or even abandoned. But come to think of it, that’s what happened to Christ as well. And, when Paul said, “you follow me as I follow Christ,” I do not think he was only talking about the good times.
On the other hand, living this way allows a pastor to minister with their people rather than simply to their people. While the role of the pastor is different than the role of laity, both the pastor and the laity are a part of the same body. It is this body, the body of Christ, that is called to join in God’s ministry in the world. It seems to me that it is this way of living that causes the church to be “a Christ-like fragrance” in the world.
Throughout her lifetime my daughter has observed my good days and my bad ones, but because I am constantly present with her, she has come to know the fragrance that flows from my life. It is that fragrance of my life that she has chosen to follow. I pray that my life will always smell good, and that I can live my life in such a way for my children and all the world to see.
Mark Walker has been in pastoral ministry for 10 years and has served at Lansing Woodview Church of the Nazarene since December of 2007. Mark is an alumni of Nazarene Theological Seminary and is currently completing his D.MIN at NTS, focusing on the impact of modeling and mentoring on pastors and their long term effectiveness.