MANAGING THE MAYHEM OF MINISTRY
Your Mirror = His Message
What does the person looking in your mirror communicate to a watching world about your Lord and Savior?
By Cal LeMon
What is wrong with these pictures?
You wait in your car for the mechanic to arrive at his shop. Suddenly a sputtering, coughing noise from a careening, polluting automobile that shutters to a violent stop next to you assaults your ears. The mechanic vaults from the driver's seat and loudly opines, “Ol' Nellie, here, has been giving me fits this morning. Guess my last tune-up did not fix the problem.”
The physician's exam room is cold and foreboding. You have been patiently waiting, without street clothes, for 30 minutes. The doctor walks in to shake your hand but suddenly erupts into a coughing fit accented by a dripping nose and fever-laced eyes.
In both of these scenarios there is an inherent contradiction. The messenger has to reflect his or her message.
What is the message of your ministry? Do you physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually mirror good news?
You Are His Message
Marshall McLuhan, author of the best-selling book, Understanding Media: the Extinction of Man, said, “The medium is the message.”
Yes, you are clergy, pastor, teacher, evangelist, educator, missionary, counselor, custodian, coach, friend, and, in the constellation of these roles, you become the flesh of a life of faith.
Your diction, appearance, emotional control, interpersonal resonance, ability to exegete biblical languages, patience, eye contact, and even the quality of your breath all breathe the presence of our Lord.
As people of the Cross, we glue our heritage to the words of Jesus, who said to the skeptical religious leaders of His day, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me” (John 12:44,45, author's paraphrase).
Therefore, people expect us, the people of the cloth, to be clothed in Christ. Our physical presence, facility with the language, demeanor, sense of humor, tolerance for diversity, and a thousand other nonverbal personal qualities all become … His message.
So, what does the person looking in your mirror communicate to a watching world about your Lord and Savior?
Our bodies, according to our classical Pentecostal theology, are the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” What does your “temple” nonverbally communicate to those who receive your spiritual leadership?
According to the National Center for Health Statistics in 2010, 33 percent of U.S. adults, age 20 years and over, were clinically “overweight,” 35.7 percent were “obese,” and 6.3 percent were “extremely obese.”
Additional research conducted by Cynthia Woolever (2010) and Joelle Kopacz (2012) in their blog post Beyond the Ordinary, suggests clergy weigh 5 to 7 percent more than the average weight of the parishioners who sit in front them on Sunday morning.
Maintaining a healthy weight is really all about boundaries. At a dinner table, when is enough … enough? Is there a spiritual component to controlling appetites?
When a spiritual leader is admonishing me to make Christ the Lord of my life, my marriage, my relationship with my daughters, my time with my grandsons, and my dealings with my clients, I am not only listening with my ears, I am judging this person's credibility with my eyes.
Eating too much or too little results in physical messaging. If the pastor is abusing the “temple” because he is consistently moving the “boundaries” (Oh, I know I will pay for this, but pass me another piece of that cherry pie … with lots of that blessed whipped cream … and I will ask the Lord for forgiveness later.), what is the real message to those who look to him for moderation and control?
Burning Out for Jesus
Another boundary issue for clergy is the willingness to work hard 12 to 20 hours a day so the ministry can grow.
It is an interesting phenomenon that a pastor's name, not location or a specific ministry, often defines our churches. Clergy who have a vision and then nurture this spiritual directive with incalculable hours of sweat, service, and selflessness will often earn preeminent places of respect.
And, what about the ones who did not make it to the finish line? You know, the clergy who worked 18 hours a day, experienced minimal numerical growth, and then had a heart attack, emotional breakdown, or just … walked out the door at the annual business meeting? There is a law of diminishing returns in the ministry.
There are committed and anointed people who work hard and still gaze out over empty folding chairs and pews. So they work even harder. But the more energy they expend, the fewer parishioners show up. Over time a palpable penchant for passivity replaces their enthusiasm and extreme labor. And, the best ointment to salve this sorrow is to repeat the aphorism, “At least I burned out for Jesus.”
We indelibly imprint the people we serve with our sorrow. As soon as the church begins to slip into regression, the congregation will reflect the unspoken angst of the spiritual leader. And, from there it is downhill.
The “Eyes” Have It
The most expressive part of your body is not your hands, mouth, or even words. It is your eyes.
If you have ever been in some place of personal crisis and your spiritual leader is looking 6 inches over your left shoulder, sneaks a glance at a cell phone screen, or glances at a wrist watch, you know the nonverbal insult that screams, “He wants out of here … my story does not matter to him.”
As a child I learned, from my parents (who also doubled as my pastors), that I could not lie to either of them if they said to me, “Now you look straight in my eyes and tell me that again.” This was the litmus test for lying in our family.
There are two types of eye contact when listening. First, there is “sustained eye contact” which usually communicates “interrogation” or “intimidation.” Second, “intermittent eye contact” communicates “I am listening and following you, and I do not need to stare at you to prove my interest.”
Obviously, as a spiritual leader, you want to provide intermittent eye contact that will invite the person to trust and then rely on you.
When I consider a few of the seminal spiritual leaders in my lifetime (J. Robert Ashcroft, Gladys Reynolds, George O. Wood, Liz Merrifield, Barry Corey), they leaped into the center of my mind and heart with their eyes. They “attended” me with their vision. They pierced through my feints and failures. I saw Christ in them.
The Windex of Worship
Sometimes we have to clean our mirrors. Over the years they become smeared and streaked with sentimentality, selfishness, and second-guessing. The best solution I have learned is a cleansing application of tears … the result of worship.
Worship, offering worth to God, will remind us our bodies must physically reflect the boundaries and healthy choices of a sinner saved by grace. Worship will whisper there is no virtue in becoming the next victim of spiritual burnout. And, finally, worship will give us clear eyes to see our families, our congregations, and our communities as Christ sees them.
Here is the best compliment you will ever hear in your ministry: “I saw Christ in you today.”