Monday, November 11, 2013
Church Sex Symbols
The other day I was watching the Today show. They were interviewing one of my favorite actors - Robert Redford. They were giving him praise for all his accomplishments and talents. He was clearly not comfortable with it. He said he is honestly embarrassed about the recognition. They asked him if it bothered him that he had never received an Oscar for best actor and he quickly assured them that awards didn't matter to him. He truly is passionate about the art of acting and movie making. Then they asked him about his early days. When he was younger, he was one of the biggest sex symbols in Hollywood. He said he was nervous about what life would be like if he played into that. Then he said something that was amazing. He said he put three signs up about the word "object". These were signs to keep in front of himself as a caution. I immediately took out my iPhone and typed them into Evernote. Here's what the signs said:
Sign #1 - You are being treated like an object.
Sign #2 - You will start to behave like an object.
Sign #3 - You will become an object.
As a church leader, I couldn't help but hear the sermon that Robert Redford had no idea he was preaching to me. The title of the sermon was "Church Sex Symbols".
The definition of sexy is "interesting, exciting or trendy".
There's a lot of interesting, exciting and trendy things going on in church world these days. If we are to be completely honest, there's a lot of sex symbols leading the current culture of church. They're influencing the way Christians live their life, the way church leaders do church and the way the unchurched see the church.
Now, this isn't a rant about how bad and self-indulgent some leaders can be. This isn't a post for me to call out the latest mega-church pastor scandal. This is much more than that.
This is a call to church leaders, including myself, to be careful and cautious with the platform that God has given us. This platform is a sacred and important responsibility to, ultimately, equip and disciple the Church. It doesn't get much bigger than that.
Being a church leader is amazing. Sure, it's got bad days, but the good days make it all worthwhile. The privilege of leading and influencing others is a humbling experience, unless the position is abused...and, unfortunately, it has been and people have been damaged because of that.
God has not called church leaders to be sex symbols. He's called us to be shepherds. He's called us to lead a generation to worship and discipleship. God is to be the object of our church's affection, not us. Just like Redford, we need to keep some warning signs up.
So, here's a few ways to avoid being a CHURCH SEX SYMBOL:
1. Spend More Time on the Inside Than the Outside - The first thing I think of when I hear the term "sex symbol" is appearance. It's actually pretty easy to look the part of anything, especially a church leader. Depending on what kind of vibe your church has, you can dress appropriately and have the right hair style. There's nothing evil about style. Style can be an expression of who you are. Unfortunately, there's a temptation for some church leaders to spend a lot of time on how they look or how things are presented and not enough time on the substance and motive of things. Excellence in presentation is a good thing, but we have to make sure it stays in it's place. Excellence can be a huge idol, and unfortunately, it doesn't take much observation to see that the presentation of God in church services is being worshipped far too often. As church leaders, it is so vital that we do some major, daily introspection of the heart. If our heart is in the right place, we will be able to lead our church to have a heart for God. Have we gotten caught up in public acceptance and neglected our private, quality time with God? Have we placed an unhealthy demand on excellence in front of the call to disciple? It's easy to appear righteous, but if it's all about the outside, then we're just being self-righteous. We can justify this with an evangelistic banner, saying that people judge by outward appearance, but if God isn't the power behind it, then it's all in vain. I Samuel 16:7 says that "People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." When God looks at my heart, I want him to see a church leader and not a church sex symbol.
2. Love People, Not the Spotlight - Loving people is foundational for any church leader. The church is people. It's not a gig for you to spotlight your abilities and talents. Spotlights are common in churches, and there's nothing wrong with that as long we are reflectors. Just as we are to reflect God's glory (2 Corinthians 3:18), we should reflect the spotlight on us back to God. When we fall in love with being spotlighted, we can easily forget the reason we are there, which is to love God and love people. If you start feeling like you're too important to mingle or spend time with the people of God, the sex symbol status may be setting in. I'm afraid that green rooms have become an enabler of church leaders to be away from people, instead of with people. Resist the urge to hang out backstage and go invest in the church. Take advantage of opportunities to actually be with the people. Be in a small group. Most importantly, make sure you are intentionally discipling. The great commission is not dependent on a show. It's a result of us showing God's love, which Rick Warren says is spelled T-I-M-E. That is something that has never required a stage or a spotlight.
3. Don't Believe Your Own Hype - A leader is someone who has followers. When people attend a church, part of the reason they are coming is because of the church leader(s). Statistics suggest that the pastor is roughly 90% of the reason people choose a church. This knowledge is very dangerous. I have received so much encouragement from people in my years of ministry. People have built me up as much or more as they have criticized me. Encouragement feels great. Sometimes, a word of encouragement can be all you need to keep pressing forward. It's great to be a leader that people can look up to and admire. The danger of this is when the admiration you receive becomes a fuel for your own ego. When you start living for your own hype, then you will start believing your own hype. Before you know it, your head will be so swollen that you'll start feeling entitled to the position God has given you, instead of being humbled by it. I love how Andy Stanley puts it - “Your talent and giftedness as a leader have the potential to take you farther than your character can sustain you." Believing your own hype and embracing a sex symbol status will position you to be destroyed by your own pride and ego. I've seen it happen. The worst part is that it doesn't exclusively affect you. It will damage your church. God has certainly gifted us church leaders in a unique, and some would say, odd way. It's not a prideful thing to recognize that, as long as we recognize Who has gifted us. If we keep that in focus, the temptation to believe we're "all that" will diminish and God's glory will be magnified. (John 3:30)
Church was never intended to be a place for us to make a name for ourself. It's about lifting high the Name that is above every other name. (Philippians 2:9-11) Show me a church that is weak in the worship of God and I'll show you a church that is more than likely being led by a church sex symbol. True church leaders influence others to draw near to God. They discourage their church from putting their hope in a person and they encourage them to put all their hope and trust in God. Church sex symbols feed off of the adulation of a crowd and enable idolatry. They are comfortable and content on being the object of people's affection.
Our life is the one shot we've got to do good for God's Kingdom. We've got to guard ourself from becoming an object of people's affection and instead, influence them to worship God with their whole heart and make HIM the object of their affection.
As I said earlier, the definition of sexy is "interesting, exciting or trendy".
Don't settle for sexy.
Have the same motivation that Paul had in Philippians 3:14, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."