This may sound a little funny, but the other day I was thinking about the game "Marco Polo!" and how it related to pastors. I am a pastor. I work with pastors. I'm growing in my understanding of the challenges that pastors face. I've worked with church leaders who were burnt out, fired, caught in sin, and on the verge of divorce. I've also worked with far more who just needed encouragement and support.
In them all, I have seen the humanness of the pastor.
In our culture today it's easy to dehumanize pastors and ministry leaders by placing them on pedestals and idolizing them as if their life is the life that should be aspired to because they seem to have it all put together.
This is often a two way street. What I mean is, it's not solely the congregation at fault for exalting the
pastor. Unfortunately our culture’s idolization of pastors is frequently inspired by and fueled by the pastors themselves. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. There is a lie that sneaks into the heart and mind of pastors that says they need to portray everything as put together. It comes form all sides. Professionally they fear being fired if their life isn't put together. Theologically they carry the burden of following Paul's example of "follow me as I follow Christ" and God's command of "be holy as I am holy."
Pastors have the duty and responsibility to stand before people and proclaim the perfection of God. His holiness. Although most of them (hopefully all) would tell you that they are not perfect, it's easy for a pastor to take on the burden of perfection themselves. As pastors, we want to set the example for others on what it means to represent this holy God. But this our representation of this holy God becomes skewed when we think our holiness comes by our efforts and our ability to maintain holiness. This can lead us to misrepresent God’s good news and improperly portray the gospel of Jesus.
It is slight. It is subtle. It is often unsuspecting. But it is a very slippery slope. We start trying, in our own efforts, rather than in the work of Christ on the cross, to live perfectly. To live holy. The harder we try, the heavier the burden. A burden that is not ours to carry.
The more the pastor is idolized, the higher that pedestal becomes. The higher the pedestal, the harder it becomes to communicate our struggle. It becomes harder to express we need help. So we fall into the trap of continuing to keep up the facade and carry the burden. This results in a progressively unhealthy isolation. We tend to close ourselves off to others out of fear or pride. Fear of being found out as a fraud or pride that comes in being idolized.
This becomes a vicious cycle that leads to feeling like we are alone and in the dark. Wanting to cry out for help, but fearing the repercussions. Wanting the burden to be removed but not knowing how to remove it. Longing to not have to be perfect anymore but lacking faith to trust in the redemptive work of Christ who makes us holy.
Like Adam in the garden, we weave together leaves to cover our shame and hide behind created things like great Sunday services, great preaching, and more ministry.
All the while God is crying out "Marco!" Calling us to himself. Waiting or us to answer and return to Him. Deep down we want to shout back “Polo! Help! Here I am!" But we are afraid of the response, or worse yet, that there may be no response.
It's in those moments we truly need to stop everything and scream out! We need to be found.
The good news is, that’s exactly what God has done for us in Christ!
God wants to know us. He wants us to be known. Yet unlike the dehumanizing, finger pointing, gossiping, shaming that often takes place when a pastor's sin, brokenness, and humanness is revealed, God receives us with grace and gentleness. He provides the healing touch our souls need.
He bandages our wounds, resets our brokenness, strengthens our weakness, and brings redemption to our humanness. He invites us to be known, not by what we have done, but by who we are in Him. To be known by mercy, love, and compassion.
As we stand on the pedestals of ministry isolation, God bellows an eternal "Marco!" He calls us by name and cries out "Where are you? I know you. Come and know me. Here I am for you."
It's a proclamation to us that not only is He near, but He is coming to us. He is coming to rescue us. To save us from the darkness and isolation. To remove the burden of perfection from our shoulders. To relieve us from the unhealthy struggle to pretend and perform for others in order for them to perceive us as something that we are not.
He sent Christ to find us, free us, and redeem us to Himself.
Pastors, don’t be afraid to cry out “Polo!” Don't be afraid to be known. If you feel isolated, alone, and in the dark. If you feel you have been wrongly placed on a pedestal and cannot carry the weight of perfection anymore. STOP! Lay down the burden, open the door, reveal the true you, and cry out to God. He will hear you. He will respond. He will find you. He will meet you in the place of your brokenness. (Isaiah 57:15)
Non-pastors, if you hear a pastor crying out, respond to them. Let them know you are there. Be an agent of grace for them. Run to them with urgency and with the powerful, life altering, burden relieving, wound healing, life transforming, grace of Jesus. Remind them that the burden is not theirs to carry. (Gal. 6:2)
Jesus carried it for us.