The role of pastors and music leaders

I was listening to a well-respected preacher on the radio the other day. He sounded very "Baptist" -- long, slow vowels when saying "G-o-d," raising and lowering his voice frequently to sound dramatic, and other such tricks. He is dead now, but at the time, he was the leader of a large congregation. He would wear nice, expensive suits. His messages were based, in general, upon the Bible.

I must have seen a hundred similar preachers in my lifetime. I know that there are people who are very well-known for their preaching ability. When I was in my Masters, I remember several professors speaking of people like Tom Long as almost superhuman (Tom Long is a respected preacher and has written books on the subject).

I was raised hearing all my life that the reason we dress up on Sundays is because we are giving God our very best. I remember when a former Pastor of mine called for a "casual Sunday" once a year. I always wanted to ask him, "What gives you the authority to tell people they can't give God their best?"

I think preachers should be good. By "good," I mean that preachers should do two salient things: (1) be very well-prepared and (2) speak conversationally to me about the Kingdom of God. I got all dressed up and drove to church to hear a word from God. I want to be transformed a little bit more in to the citizen of the Kingdom of God that I will be after death. I want to be reminded that this is not my home (i.e., my value is not found in this world; I not being escapist). I don't care about keeping a "positive attitude." I don't care about the weather or a comedic quib. I don't care if you're clever or if you think you're clever; I care if God will speak through you.

I remember hearing about a huge event on my local Christian radio station about two years ago. It was an entire conference of -- get this -- worship leaders. And the advertisements would list some of the "big" names and speak of them as the "best worship leaders today in America." Absolutely amazing. Imagine bringing in 125 tour guides from Israel and promoting the event as "the biggest gathering of tour guides who are from Israel." Who would give a rip? I couldn't care less if they are the "best" (though they shouldn't be incompetent); I care if they CAN SHOW ME the Holy Land. I don't go all the way to Israel to interview the tour guide. Make no mistake about it. You are simply a means-to-an-end. You are not the goal. If you're job is done right, I'll forget you're there and time travel to the first century. I'll see an entirely different country. So it is with music ministers and pastors. I didn't come here to praise you. You're not the point. If you think you're the point, then you are the last person who needs to lead me in worship or in the Bible.

I've never heard of anyone running down the aisle to accept Jesus because the guitarist played like a rockstar, the preacher could make "God" a three syllable word, or because the powerpoint was so colorful.

I simply can't get away from the fact that if Jesus entered into nearly every single church, with their fine-talking, slick-dressed, confident preachers, he would be asked to leave. "Uh . . . sorry sir. You need to dress up for the Lord's house. You can't come in here dressed like this. Come back Monday morning and see a low-level minister and we'll see if we can get you some help."

Several Jews surrounding the Jerusalem landscape in the first century believed in the same type of thing: if we play dress up, call it "reverence," then it really must BE reverence. "A cave for bandits" is what Jesus called the Temple. They had the right talk, the right look, the nicest clothes (in order to give their "best" for God), and the most notable reputations as orators and biblical guides. And they were failures.

They were failures.

Their attempts at "reverence" simply turned into pompous pride.

I like preachers who are nice orators; sure. I like worship leaders who actually are trained in music theory; of course. I am most certainly not advocating that we should have a bunch of ignorant Johny-come-latelies trying to do a "grown-up's" job. 

Yet, I can't get over the haunting suspicion that thousands of churches have driven themselves into the exact same place the Jerusalem leadership found itself.

How do we know if we're failing at our role as a church, or as the Church? It's simple: ask this one question. "When a person leaves the sermon, song, or lesson, who do they talk about the most? Jesus? Or the tour guide?"

Lord, I sure hope that you'd be welcome in my church. And I hope that if you would be kicked out, I would have the guts to walk out with you.