Religious Costumes

Religious CostumeOne thing I’ve learned in ministry over the years is that pastors want to be liked. Some want to be liked so badly that they’re willing to become something they’re not. When that happens they began mimicking other leaders and projecting an image that is not at all who God’s called them to be. Even when the disguise works, the person people fall in love with is not actually the person standing in front of them.

Trying to be something you’re not is the classic definition of a hypocrite, “one who wears a mask.” Unfortunately, our fallen culture loves costumes. We always have; it’s the human condition. Since we were kids we’ve been taught to “dress up.” Just turn on the television or scroll social media for a few minutes; there are a lot of people wearing masks. It’s all fun and games until the costumes make their way into the pulpit… and they do.

All of us have worn a mask at some point or another, especially those times when we don’t feel like facing the crowd. It’s a way to escape. Costumes help us get away, even if only for a few hours. I’m convinced the reason some people prefer masks is because they’re uncomfortable in their own skin. Nonetheless, when someone uncomfortable with him or herself begins to force others to wear costumes, we end up with a disingenuous system rooted in hypocrisy.

People love to insert themselves into other people’s lives. Actually, that’s a Christian concept; if it were always for good the world would be an amazing place to live. However, because of humanity’s fallen nature, it’s usually not for good… and that’s never good. So, even decent people end up wearing masks, not always to put on a show, but sometimes just to get by.

I’ve learned, especially as a pastor, that too often people love us because of what we do and not because of who we are. Let me repeat that, pastors are often loved because of what they do, not because of who they are. This is a real tragedy for the church. In fact, there are fewer and fewer qualified pastors today because of the heavy yokes that congregations put around their necks.

It’s bad enough to have to sift through all the costumes people wear in the world. It’s even worse to sort through them in the church. More saddening is the fact that many pastors are forced into “dress up” mode because of the hypocrisy of the people in the pews. Hypocrisy breeding hypocrisy… This cycle creates pastors living in disguise who can’t actually lead because the people they’re trying to lead won’t let them. It’s the ultimate costume party, week in and week out.

This cycle of powerless Christianity, which in my estimation is the biggest oxymoron in existence, is killing many local churches. Let me repeat that, it’s KILLING local churches. I can’t begin to count how many young, passionate, vision-filled, anointed pastors I see either walk away from ministry or become a slave to the religious system of an overly dogmatic congregation.

They’re forced to fit in, but have no power. They’re forced to wear the garb and learn the lingo, but have no power. They read the books, but have no power. They go to the conferences, but have no power. They say they’re called to preach, but have no power. They have no power because the people they’re called to serve won’t let them walk in the anointing of God in their life. Congregational leaders need to seriously think about this because, in fact, they’re quenching the Holy Spirit in the local church and squeezing the life out of their pastors by demanding their preferences take precedence.

Please hear me, unless pastors and congregations rediscover their purpose and learn to abide in the anointing of the Holy Spirit, they’ll keep spinning their wheels. They’ll continue with their weekly stage shows and costume parties, but they’ll remain powerless as it pertains to being the hands and feet of Jesus in their communities. They will never see revival unless they change.

In the past three years, I’ve worked with over fifty church boards who are either searching for a new pastor or reviewing the one they currently have. In these conversations, I’ve picked up on a common theme. While we know there is always room for improvement, too often pastors are viewed in light of the performance of past leaders and/or the personal preferences of the congregation, especially members with deep pockets.

I’ve watched numerous young leaders enter ministry with passion to serve their congregations and reach their communities, only to be stifled by the spirit of religious hypocrisy within the first few years. These leaders start out wanting to make a real difference, and within a short time, they are so discouraged they either want to move or get out of ministry altogether.

For those in the local church reading this, I’d ask you to consider letting your pastor be the person God’s called him/her to be. Please stop putting unnecessary burdens on his/her shoulders. You’re strangling the life out of young leaders, killing the local church, and creating a void in qualified pastoral leadership.

I’ve heard it all as I’ve worked with church boards: “The pastor… likes contemporary music; we only sing hymns,” “…uses PowerPoint; it’s a distraction,” “…wears blue jeans in the pulpit,” “…doesn’t wear a dress,” “…won’t wear a tie,” “…wears a clerical collar,” “…rearranged the stage,” “…brought in the drums,” “…focuses too much on outreach,” “…painted the teen room without permission,” “…spends too much time with people who don’t attend here.” These are all actual statements I’ve heard in the past few years. None of them are essential in reaching people for Jesus.

This type of ongoing disparagement is what causes a pastor to either leave a church or become something they’re not. If a pastor leaves a ministry assignment after a few years, it’s often a sign that the congregation is difficult to work with. If they become something their not, it means they’ve been forced into a mode of hypocrisy and aren’t functioning in the anointing of God on their life. Neither scenario fairs well for the life of the local church.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes pastoral transitions happen after a short time for legitimate reasons. Some pastors have an uncanny knack for getting a lot done in a short season, and God calls him/her to a new assignment after only a few years. This principle can be identified in scripture; however, it’s not an excuse to move every time the going gets tough. Sometimes we all miss it. Sometimes congregations call a pastor and it isn’t the right fit. Sometimes a pastor needs to move so badly that they answer a call to a new assignment for the wrong reasons.

I’m also convinced that not everyone who says they’re called to ministry actually is. If someone claims to be “called to preach,” yet they’re a terrible speaker and hate to study, maybe they have a desire to do something they’re not gifted to do. If someone says they’re called to ministry, yet everywhere they go ends up a broken mess, they may want to reconsider what God’s really called them to do. If there’s never any fruit, maybe they’d better serve the church as an associate pastor, missionary, professor, or in some other capacity.

On the other hand, for local churches, if you have a reputation calling a new pastor every few years, you may want to assess the spiritual health of your church. If you’ve been through four or more pastoral transitions in the last decade, not changed anything about your approach to reaching the community, and remained in constant decline, you probably need to have a season of serious reflection pertaining to the purpose of your existence. Stop doing things the way you’ve always done it… It’s not working!

Pastors, stop trying to be something your not, whether forced or chosen. Lose the messiah complex. If your idea of ministry is to arrive at a church and tell them everything they’ve been doing wrong for twenty years, you’re arrogant. Listen to their story, learn what they’re passionate about, love them unconditionally (you know, like Jesus), and then lead them to greener pastures. I assure you, until you listen to them, learn their story, and love them, they’ll never let you lead them.

Congregations, stop trying to force pastors to be something they’re not. This negative cycle needs to end. Stop imposing your petty preferences on your pastors. Let them be who they are. If you love your pastor based on whether or not they dress a certain way or prefer a certain style of music, actually, you don’t really love them at all. You love what you think they ought to be.

Pastor, you’ll never function in the anointing of the Holy Spirit until you learn to balance who God’s called you to be in light of where He’s called you to serve. Congregation, if you’ve called a pastor to your church and you believe God directed the process, believe me, they’re just as anointed in blue jeans and an untucked shirt as they are a necktie and a three-piece suit.

This is a call to pastors and local church leaders to focus on what really matters. Let’s seek the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Let’s gather for more times of corporate prayer intentionally crying out to God for revival. Let’s pray for transformed lives. Let’s give more toward planting new churches and reaching more people. Let’s get involved in missions in our local communities and around the world. Let’s be relentless about advancing the cause of Christ and fulfilling the Great Commission. It’s time to stop complaining and start serving.

Congregations, stop forcing pastors to wear costumes by imposing your preferences on them. Pastors, stop imposing your ministry philosophies on congregations until you’ve first learned to love them for who they are. Let’s end the forced religious hypocrisy. Let’s stop demanding things stay the way they are because honestly, the “way things are” simply isn’t working. We can all do better.

2 Comments

  1. Great word, Brian. But it’s not just the pastors; many in the congregation are forced to wear disguises by the other church members because it’s not right to be “too real”. You have to put on the “fake happy” because you won’t want to bring everyone else down or be a burden on the church. You get ostracized as being “weird” or in some cases chased out of the church by people who don’t care for you starting rumors and innuendos because you’re not “like everyone else.”

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