You are not a funeral clown

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Let’s be real.  Most churchy definitions disqualify me as a young adult.  So, at 38 I’m too old to remember what it’s like to be young.  That’s right.  I’m too old for the typical young adult ministry.

Typical.

At least I’m no longer invited to young-adult only breakfasts and planning sessions.  The issue now, though, is that the old people (you’re welcome) still think I’m sooo young.  I’m like an entire Sophomore class.  Freshmen are unique because they’re new and wide-eyed–fresh meat.  Seniors are ready to be done with rules and work :)  Juniors are so close to ruling the school.  And Sophomores are just…meh.  That’s kind of what being a 38-year-old pastor feels like right now.

Age in ministry is a strange thing.  I suppose that is true for any profession; I’ve heard people marvel at the greenness of a physician or two.  It boils down to this: If you’re too young, you’re not to be taken seriously.  If you’re too old, you’re not to be taken seriously any more.  Either way, you’re not putting your hands on my infected body part–that’s for doctors, not preachers.

Yes, God is still looking at the heart of a person and we’re still looking at the pimples and wrinkles.

A LITTLE RESPECT

Several weeks ago, an older church member mentioned my age.  Several people have, in fact, but this was a particular occasion.  The comment was something along the lines of, “You’re sooooooo young.  My fill-in-the-blank family member is your age.  My response was, “Imagine how the church people that had me in my 20s felt!”  I began pursuing pastoral ministry back in 2001-ish.  As an early-20-something, I served in just about every church leadership position.  Soon enough, I began to serve a pastoral role.  “How do you command respect as a 20-something?” was the next question from my church member.  I blurted something silly like, “Speak loudly.”

Yes, I’ve always been grateful that the church considers having a big mouth a spiritual gift.

How do you command respect as a young anything?  I can’t speak for younger lawyers, doctors or politicians.  And I can’t even imagine the turmoil of a wet-behind-the-ears funeral clown.  You’ll just want to Google that one.  I can only answer that question out of my experience.  How did I command respect?  I didn’t.

I never demanded, expected or even desired respect from the churches I served.  Maybe I was too young to know I should have been 😉  My Bible study or sermon preparation never included a worry about whether people would respect me or what I had to say.  At this point it should be noted that I’ve never had to deal with an old guy who had a Gran Torino (Another Google project, if you’re not familiar).  Why would I have to concern myself with that?  Another reason I never found out what R-E-S-P-E-C-T meant to me was I thought that was for old people anyway.  You know, you respect someone who has all of life’s answers, or roll your eyes at them after you trek a mountaintop for a few minutes of their time.

Me?  I did not assume my work as a preacher or pastor was to provide life advice to a bunch of older people.  Heck, they should have been guiding me on life issues!  There have been plenty of people that wanted me to be a spiritual Dr. Phil.  As a 20-something, I was not interested.  Not quite sure I am now either.

WWJR?

No, it was rather apparent to me what I was supposed to do as a teacher, preacher and pastor.  Did someone teach me?  Probably.  Did I hear it from God?  Probably.  Did I stumble onto it?  Probably.  I was young and I don’t remember.  Somehow I understood that my responsibility was to preach and teach the Kingdom of God.  Period.  That’s what I knew Jesus did, and that’s what I assumed I should be preaching, too.

Starting young and naive helped me do just that.  By and large I thought people really wanted to know what the Bible said about life and faith.  That’s why everyone was at church, right?  So, I just told them about the kingdom.  For what it’s worth, I think people respected that.  Sure, I have some wisdom I could drop on you now, and I think I’m supposed to share that, but in light of and for the benefit of the kingdom.  As long as I remember that I think people still respect that.  Or they don’t.  What do I know?

I’m sure many of you need respect in your line of work.  I’m also sure some of my pastoral colleagues need to preach more of the kingdom of God and stop worrying about commanding respect.  In the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they do not respect me.”

Are you a Sunday school teacher?  A new preacher?  Youth worker?  Young or old, give ’em the kingdom first and all these respect things shall be added unto you.

Stay blessed…john