“You are the salt of the earth…”
(Matthew 5:13 (ESV))
I don’t wear a collar; I rarely even wear a tie. I do have a “Clergy” sticker on the back of my car, but that’s only so I can park in the clergy parking space at the big city hospital. Otherwise, I don’t think that I have any outwardly distinguishable features: no halo, no angel chorus as I enter a room, no supernatural powers (like the ability to turn baked chicken into peanut butter and jellynwhich my three year old son frequently asks me to do).
Still, most people know that I am a pastor. I’ve been serving this particular church for 6 years now, I’ve been active in the community, so most people know who I am. And I guess, because of that, I do have one super-ordination-power: I can kill a party.
My wife and I have noticed this on more than one occasion. When invited to parties (which we do get invited to them) my wife and I will approach our friend’s home, the sounds of jocular festivities spilling out into the street, only to be greeted with an instant quieting. It’s as if everyone stops and says, “Great, the pastor’s here, now we’ve got to talk ‘churchy.’”
Recently we attended a wedding dinner for a couple whose marriage ceremony I had just officiated. There were many people were at the dinner who had not been at the church, so they had no idea who I was. My wife and I sat with some friends and were having a wonderful evening. Just to the right of me, however, were some people I had never met. They sat next to me, adult beverages in hand (and I was having one, too) and began to regale one another with wild stories about the past weekend and lurid gossip about everyone else assembled at the dinner.
Then came time for the prayer before the meal. I went forward to the table where the bridal party was gathered, prayed for the couple and for the meal, then returned to my seat. My new companions were obviously troubled. Immediately their conversation changed. They told me how they appreciated my prayer, told me how hard it is for them to get to church, gave a history of which church they used to attend and why they left, and even suggested I was too young to be a minister (whatever that means).
I know what they were thinking, “I better be careful, the minister’s right here.” But friends, let me tell you, I am not God’s spy.
I don’t mind people being careful about what they say when I’m around, as a matter of fact, I’m glad people do change the way they talk when they know I’m a pastor. Truth be told, I’d rather not hear the vulgarities you were about to pour forth. I’d rather not be privy to the idle gossip that you feel necessary to share with everyone in range of hearing. It’s amazing; You can ban a man from smoking in a public place and polluting the air, but you cannot touch the anger and profanity in his heart and mind that pollutes the hearts of those around him. Only prayer and grace can defeat those demons.
Actually, the change that comes when people know I’m a pastor is something I consider an essential part of every Christian’s influence in the world. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…” One of the beneficial qualities of salt is that it is a preservative. It fights off the spoiling and destructive corruption of decay. In the same way, the presence of the Christian in the world should have a preservative effect, fighting off the spoiling and destructive corruption of sin. So every Christian should have a healing quality to conversations. People should speak differently when they are around you. It is a good thing.
This doesn’t mean that Christians cannot have a good time, cannot be the life of the party, should not be enjoyable company. In fact, when you have Christ, you have the one true source of joy, and that joy is contagious, infectious, and it lasts. A Christian can have a good time with friends, never worrying about impressing others, because he has already been validated and received by his heavenly Father. The Christian doesn’t have to sing hymns to fend off the corrupting influence of Gaga. But because he has already sung the hymns, he knows the true source of joy, love, and peace and is strengthened against temptation.
The fact is, though, God doesn’t need me to give him a report of your conversation; he’s watching and listening, even when I’m not there. God knows your every thought and intention, even before you do.
God doesn’t ask me to spy on you; He calls me to pray for you. When I meet someone new, without knowing anything about them, I give God thanks for the opportunity to meet them, I listen for ways that I can be praying for them, but ultimately, I pray that God would show them the same grace and mercy and love that He has so abundantly shown to me. I don’t cast out judgment, I offer up prayer.
Does that put a damper on your festivities? Consider this; if you’re partying things up just to hide the insecurity and doubts from that nagging sense that your life is falling apart at the seams and will quickly end up as a flaming ruin, which would you prefer: a wet blanket or a lampshade?
I notice this, too, as someone who isn’t “clergy” but who works for a church. It’s always fascinating to see the look on their face change and to consistently get reasons from people about why they “just can’t get to church”. I’ve often wondered, “is this guilt they are feeling?” or is it something else – the need for approval, to justify themselves to us because of our “holy” vocation? I’m not sure, but it often breaks my heart to see them distance themselves from me because of what i do for a living.
“It’s amazing; You can ban a man from smoking in a public place and polluting the air, but you cannot touch the anger and profanity in his heart and mind that pollutes the hearts of those around him.” You’ve hit the nail on the head here. Tim Keller often speaks about how we can stop the actions, but until we get to the heart of the issue – figuring out what our idol is – the behavioral change isn’t enough to truly transform us.Once I started to figure out what the idol was behind some of my most consistent sin, come to real transformation. It’s like cutting off a weed at the top rather than pulling at the root.