OOPS, I Did it Again! How Becoming an Accidental Pharisee is one of the Most Devastating Killers in the Lives of Missionaries and Church Leaders: Part 1
It began as a decent morning. I got up out of bed with a bit of a spring in my step. I was excited for the day to begin. Some of you may think I’m crazy for saying this, but I had a meeting on this particular day (yes, you read that right), and was pretty jazzed about it, truth be told! I was headed to Starbucks to meet a pastor about the possibility of doing some Biblical Counseling work for some of the people in his church. It was going to be a good day.
As many of you know, I have an affinity for “a little bit” of color and pattern in my clothing choices. And, of course, we can’t forget the bowtie and the shoe game. They have to be on point too. How many of you have I lost already?
However, on this particular day I decided to tone it down…WAAAAAY down! You see, I had looked up the pastor that I was going to be meeting on this day the night before. And he was a very conservative looking gentleman, so I figured I shouldn’t scare the poor chap upon our first meeting. So, off I went to Starbucks wearing plain brown slacks, a button-down shirt tucked in, and a grey seersucker vest. With plain brown shoes, I might add, and no hat.
I arrived about 30 minutes early to maintain my professionalism, with journal and theology book in hand. I now was eagerly waiting for some coffee and great conversation about a topic I loved…helping people connect their lives in line with God’s Holy Word and to the heart of God Himself. But instead, the moment for our agreed meeting time came and went. Another moment gone, then another. Five minutes later I received a text asking where I was sitting. So, I stood up, noticed the gentleman I had seen in a picture the night before, shook his hand and asked if he’d like some coffee and then to join me.
The pleasantries and introductions lasted a few minutes. We knew some of the same people and the connections were good transitions for the conversation to weave effortlessly through the loud noises in the coffee shop. And then it happened. The man sitting across from me had changed his countenance almost as quickly as flipping a light switch. This is what he said,” Do you know why I texted you to ask where you were seated?” I calmly, with a smile, said something to the effect of,” I don’t know. I suppose to see if I would greet you with eye contact and a firm hand shake, since that doesn’t happen with younger generations much these days.” He then proceeded to point to me and move his finger up and down as if to size me up and asked,” What’s…this?” He was pointing to my clothes. “I’m usually not this forward, but why are you wearing these things? What’s the point? He asked.”
Now, in all fairness to this pastor, his questions did not come off sounding rude, flip, or outlandishly pompous. A little brash and somewhat calculated, but not rude. Yet the message was very plainly received. What started out to be a conversation about the care of souls in his church quickly turned to why in the world I would choose to wear a vest…and if you must know, it was a waistcoat.
So, instead of talking about how to help those hurting in his congregation, we took the next 30 minutes to talk about why I dressed the way I did and what point it served if I was really serious about being a pastor and counselor. The conclusion of the story will come later. Suffice to say, this was not the first time someone had asked me about my clothing choices. But I kid you not, I honestly looked fairly “normal” on this day. So, here’s MY question: What caused this individual to look at another man with no holes or wrinkles in his shirt or pants, with a well-spoken, decent grasp of the English language, and a heart for people to understand God’s Word for their everyday life, and ask him if people actually took him serious or not, looking the way I did?
LEGALISM. Legalism sits at the heart of every litmus test our sinful hearts can create. But, before I jump in to all of that, why would a guy who’s supposed to be talking about mission’s ministry and prayer bring the conversation to this point? I’m glad you asked. Buckle up! In the next few articles, we’re going to unpack a number of difficult topics that are extremely dangerous to the health of missionaries, individuals, and church leaders in our culture today such as: Phariseeism in today’s Christian world, our own personal definition of what “making a disciple” looks like, and unrealistic expectations pinned on missionaries and church leaders causing great amounts of harm.
We’ll also dive into some incredibly beneficial and encouraging topics: extending more grace and freedom to those that need it, goal-oriented missions-mindsets, true and biblical discipleship, and opportunities to speak life into missionaries and church leaders…bringing them hope instead of hurt. So, come on this journey with me. Will it be convicting? YES! Will it be life-giving? YES! Here is what I want us to pray for this week:
Prayer: Search my heart, Lord. See if I have any unrealistic personal expectations or pharisaic tendencies that don’t line up with the freedom and grace we have in Christ. I ask that you help me to be more encouraging to our missionaries and church leaders instead of demanding what I THINK is best for Your Kingdom. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Clayton J. Elliott, Kontaktmission USA
Director of Pastoral Ministries and Prayer