Welcome to Part 2 of Six Myths Christians Should Stop Believing.
Some things Christians believe are quite strange. Like the Queen said to Alice of Wonderland fame, even I sometimes catch myself believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
I haven’t been a pastor long. But I’m becoming convinced that, for my own sake as much as anyone else’s, one of my primary responsibilities as a pastor is to dismantle these strange myths.
One or more of the following every week if possible.
Myth #4: Pastors Are Closer To God
No one says this, but most Christians believe it. I’ve had the unique experience of transitioning from parishioner in my church to a pastor of my church. I’ve continued to grow through this time. But I can tell you first hand that the transition itself didn’t bring me an inch closer to God.
What the transition did was help expose this myth. Those at my church who’ve known me since the beginning of course see me as pastor—but they also still know me as Kurt, with all my flaws and struggles. But interestingly, those who’ve joined our church since only see me as pastor. At least until they get to know me well.
As Paul argues, no part of the body is more important than another—in fact the parts with less dignity deserve more honour.
And along the way, the assumptions I’ve encountered regularly are that I have answers to the deep mysteries of life, effective strategies for healing brokenness in the community, Christian obedience nailed, skills adequate to every counselling situation, a higher connection speed to heaven. In a word, that I have it all together.
I’m working on all of these things, and I’m happy to give any of them a good crack, but the reality is that apart from marginal gains, I’m the same person now as the one I was before I became a pastor. One thing’s for sure: I definitely don’t have it all together.
I don’t resent these assumptions. They’re quite a compliment really. But they’re also a complete myth. So I’ve tried to brainstorm what it actually is that distinguishes pastors from non-pastors. I can think of two things.
The first is that the way we earn a living makes us more available for the work of the kingdom and the needs of God’s people—particularly to teach and shepherd. This is a great privilege and blessing, and one that I relish.
The second is that we’ve been called and appointed by God to this role. This is also a great honour, and one I don’t take lightly. But as reformers like Martin Luther would point out, this appointment by God is only on par with that of other leaders—whether leaders of families, businesses, or government.
And in terms of the gifts God has equipped us pastors with, as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 12, no part of the body is more important than another—in fact the parts with less dignity deserve more honour. Could it be that we have it completely back to front?
I can tell you first hand that becoming a pastor didn’t bring me an inch closer to God.
In the old covenant, priests were the mediator, or connection-point, between God and his people. But in the new covenant, all of God’s people are priests (1 Peter 2:5) and we now need no mediator other than Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
Point being, pastors are only as priest-like or as close to God as any other Christian. All believers have a direct connection to heaven. And us pastors are only one of many necessary parts of the body—no more, no less. The pedestal we’re put on is but a figment of the imagination.
Pastors aren’t closer to God. Don’t let this disappoint you. On the contrary, it’s good news. It means that if you’re a believer in Jesus, you’re as close to God as any shiny pastor is.
Myth #5: The Church’s Problems Have One Solution
While Jesus is the only name given under heaven by which we must be saved, and this is at the core of my faith, I’ve noticed that many Christians act as if a similarly one-fold solution exists to all problems.
The church would fulfil its calling if. Our nation would return to God if. We would see revival if. Insert your pet phrase: All believers were trained in apologetics and actually knew what the Bible says. We rediscovered the prophetic and had genuine heart encounters with God. Christians really loved their neighbours and took social justice seriously.
This isn’t mockery. I believe every one of these statements. The problem is, many Christians believe only one of them, as though the church’s problems (however defined) have only one fix.
Church, if we pooled our strengths instead of pitting them against each other, who knows what kind of revival we might see in our day?
Jesus railed against those who honoured him with their lips but whose hearts were far from him. So clearly it’s all about the heart.
But James asked what good it was if someone had faith but no works, caring nothing for the needs of the poor. So it must be all about the hands.
But like in Hosea’s day, when God’s people were destroyed for lack of knowledge, Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians for their immature understanding. So it’s all about the head.
What’s God’s point? Which one actually wins out? I know it’s far more complicated than the simple false dichotomies we’ve sucked on for generations, but let me break it down: God’s solution is multifaceted. It’s all about the head, and the heart, and the hands.
Church, if we lifted our eyes, swallowed our pride, and pooled our strengths instead of pitting them against each other, who knows what kind of growth, transformation and revival we might see in our day?
Myth #6: God Likes Me If I’m Good
Surely this one takes the cake. The persisting default mode of the human heart is to believe that our performance determines God’s mood towards us.
We know in theory that it’s by grace that we’re saved, but many of us struggle for years to truly believe it. Sometimes it takes a lifetime for a believer to finally walk in the unyielding confidence that because of Jesus’ finished work, God’s love surrounds them at every moment. Sadly, some never get there at all.
Everything needed to restore us to perfect union with God won’t happen this week. It happened two thousand years ago at Calvary.
There are many reasons for it. But here’s one perhaps we’ve neglected: many churches do a far better job of teaching moralism than they do the gospel.
There’s no shortage of sermons on how to pray or serve or love, what it looks like to be a better husband, wife, employee or citizen; doctrines to believe, Bible heroes to imitate, commandments to follow, three steps to this, seven steps to that.
All of this is good. But none of it is the gospel. And by gospel, I don’t mean a token mention of Jesus dying for sin.
I mean a heart-posture towards God. In all of our teaching about how to be a better Christian, are we declaring even more loudly that everything needed to restore us to perfect union with God won’t happen this week—but happened two thousand years ago at Calvary? That by faith, we are, right now, adopted and deeply loved sons and daughters of the King?
It is finished. That includes all of our striving. Can this message be heard over all the other noise? If not, then what we’re really telling people is God likes them if they’re good. And there’s nothing unique about that. Every religion under the sun teaches it.
Many churches do a far better job of teaching moralism than they do the gospel.
When the crowds deserted Jesus to continue on that broad path of religion, he asked the twelve, “Are you also going to leave?” Peter’s reply gets me every time. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.”
May we never replace the gospel of grace with good advice.
I’m quite serious when I say that as a pastor, I try to dismantle one or more of these myths— especially the last one—every time I have the opportunity to preach. I would challenge every pastor to do the same.