Years ago, I was talking over breakfast with a young man. Between bites of bacon and eggs, he was telling me about his disappointment with his dad.
Having had a dad who paid little attention to me, spent no time with me, and was really only “dad” in the strictest biological sense of the word, as I listened I struggled with how to respond. The complaints I was hearing sounded to me like the description of a normal human being trying his best to be dad; occasionally preoccupied, often not sensitive enough to his son’s needs, maybe not as spiritually dialed in as he could be…
I knew telling him my own story of a bad dad might help give him some perspective, but I didn’t want to make it a contest. At the core of his disappointment was the idea that his dad hadn’t modeled the loving character of God in quite the way he wished had been done. And as I looked down at my own plate of (quickly disappearing) bacon, something occurred to me.
“Well, it’s a good thing your dad wasn’t perfect. If he was, you wouldn’t have needed Jesus,” I said.
What followed was a good conversation on the way fathers (and others) point us to God both in their successes and failures in their roles.
I was thinking of this conversation recently as I reflected on a recurring theme among many of the pastors I coach. It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that pastors often struggle. They struggle with the things that every human struggles with, but added to that, they struggle with the odd idea that they shouldn’t encounter struggles at all as spiritual leaders- that by the time they reach a position of leadership, they ought to be beyond all that. And worse, because they aren’t beyond all that, they are somehow imposters or frauds who will eventually be outed as flawed and failing by people who expect… more.
While there are standards of ethics and conduct for ministry that are vitally important, most pastors I work with aren’t dealing with the kinds of sin that would disqualify someone from ministry, but rather the everyday ups and downs of following Jesus. Everyday ups and downs like spiritually dry spells, the very human struggle with lust, envy, ambition, worries about the future, and regrets about the past.
And to those leaders, I would say “It’s a good thing you aren’t perfect. If you were, nobody in your church would need Jesus.”
“Follow me as I follow Jesus” was written by a pastor who himself was not beyond the spiritual struggles of an imperfect human following Jesus. Those words weren’t meant to say “emulate my perfect spirituality,” but rather “emulate me in both my successes and my failures.” Follow me as I walk in the footsteps of Jesus AND as I deal through repentance with the times I stumble off the path. See me in both the highs and the lows, and in that be pointed to the ONLY one who ever did it perfectly.
Pastor, you do well when you allow others to see how you deepen and grow in your discipleship. You would do equally well to allow people to see the harder parts of that journey as well. You aren’t perfect, and no one (at least no one whose opinion you should care about) believes you are or even could be perfect.
We’ll settle for someone who’s trying– someone who shows us what it really looks like to follow Jesus.