Pastors and Other Christian Leaders: Loosen Up, Before It’s Too Late!

I hate criticizing people. Actually, I like criticizing people, but over the years have found that it tends to move whomever I’m criticizing to criticize me back, which is much less fun. The best solution I’ve found is to talk about people behind their backs. I think that’s really a win-win for all.

But now I must speak out directly! I must! Not doing so will make my eyeballs hurt! And then I’ll have to put iodine in them! And then my screaming will disturb the neighbors! So that’s out.

Do you know that I’m quite sure that one of my immediate neighbors works as a … well, never mind.

The criticism that’s threatening my eyes isn’t actually a criticism at all; it’s a loving, encouraging suggestion. And it is this: If you are a pastor or a Famous Christian Leader, consider the possibility that maybe, when you’re up at the lectern, or doing your thing before the cameras or microphones, you could loosen up a little. Relax! Be who you really are, instead of who you think you’re supposed to be.

Ah. It’s already like I’ve jammed cucumbers into my eyes, or whatever that is you’re supposed to do with cucumbers to make your eyes feel good.

I make this call to Personality Cleavage (that is, cleaving to one’s personality) because in my professional life as a lunch mooch and meeting crasher, I have had a fair number of occasions to hang with people whose job it is to essentially represent God to truly vast numbers of people. And I’m always sitting around with these people, and they might be having a drink or two, the way normal people do when they’re hanging out with their friends, and they’ll be way funnier than you’d think. (Or that I expected, anyway.) And I don’t mean the kind of humor where you chuckle with restrained verve and then ask someone to pass the rolls. I’m talking Teamster humor. Rude stuff. Jokes that make you wish you hadn’t just taken a bite of a roll.

It’s awesome.

But then, later, I’ll see those same people on TV, or hear them on the radio, or whatever, and it’s like they’d gotten attacked and treated by a taxidermist. They’ve gone from Richard Pryor to Maury Shaffer. It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Church Lady. From Gildna Radner to Aunt Bea. From Willie to Principal Skinner. From … well, you get the idea.

Half of them—or a third of them, maybe—is gone.

I understand, Christian Leaders, that in your capacity as a representative of our Lord you naturally feel obliged to act dignified and … like a person who doesn’t keep a whoopie cushion on them at all times. Of course. All I’m suggesting is that sometimes, when you’re alone, you might want to take a moment or two to discern whether or not too great a distance has developed between who you are as a ministry leader, and who you really are. It’s when you allow those two things to become too divergent that you set the stage for trouble that’ll send your whole show into the ground.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.todayscoolnews.com Brian Shields

    Perhaps it's because "who they really are" is a self-denying gay man who likes to do meth with male prostitutes while leading large Colorado mega-churches.

    No, I guess you're right, that's not true of ALL Christian leaders. I think that case does make many of us think the worst about these pastors in direct proportion to their holy demeanor in public.

    So here's where I'm going to agree with you John Shore using a very unusual example… Christian Heavy Metal. I'll admit I'm a big fan of a number of Xian metal bands including "As I Lay Dying" and "Zao." I've seen both of these bands perform and while they're true to their faith… and the shows even include a certain amount of "witnessing", they're also abjectly true to themselves and speak clearly to their audiences.

    So until Daniel Weyandt starts preaching hate at a mega-church, I would prefer to look on him and folks like him as representing the best of what Christian leaders have to offer.

  • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

    This is simply outstanding John! I posted some of it at my place with a link to your blog. More religious folks (not just leaders) need to hear this. Of course I don't need it :)

  • http://megaloi.blogspot.com Redlefty

    Good stuff, and this is why yesterday I turned down the chance to preach a sermon in January at my church (~800 members). I'd only want to be the 100% real me, and frankly they ain't ready for that yet.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    When we go church hunting, finding real people is one of our big priorities. If they're as crass and warped as we are, even better, but not mandatory (we're not really THAT crass or warped, I'm finding).

  • http://mrhackman.blogspot.com Andrew

    Red, you are such the rebel! ;) We have to do a beer sometime in this lifetime.

    I think this topic is worthy of many posts cause there are so many nuances to it. Most Christians are SO focused on everyone's theology and behavior, that they cannot help but "rate" everyone they see. Yet they learned this behavior in the churches, so Pastors in a sense are having to live with the very animal they created.

    For myself, I love a Pastor who finds Smith's "Dogma" spiritually insightful. :)

  • Rich

    This knife cuts both ways.

    Some pastors who are naturally reserved–even borderline stoic–yet brilliant theologically, try to fit the mold of the "new generation pastor". Faux-hawk with highlighted tips, tragically hip glasses (even though their vision is 20/20), jeans with strategically placed holes, and a retro dress shirt from Hot Topic…swapping their regular pulpit for notes on a Blackberry complete with Powerpoint slide show…trying to do their best Rob Bell/Tony Robbins impression on Sunday mornings.

    That's equally painful…for pastor and parishioner alike.

    John, your point is well made. Being one thing in/on the pulpit/stage and another thing outside the church only serves to strengthen the stereotypical two-faced Christian.

    Although, it DOES serve as excellent blog fodder.

  • http://wineymomma.wordpress.com wineymomma

    me…hmmm…a writing motto…nope…maybe that's why I am unpublished…

  • Mark Lattimore

    Yet again, I somehow end up following Rich.

    Great post, John. A certain amount of transparency is crucial for a pastor's witness and credibility. Although I don't know how all church's call their pastors, I know that in ours the church votes on the calling of the pastor. Principles of integrity demand that the pastor be the same person in and out of the church building so that the church really knows whom it entrusted with this very important job.

  • http://wineymomma.wordpress.com wineymomma

    “Personality Cleavage”…I must now clean the slurpee from my monitor…How do you come up with this stuff?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Just keep typing, and never look back. That’s my motto. (Do you have a writing motto?)

  • Latoya

    Very very well put…and i totally agree

  • http://www.1truebeliever.wordpress.com wickle

    You know, I can’t remember the last time my pastor wore a tie to church … and he doesn’t wear socks over the summer (he “grew up” in California, and we just have to deal with it). One of the things I know and love about him is that he’s just who he is. He’s also very honest about what a reprobate he was before he had this life-changing encounter with God.

    On the other hand, I hear preachers now and then who talk like humans when they’re not up front, but then transform into walking KJV’s when they start praying. It’s very odd.

    So, yeah. Great post.

  • RevGer

    You're absolutely right! And I always hope that I don't become one of those kinds of pastors. Of course, I'll never have microphones & tv cameras to deal with and my congregation of 17 isn't exactly a megachurch, so never mind. But have you noticed that some pastors even speak differently when they're "up front?" I mean, they're voice changes–like God made them radio voice overs or something. And congrats on using "two…to…too" alternating with other words in that final sentence. (And PS to wickle–tie? socks? What are they? My congregation would collectively faint if I showed up with those things!)

  • RevGer

    And oops–after complimenting your use of "two/to/too" I went and improperly used "they're." I'll blame it on the fact it's almost midnight and I should be in bed.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

    Your call to Personality Cleavage made me think of describing this phenomenon as Personality Shrinkage. You (and Jerry Seinfeld) caused me to go there. Does this qualify for Teamster humor? Rude stuff?

    I think some have been raked over the coals for relaxing in front of the crowd. Its like you need a follow-up open letter to Christians and, I suppose, non-Christians too, calling them to chill. Cut the human some slack.

  • http://thedeepermeaningoflife.blogspot.com Elle

    So good. Where is that button thing that allows me to post this as an item on facebook? It will make some people laugh and make me look very cool for reading such insightful blogs. Maybe even make me some friends.

  • Sarah

    I totally agree. My husband is a pastor and struggles with this all the time. I think he feels that many parishioners "can't handle the truth!" (a la Jack Nicholson). They WANT that cookie cutter pastor who is someone to look up to. While he totally doesn't want to have to be "that guy", he feels like he walks a thin line between being real and teaching people that pastors are just real people like them and keeping his job by almost playing a part they want him to play. I don't think I'm articulating this as well as I'd like, but I hope this makes sense somehow. My point is that it's a two way street/vicious cycle. Act like myself (i.e. a real person with humor and faults and sipping a beer or two – gasp – IN PUBLIC!!)= refreshing to some people but = find a new job to some of the people on the committee in search of "the perfect pastor". Maybe you've already written it, but how about a blog about the impossibilities of being the perfect pastor? I'm amazed anyone goes into congregational ministry with how much pressure is on them to be everyone's version of the perfect pastor. Since everyone sees that differently, that's 2000 different ideas of what a pastor should be like, should do, etc. at our church alone! Thankfully, my husband is pretty confident about not having to measure up to every last opinion, BUT he still feels the weight of the criticism and that is draining.

    Good post!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Sarah: That's such a great point, and one that attended me throughout writing this post. I think I'll write another one taking a look at the flip-side of the one I've written here–exploring, in other words, exactly the dynamic you (and other commenters here) have so wonderfully expressed. It really is such a two-way street. I've known so many pastors who just fry because of the insane demands put on them from parishoners who expect them to practically BE Jesus.

  • Sarah

    AMEN!!

  • Joshua

    "BE YOURSELF" it's one of the best advice i've ever received! It's alright for a pastor, deacon, and so forth to show who they really are. If you are yourself it helps me trust you! ;)

  • Freddie G

    My X-pastor was always smiling and joking on Sunday and Wednesday night and then acted like he was drinking vinegar the rest of the week. I finally realized the the week-day Mr. Hyde was the real person and the Sunday and WEdnesday night Dr. Jeckyl was a fake!

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Freddie: How totally interesting. That's just … insane. I wonder how typical that is?


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