Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Selfie Pope and Evangelical's Search for Significance

So Pope Francis was awarded Time Magazine's award Person of the Year for 2013

In the words of Time, this award is given to the person that, "for better or for worse...has done the most to influence the events of the year."

As disciples of John Maxwell, evangelicals are especially attuned to the idea of "leadership is influence". So when told that the Pope is the person that influenced the world the most in the last year, I along with most of those in my tribe should sit up and taken notice.

What can we - as evangelical's - learn from the influence this religious leader's ministry is obviously garnering for himself and Catholicism specifically and perhaps Christianity in general? 

Pope Francis is the first Pope to take a "selfie" and tweet. Follow the Pope here: @pontifex

He pays his own hotel bills.
He named himself after the rich, young Italian merchant who famously embraced poverty, began preaching the gospel and even became a sort of proto-environmentalist Francis of Assisi.
He even drives a used car

Here is another picture of El Papa. 

While being the first pope to embrace social media and other technological innovations - something evangelicals have been doing for decades - Pope Francis is here doing something that Christians have been known for for millennia: offering personal, unconditional care and compassion to those that most of the rest of society disregard and discard. 

By eschewing the Vatican palace and the traditional finery of his office while simultaneously continuing to carry out his famed late-night alms giving rounds of the slums of Rome, Pope Francis  has - according to Time - "captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all."

The Selfie and the Servant = Person of the Year. Bravo Jorge. Bravo. 

My fear is that evangelicals will focus on the Pope's use of social media and other attempts at cultural relevance and leave behind his example of personal sacrifice, humility, accessibility and service in our quest for influence, public trust and social impact. 

With our built-like-a-mall churches, fancy logos, live-streamed services and sermons peppered with film clips, have evangelicals emphasized "the Selfie" while eschewing the Sacrifice? Yes we give to missions and have an annual toy drive at Christmas but with more and more of church budgets staying more and more inside the church... what can evangelicals learn from the Facebook Francis? 

Now i know that the Vatican is simultaneously one of the most opulent, abusive and corrupt institutions on earth. And i know that the Roman Catholic doctrine of sacramental grace is heretical. 

But with evangelical leaders of many stripes embroiled in money scandals that often carry an undertone of over-weaning "pastoral privilege" and political leaders dwarfed by the circumstances assailing them, Jorge's "servant of the people" perception IS reality to a world suffering through a historical period seemingly bereft of trustworthy leaders and role-models to emulate. 

El Papa's incarnation of Christ to a hurting, financially-beleaguered and war-weary world is connecting with people for its simplicity, humility and authenticity. I am taking note. So should you. 

And of course Jesus said as much. In John 10 Jesus has been assailed - again - by his opponents over his claims and teachings. They don't trust him essentially when they ask "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly!" And when people don't trust you, they won't believe in you. And when they don't believe in you, you can't influence them, even - it appears - if you are Jesus the Christ. 

So what is Jesus' response to a world that is distrustful of him and his claims?

To shout louder?
To insist the world is different than it is and people are just more sceptical than they used to be?
To modify what he was doing to make it more relevant? ("Is the new website up yet Judas?")

Look at verse 37... Jesus remarkably asserts "Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father." In other words, my words, Jesus words... mean very little in this game of trust and influence. He wanted those distrustful of him to look at what he was doing, did it match what they knew God the Father would be doing? If it did Jesus said, "then believe me because of the signs" and then let His actions be their guide to His true identity. 

Pope Francis' actions are speaking louder and louder every day about who his real Lord is... what do our actions say about us? 

How can real, tangible ongoing expressions of true charity shown to hurting families, neighbourhoods and populations in our community become the essence of our church and not just an event at our church? For example we @glengatecma are getting known as "The garden Church". We have land that we have made available for free to families that struggle with food security due to their low incomes. So much so, that people from all sorts of agencies both public and private are now coming to us with $$$ to develop all sorts of additional programs and resources for families that need good, healthy, clean food to eat. Its amazing. But it isn't just an event we held. We have welcomed these folks right onto our property. In fact we have GIVEN them some of our property to help provide for their family with. It's becoming our essence to serve these folks, not just an event. 

How can you as a pastoral leader of any stripe - lay, elected, paid, volunteer - not simply model but embrace a literally humbler and more impoverished personal style? For example... I have an office with an en-suite bathroom in the church.  There is another bathroom down the hall from my office within  walking distance. It would be easy to think, "I am the Senior Pastor, i've earned/deserved/warranted this washroom". But instead i have given that office back to our church to rent out to another company or business like a doctor or counsellor that could make better use of such a well appointed room while i get a bit more exercise a few times a day.  

How can we recover the simplicity of following Christ in a complicated, post-modern age? Author and church planter Neil Cole has said "The Gospel was meant to be simple, but hard. We’ve made it complicated, but easy. " Taking selfies... paying your own hotel bill... not wearing the red leather shoes... handing out money at night and praying for street people... driving himself around: these simple acts have spoken volumes to a world about whose disciple Jorge Mario Bergoglio really is. 

What simple acts can you begin to incorporate into your life as a follower, family and church that will show your world whom you really follow? Remember: Jesus didn't say in Matthew 25 that the sheep would be rewarded for their keen theology or their fabulous organization. It was their absentminded willingness to visit, clothe, feed and welcome that won their reward. They didn't know they were even doing the good that was earning them this inheritance. Why? Because it was so much a part of who they WERE to visit, clothe, feed and welcome that they didn't even give their actions - in many respects - another thought. And notice what the king calls them in Matthew 25:34. The King says to them in the Young's Literal Translation  "Come ye, the blessed of my Father". Those that absentmindedly visit, feed, clothe and welcome the least of these brother's mine, are given the title "the blessed of my Father". They are blessed not because they are given heaven in return for their good deeds, they are blessed because their actions show whom their real Father is.