A parable for all those missional types
Once upon a time there was a pastor of a church somewhere just above smallish. Living and preaching outside the city of Coolumbus for over a decade had given him plenty of time to adjust to life and culture in this growing metropolitan area. Restaurants sported fair-trade ingredients and interior design patterns without straight lines. In a century where “new” was the greatest virtue, Coolumbus society around him was desperately scrabbling for the latest of everything—fashions, music, and sensibilities. And if they weren’t winning the race, they were certainly holding a steady pace somewhere near the front.
Scott Keruso really wanted to make a difference. His sermons could be downloaded as well as live-streamed; the praise band was fresh and well-practiced, and only mildly edgy; the church talked a lot about social justice; the youth group took an annual mission trip to drill a well for some needy village in a third-world setting. What more could they do to reach out to their community? How could they break out of this 150-200 attendance barrier? How could the church people experience God in a fresher, deeper way?
These questions returned so often to the fervent pastor that his closest friends knew he was both sincere and focused. But sincerity wasn’t enough. Was he really gifted? If we could have seen into his heart, we would have seen that he thought he was—at least on most days. And even though he could hold his own in a discussion about God’s sovereignty, he also knew the lines about man’s efforts. Church growth commonly requires a pastor to do something. Haven’t thoughtful, clever men always found ways to—in the metaphor of one popular author—surf the latest wave that the Holy Spirit brought along?
But his generation was relational. They wanted conversations around a table, not superiors lecturing inferiors. He had heard more than once that since the Bible says we are all sinners, then doesn’t that include the pastor? And the spate of pastors who had fallen morally confirmed that, at heart, we are all weak, frail sinners.
In deference to these concerns, Pastor Keruso (or should we just say, Scott?) had tried to adjust some of the church services to have a more friendly, family feel while still maintaining high standards for professionalism.
From the beginning of his ministry, Scott’s sport coat only worked one day a week, and the people followed suit. Or, possibly, he followed them. Either way, he eventually reduced his Wednesday night uniform because as he reminded his wife, “Where does the Bible say that we have to wear silk sashes around our necks?”
Most of his people brought devices to the services. Technology accented the services, and the church’s Facebook pages were active throughout the week. More than once, a picture surfaced and was reposted of the pastor in shorts on vacation or his day off. He wasn’t bothered for the same reasons that you or I wouldn’t be bothered. He was just a man living with his wife and kids. In fact, he liked the rapport that his online banter and presence built between him and his people.
In time, they were coming to view him as a real person, a friend.
He wasn’t a two-book-per-week man, but he tried to read. And in reading, he frequently ran across the word “missional.” Before long, that term began to fit in his repertoire like an old tool. Christ was missional when he wore Jewish and Hellenistic clothing. Paul was missional when he went to a new city. And now God had called Scott to Coolumbus in 2014. It was his mission. He had to relate to these people, know these people, and be like these people.
Of course, he would never break a Biblical command to be missional, but to be like the people was to obey Biblical commands like loving your neighbor.
So it was, that the mix-up happened. The small group meeting was supposed to be on Tuesday night at the Chandler’s house. Or so Scott thought. But somehow he had missed the recent buzz on FB that moved the Bible study to the pastor’s home. He had been planning to attend another small group that met on Thursday, and so he and his wife Ashlyn, were enjoying a movie that evening at 6:45 when the bell rang.
Having just showered after dinner, he wore a white undershirt and a pair of sleeping pants. When the door opened to reveal the first four participants for the cell group, he had a fast decision to make: How can I get changed before they see me? “Wait,” his inner voice spoke. “This is who you are. This is what you do. You worked all day like they did, and now you are relaxing. You know the Bible cares more about the heart than the externals, right?”
Scott’s inner debate didn’t matter because two of the church members had already seen and greeted him from the door. “Oh, well.” He thought as he made space for an unexpected Bible study in his living room.
Everything went smoothly that evening, and Scott felt like they could really relate to him. New sensations of being raw and open came to him. This was Pastor Unedited.
“Ashlyn, we need more people to open up,” Scott said later that night. “Our people—Christians in general—need to stop hiding behind fake masks, and let people see them for who they really are.”
Ashlyn who had some bad experiences with hypocrisy growing up agreed as Scott thought she would, “I have thought that for a long time. But everything about us, like, how we are at church just closes that kind of spirit of openness.”
“Well, we need more of it.” And they both agreed again. “What do you think about this idea?” Scott asked. “When am I most relaxed, open, and unguarded?”
Ashlyn didn’t need long to reply, “In the evenings with the family, on your day off, or maybe on vacation.”
“And aren’t those good dynamics to have in a church? Wouldn’t you like to be in a meeting of Christians like that?”
“Sure,” she said.
“Then,” Scott prepared as he thought out his conclusion, “at our next evening church service, I am going to lead the people by example. Whatever I wear the week before on my day off at that time, I am going to wear to church that evening.”
A little pushback followed, but eventually the pastor, overcome by missional desire, committed to this new exercise.
The following Sunday night as he prepared for the evening service, he realized that last week on his day off, he and his boy had gone biking. Owing to the mud, that evening he was dressed in boxer shorts and a sweatshirt. How could he keep his commitment? An internal debate followed 45 minutes before he had to leave for church.
“I’ll just wear jeans a sweatshirt to church. People will still see that I am trying to relate to them.” Thus said the first voice.
But another voice was there, “Scott, what are you trying to hide? You really are trapped.”
“Trapped?” shot back the first voice.
“Isn’t it obvious? You made a commitment to do a good thing: be real to your people. And now that it comes time to pay, you are afraid that they will laugh. This is just the fear of man. And on top of that you made a promise to God. Isn’t there a verse in Ecclesiastes about that?” The second voice spoke with authority and Bible.
“But it’s not right to go to church—to preach—in boxer shorts!” the first voice rejoined.
“You really are a case, aren’t you? Saved by faith, justified freely, and now bound to the law. Afraid to let people see that you really are just a mere man. Now you are adding pride to your lack of courage. How many sins can this simple matter unearth in your heart? There really is no discussion: You vowed before God. There is no verse in the Bible that says you cannot preach in boxer shorts, and yet you feel guilty about it. Bound, bound, bound by the law.”
The debate went on, but, as our story goes, the hero decided to bear the shame and bare his legs in the pulpit that evening. Pastor Keruso even went further, and preached about the spiritual victory that he had gained that day over his own pride. After all, the Bible doesn’t forbid preaching in boxer shorts.
An elderly man in the service, a Mr. Rich Baxter, wrote a letter to the pastor expressing his shock at seeing someone in his underwear speak purportedly as the mouthpiece of God, but this was laughed off in the church staff meeting as someone who needs to focus on the gospel. “The older generation doesn’t understand much about grace.” The senior pastor said shaking his head.
The next week, Scott got a tattoo, arranged a rapper for Sunday worship, and showed Noah the Movie to the church on Sunday night because there’s no verse for these either.