4. Turn off the Christian Culture noise.
“Christian culture” is hard to define. It may not be real life, but it is a real thing and can blind a pastor from what really matters to the people in the pews and make you unknowingly out of touch. On the other side of the coin, it can regularly make you feel like you aren’t doing or saying enough as the “experts” of the day opine from their iPhones, “Pastors, make sure you ______.”
Here is an example: The people in your congregation have no idea there is a debate going on about the usage of the word “evangelical” unless they see their pastor tweeting about it. If they do know or have read a random article that popped up on their feed, the HIGH majority really doesn’t care. I thought there was this international crisis about using the word and I had to speak to it, and then quickly realized, “wait, outside of Christian Twitter and a couple of op-eds, nobody is talking about this during their lunch break in Tallahassee except for pastors.”
I am learning (a work in progress would be an understatement) to not give emotional energy towards the crisis of the day that only a few select people in my city and local church would actually view as a crisis. It is actually kind of embarrassing to freak out over something not one friend of mine outside of pastor circles even knows is a thing. It is quite easy to do when you forget your tribal timeline, preferred websites, and circles are not the only opinion and debated topics in the universe. It can leave you clueless.
This certainly was a large component of what caused division over the 2016 Presidential Election amongst evangelicals (if we are using that word this week). The tribal theme of our social media timelines made many of us think that everyone thought exactly as we did about the election, failing to remember and realize that there are serious Christians who had differing opinions and voting choices. A passionate and social media present “never Trump” crowd of younger pastors and leaders voiced a mandate under the banner of integrity to “write-in” candidates, failing to realize this was not the average opinion of those in the pews (especially Southern Baptists) who use social media as primarily a place to post pictures of family and travels. It is as if we need to repeat out loud to ourselves daily that “social media is fun and helpful, but it isn’t real life.”
This goes beyond the issues of the day or politics. I’ve learned I have to turn off the noise over what makes a legitimate pastor, or even a Christian, and lean on Scripture first (hopefully) and personal, wise counsel from elders and mentors to evaluate. By “turn off the noise,” I do not mean, “unplug”, but rather not being swayed or pressured to abide by the unofficial rules of pastor social media and the online Christian culture of your tribe or affiliations.
“Your sermon prep shouldn’t be your devotional time.” Says whom? Is there a Bible verse about this claim? It actually is permissible and can also be beneficial for many pastors.
“Your quiet time should be the first thing you do in the morning.” What if afternoon or evenings works better for one’s routine? “Seek ye first!” Matthew 6:33 is about morning quiet times? Some people have kids to get to school and the morning is chaos in their home, and they might not want to wake up at 5:00am. Reading your Bible is a mandate; when you choose to do so is a matter of opinion. This might be a petty example, but these are the types of rules that come from Christian culture rather than Scripture. Turn off the noise.
“You need to go on a date with your wife one night per week.” Whoever first claimed that either had unlimited free babysitting, or was an empty nester. If I am home with my wife at night and we are hanging out after the kids go to bed, does that not count? For some couples, they are realistically only able to go out on a date once a month. That might not be ideal, but it is okay. Every family is different. Turn off the noise.
“If your pastor doesn’t preach on racial justice tomorrow, you need to find a new church!” Wait, what? Violence involving the Alt Right happens in a city, and now if my entire sermon isn’t changed, it is an indictment on our church? I can’t keep up! Most of us aren’t qualified to give informed opinions on healthcare, tax bills, and don’t know much about the inner workings of systemic, racial justice issues outside of there is a problem and we need to listen and care. According to tweets and Facebook posts that will get hundreds of likes, you are to speak to all these things as a pastor. Who decides which issues are mandatory to preach on? Turn off the noise.
There is so much out there and in front of pastors constantly, even if you aren’t ultra active on social media. Absolutely, listen to others, learn, and ask questions, but turn off the noise. I am most effective when I stay in my lane, and share thoughts and opinions based on what I see as important for our congregation and city. The “flat” online world we have the privilege of living in does allow for important conversations that can influence people (Google Tennessee football fan, twitter and Greg Schiano), but remember that the latest crisis in the SBC is not even on the feeds of the person in the 12th row at your church who is trying to be on mission at work, reach their neighbor, and help their teenage son or daughter not abandon their faith. Be a missionary leader in the local church where you are serving.
Christian culture comes in many different forms, fashions, and mediums in America, but it all has one common thing shared if we aren’t careful: a distraction from the mission and speaking to real issues of gospel conviction that people are sorting through in their daily lives. Share opinions, be passionate, have some fun, correct, rebuke, and encourage (2 Timothy 4:2), and along the way have perspective about what is real world and what is not. That’s what I’ve been learning.