Ladies and gentlemen, the pope has left the building—or should I say the country? Pope Francis made a huge splash in the United States—and not just among Catholics. Many non-religious people—and even some Evangelicals—genuinely like Pope Francis. Why is it that people who largely disagree with the pontiff’s theology find him immensely appealing as a personality?
Doctrinal beliefs aside, Pope Francis carries himself in a Christ-like manner. He speaks graciously and walks humbly. He refuses to buy into the tit-for-tat mindset of our political systems. And he looks to care more about walking with poor than dining with the rich. The pope truly seems to understand that Christianity is not About the Pope.
For these things, I applaud Pope Francis and respect him as a brother in Christ. At the same time, his visit has left me with a couple of nagging questions.
First, why are we so amazed when a high-level Christian leader carries himself in a way that accurately represents Christ? Have we strayed so far from the heart of God that what should be normal behavior somehow feels new and refreshing?
We can rant and complain all we want about the downward spiral our world seems to be taking, but plenty of blame can also be cast toward those of us who profess to know and serve Jesus. If Christ-like behavior were normal for the professing church, we’d have a much greater influence in our world.
Second, the celebrity status of Pope Francis presents quite a conundrum. The pontiff walks in a lowly manner while being elevated to rock-star status. Furthermore, he preaches against unbridled materialism even as a brisk business in pope souvenirs follows wherever he goes. Did you know you can buy Pope Francis T-shirts, umbrellas, and coffee mugs? There’s even a bobble head to be had for a mere $59.99. Some people have professed to spending well over $100 for pope souvenirs.
I’m not criticizing Pope Francis for any of these things. I do, however, see a major disconnect. The realities of our Lord’s Gospel seem to be evading our public consciousness while, at the very time, we laud Christ-like behavior.
At the core of our problem is an anti-biblical mentality that has plagued the church for centuries—the feeling that Christian leaders are celebrities to be fawned over.
From a biblical perspective, a leader is a servant (John 13:1-17). And by servant, I don’t just mean a representative of God who helps the poor, but someone who inspires, trains, and equips others to accomplish the hard and tedious work of ministry.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NASB)
The work of a “minister” then is not to stand aloof as a public celebrity, but to teach and train ordinary people how to minister. I believe that this one simple misunderstanding has done as much damage to the church as any of our doctrinal errors.
God calls people not to stand on the sidelines applauding the actions of a select few, but to roll up their sleeves and advance His purposes on this earth. At the same time, He calls Christian leaders not to make others dependent on them, but to train the rank and file for fruitful service.
I, for one, am deeply thankful that God has not limited ministry to the strong and highly gifted. Not only does He love the “faceless,” He loves to use them to accomplish His noble purposes. It’s an eternal reality that I really wish more Christians of all denominations would grasp.