About 20 years ago, I sat through a sermon in a church where, at least from what I can remember, the main thrust of the message was that men should not wear earrings. I’m thinking, there must have been more, but that is one of the two vivid memories I have of that morning. The other is of two teenage guys, one with an earring, chatting with the pastor after the service. I don’t remember the passage of scripture or much else about that morning. But as I watched the pastor talk to those two guys that morning, I had what I can best describe as a “God moment.”
Let me state first, I don’t wear earrings. Never have. Never really gave it serious thought. In large part because none of the guys I grew up with ever wore them, and I think it would have killed my dad. Shortly after college, I was licensed and then ordained with a denomination that would not have looked fondly on earrings (as evidenced by the message I referenced above). I did have the longest hair of anyone in my ordination class (including the one woman)…earrings would have been too much I think. By the time I joined the Vineyard, I was well past ever considering an earring. Plus, I think it might hurt.
In other words, I have never really cared about earrings one way or the other. But that morning, I had one of those moments that went a long way to shaping my understanding of ministry and what it means to be a pastor/teacher. My train of thought went something like this:
1) “What are the chances any of the guys with earrings in takes them out based on what they heard this morning.” (I was guessing 0%…and from my limited sample, I was right)
2) “What if as one of them was praying/reading scripture/etc, God spoke and said, ‘time to take the earrings out.'” While I doubt it would have shot to 100%, I’m thinking, it would have been a lot greater impact than the pastor had that morning.
So here’s what I learned that morning…(which you probably already know).
- We humans, being fallen as we are, have a tendency to mix up our personal preferences with sin issues. And we can, without too much effort pull verses here and there to make our point. [When I was in college, the pastor of the church there loved to piece “Judas went and hanged himself,” together with “Go ye and do likewise.”]
- When a church creates a culture where the pastor is responsible to tell the people of that church what is right and good, and what is sinful or at least inappropriate, it is very easy for a dependency to be created. And at the same time, many of us will nod approvingly when he or she is saying what we already agree with, but be far more sceptical and resistant, when we do not happen to be on the same page.
That morning, a core of my philosophy of teaching was set…my job is to encourage people to encounter God for themselves, and trust that He will speak to them and direct them as they seek Him. The image that comes to mind as I think of this is, that our job is to show people where the food is & invite them to feast. It is not to hook them up to feeding tubes or cram food down their throats. He is far more capable of dealing with each person individually than I am.
So, what about things that are clearly sinful? There are areas where scripture is very clear that this is right and this is wrong. And to be faithful to the gospel, we teach those items plainly and clearly. And as we do, we recognize that no matter how elegant and well crafted the message might be, there will be those hearing it, for whom it will simply have no impact.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had those areas in my life where no matter how loud another person was yelling, I wasn’t able to hear it (or I probably just shouted back even louder to defend myself) and I didn’t change. And then there’s that moment, where the Spirit simply whispers, “why are you doing that?” and in struggling for a response, repentance comes in a way that it couldn’t have any other way.
In no way am I advocating for “wishy-washy/whatever you want to do is fine” teaching. It’s my hope that each time I teach there are some people for whom that message will be the final push the Holy Spirit uses, to make them more like Christ in that area of life. But for those not quite ready to take that step yet, I want to avoid putting up a “my way or the highway” barrier that makes it makes that person more resistant to hearing what the Father is saying to them.
I hope that is what everyone here at the Vineyard has experienced.