And what can one say to a young man who I have known all my life who is entering a call to ministry in the most be-pastored crowd I know? The main focus of my charge was that my brother should, at all costs Be Himself!
It was the best advice I ever received from another pastor in ministry upon becoming installed as the new senior pastor at First Pres Colorado Springs. When seeking advice from one of my mentors in ministry, John Ortberg, he said, "Be yourself, Graham. Life is far too short to try to be anything you aren't in your ministry. Plus, you have so much to offer as...Graham."
When my father was about to go to college as a teen ager, he was met at the bus station by his father, my grandpa, and he was told, "Don, remember who you are."
This very simple advice (Be Yourself, Remember Who You Are) is not so different than advice that an aging apostle Paul gave to a young pastor named Timothy who was leading a church in Ephesus. Timothy was undergoing much criticism in his home church for not being more than he was as a pastor: More what? More elderly, more astute, more pharisaical, more seasoned, more ascetic (the early Christians of Ephesus were becoming extremely ascetic in all things, drink, marriage, sex, food, and hence separating themselves from the larger culture). Paul says to Timothy; "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you." (1 Tim. 4:12-14). If you put your Bible next to your ear, you can hear Paul tell Timothy the same advice as John Ortberg gave me, that my grandpa gave my Dad, and I gave my brother...Be Yourself!
Of course, what Paul also knew was that the only way for a person to remain themselves in their lives, is not to try to hold onto their self (like a helium balloon held by an infant at an amusement park), but rather to let their selves go to Christ. The only way we remain ourselves is to become like Christ.
But it also must be said that being yourself in the Christian faith may be the hardest thing for a person to do. There are so many social and cultural pressures on us to be like one another. There are pressures to look as Christian as we can, to talk Christianese, to be like everyone else.
I am now reading my daughter the children's stories that I grew up with. Recently I read her Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling." The ugly duckling is the story, remember, of a little swan who is compared to a handful of little ducklings, and found to be wanting. In the original Danish, Andersen says, "The little ugly duckling wanted to be like all the other ducks, but she wasn't, and she never would be." Of course, had the little duckling been able to turn herself magically into someone, or something else, she wouldn't have been able to be the beautiful swan that she would one day become.
And so, my advice to my brother this weekend, and to all reading this blog is simple...
And by making yourself as much like Christ as possible, you and I stand a chance of doing just that.
All For Now,