Often when a newcomer visits Oakhaven I am asked, “what kind of church is this?” I usually reply along these lines…. “Our congregation is based upon the idea that we just want to be Christians”….. “It is our desire to read the scriptures….discern what the original followers of Jesus were like and then try to imitate that model.” “We don’t think we are the only Christians but we want to be Christians only.”
Each time I express it, I feel a fondness for that whole idea and it makes me wonder why everyone wouldn’t want to aspire to being “just a Christian”. Wouldn’t it be great if all believers would just drop all the “brand names”… so to speak? Instead of having Baptist Christians, Methodist Christians, Church of Christ Christians, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assembly of God– Christians, we could simply settle for just being a Christian?
But there’s a more personal level at which I came to reflect on this concept recently. This whole idea took an unexpected turn the other day when I last communicated this to the aforementioned newcomer. Later that Sunday afternoon in my private thoughts, the ideas kept haunting me……and a question haunted me….
Have I, as a preacher ever felt I was “just a Christian?” I confess to you that in that moment, I realized that very seldom, if ever, do I think of myself as “just a Christian”. I think my self-concept is almost always shaped by my role as a preacher. Let me explain what I mean.
When I walk up the sidewalk to the entrance of our church, my mind is not particularly focused on entering into the worship house to give praise to God. Whether I like it or not, I am generally preoccupied that I am about to be called upon to perform…..that is, deliver a sermon and to act the role of the preacher. Try as I may, to diminish this thinking, I can’t keep it from invading my mind set over and over again. I want to be walking into the meeting place as “just a Christian” but by the time I set foot inside I’m not “just a Christian” anymore. My identity somehow morphs into “preacher – Christian”.
When I walk up to a visitor or a member and shake hands and smile welcomingly, I know I am being genuine, but there is always an awareness in my mind that the person on the other side of the handshake may be thinking, “oh, this is the preacher”. “He’s shaking my hand and greeting me warmly because he’s the preacher.” “That’s what he’s suppose to do.” “It’s his role”. I not only imagine his thoughts but I have my own….”Have I responded warmly to this person because I’m a Christian or is it because I am a preacher?”
But it doesn’t end there.
Because I’m a preacher, I exit the building at the end of a service asking myself, “I wonder how things went today?”. “Was my sermon coherent?” “Did I stay true to the text?” “Should I be using more Powerpoint graphics?” On and on I could go. The honor of speaking the Word of God in a sermon is a cherished privilege. I am truly thankful to God for allowing me to minister in this capacity. But sometimes I long to be “just a Christian” sitting in a pew or a chair and experiencing God just like everyone else around me. I long to leave having the voice of God resonating in my ears as opposed to the reverberating of my own voice and the self-critiquing of the sermon.
Perhaps the only ones who will truly understand this blog are those who are preachers. Please understand….this is not a “whining/poor me” cry for sympathy. Those of us who preach realize this to be one of the things that comes with the territory. I trust you can read this as it is intended. It is a willing, open, naked look at one of the preacher’s greatest longings.
Before I conclude these ramblings, I must commend my own family at Oakhaven for their devotion to do everything in their power to let me be just “one of the gang”. Any problem I have of envisioning myself as “just a Christian” comes from within me. I am responsible for it.
I think all my preacher friends would agree……