Several years ago I preached a brief sermon series called Confessions of a Wannabe Minister in which I lowered my guard a little in an effort to let people see ministry from the inside out. In that spirit I share the following.
Not long ago it struck me that dealing with the various of circumstances and situations that had arisen in our church in recent years had hindered me from participating in the mission of the gospel as I ought. Without going in details, suffice it to say that I had become gripped by a paralyzing fear of man. I confessed my fear of man to the Lord and repented. After all, it is written: we seek to persuade men because we know the fear of the Lord and we want to please him alone.
Since last March I have been making a more concerted effort to engage people in our community with the gospel. That means spending more time in public places and at public events waiting on the Lord and welcoming the people he sends my way.
Over the past few months the Lord has been pleased to introduce me to many many people — men and women, Christians and non-Christians, citizens and immigrants, red and yellow, black and white. There have been one-and-done conversations; and there have been on-going conversations. In all my years of ministry, I cannot recall a season when I encountered, listened to, counseled, and prayed with so many strangers outside the church — not to mention invited so many to church.
This experience has made it painfully obvious to me that as “churched” as we imagine our community to be, the reality is that many people around us remain “unchurched” and without the hope of Christ in the world.
I am terribly introverted and lack the gift of small talk. There is some good in that, but I feel it has always “restricted” my own evangelistic and outreach efforts. So why have I been able to connect with so many strangers these past few months?
In an effort to overcome some of my personality quirks I sought advice from various pastors and elders and decided to conduct an experiment. I ordered some business cards, started wearing a clergy collar-shirt, and forced myself to go out in public and see what might happen. More importantly, I started asking the Lord to send me to people or send them to me that I might love and serve them with the gospel in some way.
From the first day until now everything has changed for the better. What started as an weekly experiment has become (almost) a daily routine.
As counter-intuitive as it might sound, it seems that wearing a minister’s collar is one of the most missional things a Christian minister can do — even in skeetside East of Dallas. Although not required by God’s word as a rule of law, it is permitted as an act of wisdom. Jesus and other rabbis wore tassles on the corners of their shirts to indicate they were rabbis. Likewise, wearing a clergy collar-shirt lets people know right away that a minister is in their midst — and available for them. No cloak and dagger; no smoke and mirrors; just faithful presence.
So far, the response has far exceeded my expectations. Strangers have come to me and told me their secrets, confessed their sins, unloaded their burdens, and asked for prayers.
The goal of all this is to get the gospel out to our corner of the Lord’s field in truer and better ways. God is witness that I was not able to do this as effectively as an anonymous under-cover minister as I have been able to do as an exposed and uniformed minister. Nearly all of the people mentioned above initiated conversations with me simply because they identified me as a minister and felt it was safe to draw near. That is an answer to prayer.
Like all of the local pastors I know, I used to dress to blend in with the culture without drawing attention to myself as a minister. That was a serious mistake, a strategic error. Whether ministers dress fashionably as hipsters, traditionally as business men, or casually as regular guys, the problem is that they are camouflaged — practically invisible to those who might be on the look out for a minister. It is clear to me (now more than ever) that some “unchurched and de-churched” people are looking for ministers with both eyes open. In my experience, if a pastor in street clothes and a pastor in a collar are sitting together in a coffee shop, ten times out of ten strangers will immediately recognize the one with the collar as the minister.
Now, as any collar wearing minister can testify, the clergy collar has a polarizing effect on people: it means “draw near” to some, but “stay away” to others. (The same thing happens without a collar; it just takes longer.) Either way, it amazes me how the Lord has been using a small piece of white plastic and an odd looking shirt to open a door for doing public gospel ministry in our community beyond our congregation. It may or may not bring many — if any — people to our church, but it definitely helps me come out of my shell and bring the gospel to people in our community.
Finally, the collar-shirt is a symbol to people out there that I am a Christian minister; but it is also a symbol to me — a concrete reminder of who I am and what I must do before the face of God and men. So there is a kind of authority and credibility that comes along with wearing clerical collar, but with that comes tremendous responsibility that requires humility and integrity.
In his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul wrote:
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
This work of gospel mission that we are doing — whether at home, work, or play; whether alone or in community — takes far more wisdom and power than any one minister or congregation possesses.
I share all these thing with you (1) to remind you that we are (still) on a mission from God to our community, and (2) to request your prayers for God’s grace to help us in our time of need.
Will you join me in these things?
For the glory of God and the good of the world.