My Man-Crush on Rob Bell: And Further Confessions of Ministry
One of the main reasons I go to pastors' conferences and conventions is so that I can get a chance to just sit and listen to someone else preach for a while. Being a pastor, who preaches every Sunday, I feel like I need to keep it real once in a while and just sit and listen to a sermon. Now, I listen to podcasts and the occasional CD from time to time, but that's not the same as sitting in a chair, taking notes and feeling the love. If the preacher in question also happens to be really, really good at it, that's a bonus.
My preaching professor in seminary once told us that listening to other people preach is like eating a meal...
You know, I just absorbed my use of the "preaching professor" monicker, and it sounds like that could be a dude on a late night info-mercial, doesn't it? If you don't learn how to deliver the goods with 3 points and a poem after taking my course, then I'll give you your money back! Ah, ADD, old friend---you never fail me.
So anyway, my professor told us that when he visits another church and speaks to the pastor afterward he always tell him/her "I was fed." He went on to tell us, "Sometimes the meal is a 7 course banquet, and sometimes it's a bowl of gruel, but I still get fed."
When I fork over the money to attend a conference, I sort of expect the 7 course meal, but that doesn't always happen. But this year at the National Pastors' Convention I am feeling pretty stuffed, and the fare has been fairly awesome.
I just realized that I used more than my allotted share of food/eating metaphors in that last paragraph. Pity.
I am now chilling in the digital "cafe" at the NPC. I use the term chilling because it's pretty darned chilly here in sunny, Southern California, which was a bit unexpected. Not unpleasant, just unexpected. I was planning on attending a seminar on preaching with Will Willimon, but it looks like it's about to start. Soooo I'll be downloading the MP3 to listen later at my leisure. Ahhh technology.
Here's the deal, and the real purpose of this blog. I have to reveal that I have a man-crush on Rob Bell. I feel that I need to confess this. Rob is the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids Michigan, among other things.
The last man-crush I had was on Christ Daughtry when he was on American Idol. I even went out and bought jeans and leather bracelets like his, a move only my wife caught---and promptly teased me unmercifully for making it. When Chris was unfairly voted off of the show by the idiots from the "Vote-For-The-Worst" website, who got Taylor Hicks (who?) voted in as the winner that year, I was despondent for days.
So now Rob has replaced Chris in the man-crush department. There's a number of reasons for my infatuation: 1) He dresses extraordinarily cool. I do my best to rock vests, button down shirts, black jeans and cool skate-esque shoes, but alas... I fall short. 2) He has unbelievably cool glasses 3) He is probably the most effective preacher/teacher/communicator of our generation. I meant the last one. Okay. I meant all of them.
I met Rob today before his talk at the NPC. I was one of those creepy, weird guys who walks up to famous dudes like him and says things like, "Your ministry really blesses me. Thanks man." and then just sort of stands there. So, yeah. That's what I did. I could have just left him alone, but I went for it. I have always regretted not doing things like that in the past, but now I am not so sure that my regret was a small price to pay for potential idiocy.
The only other time that I ever really acted on my impulse to be creepy was this time I stood next to Robert Plant (the lead singer to Led Zeppelin for those of you younger than 30) and all I could say was "Thanks, man." And I did that to Rob today, and it felt the same.
After I sat down I started feeling a bit dumb about it. After all, he's only a guy just like me. He puts his pants on one leg at at time just like me. He's a pastor just like me. Unlike me, however, he preaches to literally hundreds of thousands of people around the world, has best-selling books and this little video series that he does in his spare time (www.nooma.com).
Rob's also become one of the most polarizing figures in the evangelical "world," because he dares to preach that as Christians we are new creations, called to live into the hope of a new community. The establishment, conservative, evangelical Christian "They" doesn't take too kindly to Rob's assertions that our allegiance is to Christ and the Kingdom of God---not to governments, institutions or religion. Rob has preached against the war in Iraq, for a more all-encompassing theology of creation care and he has also effectively taken the message of God's radical love for the world to college campuses and venues around the world that were previously thought of as bastions of pluralism. Oh, and he got to hang with the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu.
I was sitting outside the Starbucks in the Fashion Valley Mall yesterday and listening to a couple of older pastors at the table next to my wife and I. They were talking about Rob and were using words like "radical" and "out there." I wanted to pull up a chair next to them and ask them what they thought was radical about Rob's teachings since they all came straight out of the Scripture. Then I imagined that I would push my chair away as I rose to my full height and say dramatically, "But I guess if they aren't the verses you have highlighted in your big, thick King James Version, you don't pay that much attention to them."
But I didn't. I just sat there drinking my Venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte.
Rob Bell's talk today was for pastors. He talked about how sometimes someone will come up to you and say things like, "Hey, so-and-so is saying these things about you, but I told them they weren't true, man. I defended you. I've got your back." Rob called those "chocolate covered turds." They seem all sweet and nice on the outside, until you bite into them.
I get my share of chocolate covered turds in my role as a pastor. I can't even count how many times in my years of ministry that someone has walked up to me and "shared" what "some people" were saying about me, a decision I made, a change in our ministry, etc. All in the interest of having my back, of course.
I've learned something over the years. When someone approaches you to tell you what "some people" are saying, just insert that person's name for "some people."
Rob's talked centered around forgiveness, and how it was such a vital part of ministry. It was one of those sermons that I felt was being preached right to me. I began to wonder if perhaps Rob had some sort of mystical powers, and when I shook hands with him before the service, he had absorbed some of my chi or something. At any rate, I needed it. I have some people I need to forgive.... a lot of people. Here's the thing, ministry is not for sissies. People will hurt you and let you down. You will hurt people and let them down. You need a thick skin, I have been told, in order to do this kind of thing. But the problem I have found is that when I allow my skin to grow thickened, I am less able to feel. There must be another solution to the hurts (death by paper cut, Rob called it) those of us in ministry incur than just growing a thick skin, or staying hurt all of the time.
Forgiveness, according to Rob, is like death. We need to absorb the hurt we receive in ministry, accept the truth in the critiques, the caustic comments, the sideways remarks and backhanded compliments. We need to own it, and to die to ourselves. Only when that death occurs will we know the truth of the Cross, and the hope of the empty tomb.
Their faces float before me now, the ones who have injured/are injuring me. Some of them don't even know what they've done to me. Some of the hurt was so long ago and so deep it has very nearly informed who I am today. I am driven to humility in the knowledge that for some of them, my face is one of the many they would think of if the roles were reversed. Our words and deeds do such violence to one another if we let them. Oh that we could be like Jesus!
Jesus forgave those who didn't know what they'd done---while he was on the cross. He looked out upon the faces of those who had beaten him. He cast his gaze upon the disciples who had fled from him. He could see the people who had jeered and mocked him as he staggered to the Hill. He saw the hands of the soldiers who nailed him to the cross. And he loved them. And he said, "Father, forgive them... they don't know what they are doing."
So I gush a bit about Rob Bell. Sue me. Today he was my pastor, and God used him to help me face something I needed to face, to hear something I needed to hear.
If the Church becomes too afraid to hear and to heed the prophetic voices among us, God help it. God help us all.