At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Monday, June 29, 2015

There's Nothing Wrong With Vanilla

I can't recall exactly what year it was--although my memory is prodding me toward the 1984 ACC men's basketball tournament--but Duke's hoopsters were hanging tough with number-one ranked North Carolina. Duke was coming off two or three substandard years at the start of Mike Krzyzewski's regime there, and Coach K got his first major signature win with a 77-75 win over Michael Jordan and company. The game isn't the thing here. The memory that comes to mind is an off-hand comment by an announcer who mentioned that Krzyzewski "loves vanilla ice cream."

I thought it was odd, an odd comment to make in the heat of a major upset. And it was odd because I thought, in my 13-year old mind, "Why would someone prefer vanilla over a host of other flavors? What about chocolate? Rum raisin? Daiquiri ice? Rocky road? Butter pecan?"

Over the years, I've come to realize there's nothing wrong with vanilla. In fact, there everything right with vanilla. And I'm not talking about ice cream anymore.

I'm talking about pastors in Christian ministry.

Father's Day brought the sad news that a flagship megachurch in my denomination, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, is facing the loss of their senior pastor, for reasons of moral failure; that means, in brief, engaging in an adulterous affair. Once again, a shepherd in God's kingdom has tumbled from vocational grace.

Some of these pastors are high-profile individuals, having forged para-church movements that advance specific aspects of ministry. These movements can be helpful and shed much light in helping (1) existing Christians understand the Gospel more deeply and clearly and (2) attracting unbelievers to teaching that satisfies a spiritual thirst.

However, once the pastor/leader falls from grace, the constructed ministry can tumble, too. This can be for the simple reason that--for better or worse--in some way these movements are tied to the personality and behavior of their leaders.

In truth, there is nothing wrong with entrepreneurial endeavors that highlight biblical truth. But I'm not convinced these are at the heart of what it means to be a spiritual shepherd. It's clear from Scripture--especially the qualifications for spiritual leadership found in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1--that God is interested in the moral foundation and the character, the integrity, of the pastor of a church or leader of any faith community. What's interesting is the lack of words like "cultural guru", or "strategic thinker", or "visionary leader."

It's not that those things, those flavors in the Baskin Robbins of personal qualities, are bad things. They are good things. But they are not the primary foundation of what God requires. And sometimes Christianity is looking all around for those flavors when we should be expecting the vanilla that God wants from leaders.

If you are a church-going Christian, do you have a pastor who works diligently at studying Scripture, so that they can patiently and clearly apply it to your life? Does your pastor pray? Does he administer the Sacraments (or ordinances, for my Baptist friends) faithfully? If you can answer yes to all three, you've got a fine pastor.

I'm the fifth generation in the Davis family to be ordained to the Presbyterian ministry. I've never known generations one and two (my great-great-grandpa and my great-grandfather), but I have heard enough about my Grandpa Davis and experienced enough about my father's ministry (if you want a taste of it, too, you can find sermons here) to say this: They might have never led a multi-staff, multi-campus, megachurch, or made significant cultural inroads, or spearheaded other ministries or headlined major conferences (although Dad has done a few). However, they were/are faithful to their ordination vows, have preached Scripture, and loved their people well.

That's vanilla. And it's good. Better good vanilla than other spoiled flavors.

And lest we get too proud versus those who fall from grace, recall the words of John Bradford, "There but for the grace of God go I."

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