The shallow Christian

I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter, scraped over too much bread.

-Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

The power of a good metaphor is immense. Ever since I read this line in The Fellowship of the Ring while a teenager, it has stuck with me. It’s such a powerful way of describing Bilbo’s experience of being corrupted and changed by his possession of the ring of power. It’s also a poignant description of thinness–the lack of depth and density that describes many of our lives today. It also, by the way, brings to mind C S Lewis’s description of souls in purgatory in his little book The Great Divorce. These souls are translucent sort of shadowy or ghost-like. As the souls of men and women in the book move away from God they begin to lose their reality, to change into something less than fully-human souls. They become shadows of souls, ghosts.

There’s an interesting article in a recent addition of Leadership Journal that addresses the growing need, not for “relevant dudes,” but for spiritual fathers–ministers who, in the terms above, are dense and substantial rather than vapid and whispy.

Kevin Miller writes,

While Boomers want their church leaders relevant, competent, and efficient, a new generation is looking for a different kind of minister. At my church, 80 percent of adults are under 40, and they seem to want me firm, mature, and relationally present (even if I’m uncool). In short, they want me to be a spiritual father. For some, I’m the Christian dad they never had. For others, I’m the father figure who’s here now.

This is causing me to rethink the way I do ministry. It has driven me back to the Scriptures. For this is far more than mere generational preference. What’s at stake is our very identity as pastors. It’s how we as pastors answer the question: Who am I, and what am I supposed to be doing?

Quoting a younger member of his church, Miller continues:

‘The highly relevant pastor is bro’. There’s certainly a place for pastors to be in tune with culture and to be relatable. But where do I find a man of God who will nurture my spiritual life? That’s what’s I need. Relevance is easy to find. But when I stumble in that same old sin that I keep slipping in, I need someone with wisdom and maturity to go to. It’s fine if that person also happens to know about some great new indie bands, but in those moments, I need something else. I need depth.’

As I read this article my heart leapt for joy–this is what drew me into ordained ministry in the first place. I left law school after I re-read Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor. I longed to be the sort of minister who thinks, writes, reflects, talks, and lives out of a deeply held theological identity that is formed through the rhythm of following Christ in the exciting and mundane moments of life.

At 35 I am beginning to feel like being bro is out of reach–that’s okay, I have never really been hip. But Miller’s article did prompt me: what about the ways I practice ministry need to change to make sure that I can become father more fully?