My Pastor, the Circus Ringmaster

Sometimes I think pastors, I being one of them, are more like circus ringmasters than shepherd-teachers. “Ladies and gentlemen! We are honored today to present you with the greatest show on earth! This morning you will hear elder Bob give a life-threatening presentation of the Gospel that will scare you into heaven! But wait, there’s more! You will also experience the most powerful demonstration of manipulation known to humankind to get you to serve in the nursery! And if you don’t serve, there will be flames waiting for you at the door!”

Or something like that.

I’m reminded of a story I read about a four-year old girl who loved helium balloons. For her birthday, her dad blew up about fifty balloons, which was not an easy feat. When she saw the balloons she said, “Daddy, what’s wrong with your balloons? They don’t float.” Her dad tried to convince her that his balloons were better, because you could play a game to see who could keep them in the air the longest by smacking them every time they start to come down. 

She wasn’t convinced. 

The only way to keep non-helium balloons in the air is by smacking them upward every few seconds. For many churchgoers, this is how they experience church. Each week the “circus-ringmaster pastor” yells something like, “Be generous!” And people put a few extra dollars in the offering plate. The following week he yells, “Witness to your friends!” And they spend a day guilted into trying to bring God into their conversations. “Volunteer at church!” And some sign a card to serve in the nursery, which lasts only until the first diaper blowout.

J. D. Greear puts it this way, “Fill a balloon with helium, however, and it soars on its own. No smacking required. Fill a heart with passion for the lost, and it develops the skill of sending. No [circus-ringmaster] shouting required. What keeps us from proficiency in sending, you see, is not a lack of competency, but a lack of conviction; not a scarcity of skill, but a paucity of passion” (Gaining by Losing, 57-58).

The French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery explained, “If you want to convince men to build ships, don’t pass out shipbuilding manuals. Don’t organize them into labor groups and hand out wood. Teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea” (paraphrase from The Wisdom of the Sands: Citadelle).

When you yearn for more of God’s presence, you don’t need a circus-ringmaster pastor smacking you every week to get you to read your Bible. When you yearn to see your friends come to know the love of Jesus, you don’t need a preacher yelling at you to evangelize. 

Our problem in the church world is not that we haven’t found the right programs; we haven’t found the right passion. First yearn for the vast and endless sea, and then you will long to build ships. And no one will have to smack you or yell at you to start building.

“For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).