It all seemed to happen overnight. One evening I exported a .pdf with the title, “Vision & Values,” and the next day I was the lead pastor of Oasis Church. I thought God was just waiting for me to design a logo, build a website, and put some shine on my instagram so that He could finally build His church. It was a hot minute before I realized nobody cared about my website, my trendy church name, or even my .pdf.
God was going to build His church regardless of whether or not I was the leader of one. The only thing that qualified me as a pastor was the fact that I bought a domain name and then gave myself the title. Realistically, I was not ready for the journey ahead. The leadership conferences I attended didn’t actually equip me, they just fed my ego and sold me some books. My social media marketing skills didn’t translate into disciple making, they just made me seem more legit than I actually was. I had 5 years of college under my belt, but even that felt more like an extended stay summer camp where studying ranked nowhere near basketball or girls on my list of priorities. Looking back, I laugh at my own naïveté. Did I really think sub par marketing skills plus downloaded sermons from open.church were gonna change the world and set my city on fire for Jesus?
Oddly, yes. Yes they did. And while I am still recovering I figured I’d write an honest reflection revealing the depths of my weakness, along with a celebration of God’s strength, and some instructions for any young Timothy out there living the church pastor life.
An Awkward Monday.
I had just spent three hours creating social media graphics using photos of myself preaching from the day before. After adding some cool textures, bold lines and clever quotes from Crai… I mean “my” sermon, they were ready for export. I was uploading the fresh graphic to instagram when it dawned on me, I had just spent more time marketing stolen sermon quotes than I had spent actually preparing the sermon itself. I was my own hype guy and the very person I was hyping had no substance. I was a fake faker who really believed in his own fakeness. Lying is one thing, but swallowing your own deception is a Hole Notha’ Level. I was hyping myself as the real deal and it was fun because most people bought it, and for a little while I even believed I had substance. In this case though, I was the substance, and I was getting high on my own supply. I wasn’t even following Biggie Smalls’ Ten Crack Commandments, much less the Ten in Exodus.
I needed to do some serious self-work.
I also realized there was something else odd about me, a community church pastor spending more time on social media stalking my favorite celebrity pastors than being with Jesus in prayer or in His word. I felt the Lord speak to me for the first time in a long time, “You might be fooling hundreds of people in your church, and maybe thousands of people online, but you’re not fooling me. I see you.” This moment was mildly reminiscent of a time when I was a teenage boy, masturbating in my closet hoping my houseparents wouldn’t catch me, but when I realized God was omnipresent and He could see into closets, it was…awkward.
I wrote in my journal:
“I wish I was the same person that I present myself to be on stage, on Facebook, on Instagram. But I’m not. I am such a CONTRADICTION. My behavior contradicts my values. My actions contradict my beliefs, And my life often contradicts my position in the church. I am a fake. A talking head. A liar. A flat-out hypocrite.”
I knew I needed to do something different. The person who I was becoming wasn’t who God intended me to be. I opened my Bible to Ephesians 5 and it started with “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children.” I realized I was inauthentic. I was a copy of a copy. I was not imitating God, rather, I was imitating my favorite preachers. I was trying my hardest to be the person I thought people wanted to follow, instead of just being myself.
I had become a disciple of mainstream church culture. I followed and flocked to all the big names in ministry…all of them. I knew their stories, their stats, and their vision statements, sometimes better than them! I believed in their brands and my highest hope in life was to one day share the stage with some of them at a leadership conference. Oh, and nothing was cooler than meeting some of them in person at conferences and shaking their hands or getting some prayer. My infatuation with mainstream, celebrity pastor types taught me a lot of church growth and marketing techniques that really do work. I feel like I actually learned a ton about building a following, but maybe not a whole lot about growing people.
I learned statistics, tricks, marketing techniques, and all kinds of church growth “hacks.” However, I was fumbled the ball when it came to helping people grow spiritually beyond Sunday morning. Sure, I knew how to create church environments where people could experience God, but I had not learned how to actually help someone move “from here to there” in their relationship with God.
All the church leaders I followed were on the cutting edge of social media and leveraging all kinds of technology to build their brands. I was fascinated by these leaders. I leaned into their personality, passion, and the hype. I desperately wanted to be like some of them so much that I even began to copy them. I may have actually liked some of these guys more than I liked Jesus Himself. At the very least, I mimicked them more than Jesus. This was a huge problem and it needed to change.
Eventually, through much self discovery and awareness, I recognized some deep seated issues stemming from my past, my personal shame, and my personality style.
Now, I’m on a journey to figure out how to be the most authentic, honest version of myself. I’m focused on building Jesus’ following, not my own. I’m becoming more interested in learning how to do ministry that sustains Jesus’ legacy, instead of sustaining my brand or my salary.
When I look at our current church culture, it seems everyone is following a similar path to full time ministry:
- go to a church leadership conference and become a fan boy of a flashy celebrity preacher,
- leave with a weird, obsessive, man crush.
- swallow some flaky theology about honor and become skeptical of anyone who is critical of your new favorite man crush.
- try to convince your actual pastor to change your home church’s culture to match the vibe of your celebrity pastor man crushes church
- realize your pastor (who you can meet with and receive mentoring from) isn’t as obsessed with your man crush.
- begin distancing and dodging your home church to attend your man crush’s church “online,” occasionally driving hours to get a taste of that experience in person (and hopefully a selfie).
- three to five years later, after realizing your man crush still doesn’t even know you exist, you finally “settle” for a ministry role in a medium sized local church where ministry is about serving people and not jockeying for attention from higher ups.
- Finally, you start discovering how God wired you as a minister & become your own authentic self, finding comfort in the shadows without trying to prove yourself all the time.
Do you recognize that person? This was me. This was my path to full time ministry. I immersed myself into mainstream, American church culture. I read all the books, listened to the hot podcasts, attended the big conferences, idolized the newest voices and biggest names in the industry. I watched, listened, bought, and swallowed everything related to church growth, church cool, and especially “church planting.” This obsession fed a craving in me for the same ministry “success” I had seen on stages all across the country. It caused an unhealthy unrest, one that eventually damaged my sense of self, and lured me into a trap of comparison and idolatry. This toxic trap almost killed my ministry, but by God’s grace, I’m now a follower of Jesus. I’m an imitator of God not man.
I’m thankful for that awkward Monday because it became my awakening Monday. I was awakened to the reality that my inauthentic, self absorbed, me-centric style of ministry was squashing the vibrant life of Jesus in me and in others around me. I realized the best thing I can do for my ministry, for my family, and for my future is to be true, honest, transparent, and real. Jesus can’t fully use Bill Rose for ministry if Bill is mimicking Craig, John, Mark, Perry, Beth, Steven, Francis, Tim, Christine, Levi, Carl, Mike, Rich, or anyone else other than Jesus. This realization helped me step into a realm of authenticity that I had never walked in before.