I’m not sure that I can technically still be classified as a “young person” as I approach the age of 34, but I can at least attest to the fact that I am indeed a former young person. Perhaps that makes me a current “young adult?” That’s basically the same thing as “an older young person,” right? I don’t really know. That sounds like a contradiction-in-terms. Like “a towering midget.” Or “a snowy summer’s day.” Wait. What was I talking about? Oh right, young people. I’ve recently observed that many folks in my generation, and the generation in front of me, tend to exhibit two diametrically opposed series of character traits, both of which seem to be in a constant state of struggle with one another.
At times, young people can be absurdly ignorant, terrifyingly oblivious, superbly superficial, embarrassingly spoiled, and nauseatingly apathetic. I’m sure many parents reading this post are nodding in agreement. But then there are times when young people can be incredibly passionate, imaginatively creative, keenly aware, inspirationally hardworking, uniquely quixotic, and heroically courageous.
Tragically, many pastors in today’s modern American church culture — and I use the term “pastors” loosely here — try to cater to the former series of traits rather than the latter. For some mysterious and altogether psychotic reason, they assume that the best way to reach a certain demographic of people is to be like them. So, in order to reach Generation Z, for instance, these rock star “preachers” don skinny jeans, hoodies, and snapback hats, hoping that once the fog machines have been switched off and the blinding light shows have subsided, no one will notice that they aren’t even holding a Bible. Instead, they’ve brought their iPads to the stage, loaded with their notes and handy Bible apps. After all, the sight of a real Bible might send throngs of youth running to the exits screaming in utter horror, and we just can’t have that happening (even though they’d be fine because there’s another megachurch satellite campus a couple of blocks away.)
This bizarre church culture phenomenon of the hipster, trendy celebrity pastor causes me to wonder: Do pastors need to exert energy trying to be “cool” and “woke” in regards to contemporary fads? Do they need to work at making themselves outwardly appealing and attractive to young people in the desperate hopes that somehow they’ll see past the phoniness and embrace Jesus and His Gospel? The answer at which I’ve arrived is an emphatic and resounding, “No.” Don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing inherently wrong with utilizing social media, or addressing societal and political issues, or dropping a movie clip into a sermon as an illustration. These are good ways to stay relevant and to engage an audience. And I have no problem with a pastor who wears name brand clothing.
But sadly, there are scores of young adults who have become convinced that a pastor isn’t even worth listening to or connecting with unless he exhibits an hyper-inflated aura of “cool.” There are dozens of millennials who genuinely think they should be able to discuss Fortnite, World of Warcraft, or League of Legends with their spiritual leaders. We’ve raised an entire generation to believe that Sunday morning pastors only wear graphic t-shirts, hoodies, and Air Yeezy 2 Red Octobers. These mindsets couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Coolness doesn't save people, Jesus does.
I hate to break it to these image-conscious pastors, but nothing about their looks, success, or achievements will redeem young people and save them from an eternity in the fires of Hell. The last time I checked, there wasn’t a verse that started with the phrase “For Steve Madden and Nike so loved the world…” Leave the soul-saving work to Christ and His Gospel of immeasurable grace. (John 3:16)
2. Real, authentic ministry is usually "uncool" by its very definition and nature.
Church is messy. Take it from a pastor’s son. Ministry is messy. Yes, it’s glorious, rewarding, and incredible. There’s nothing my father would rather be doing than serving the local church and shepherding the Bride of Christ. There’s nothing I would rather be doing than aiding him on that journey. But, it’s often a dirty job. It can be painful, frustrating, exhausting, unpredictable, and uncertain. It’s not remotely stylish, chic, or trendy. I think the Apostle Paul would agree when he wrote these words in 2 Timothy 4, giving us one of the best definitions of pastoral ministry in all of Scripture:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
I'll have to go back and check the original Greek, but I just can’t seem to find anything in there about skinny jeans, designer sneakers, video games, pop culture references, or a magnetically alluring personality. I see nothing about having to reflect and resemble the culture so much that you practically become indistinguishable from it. Somehow I doubt that generating an ambience of “cool” was very high on Paul’s priority list for ministers or requirements for disciples.
3. You can still be spiritually fed by an uncool pastor.
I know this might come as a shock, but — contrary to popular belief — your spiritual growth and development don’t hinge on your pastor’s choice in clothing, his hairstyle, his familiarity with the latest gaming systems, or his knowledge of comic book characters. You can indeed — and often will — glean an abundance of spiritual insights and biblical applications from pastors who more closely resemble your grandfather than from those who look like your older brother or the celebrity rappers on VH1. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, of course, as long as they’re biblically-sound.)
Here’s the reality: Pastors are indeed cool because they preach the Truth. And that Truth is that we’re in the midst of an epic spiritual battle between the forces of good and light and the forces of evil and darkness. Even as I type this sentence, there are angels and demons waging a war for our very souls. Fortunately, we are loved by a God of Angel Armies who so passionately desired to rescue us from the pit of Hell that He left his throne room in Heaven and endured a horrific, brutal, and torturous death on a cross. Three days later, He came back to life, forever defeating the grave and Satan himself. Now He reigns forevermore as our conquering king and friend and invites us to be His disciples, His fellow soldiers, and to one day spend eternity with Him at the culmination of this incredible cosmic saga.
What could be cooler than that? Your pastor wearing Air Jordans while stepping up to the Starbuck’s counter to order a grande, iced, sugar-free, vanilla latte with soy milk? I seriously doubt it.
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