The Surveillance Society and the Life of a Pastor

A woman from Arkansas was expect in a Starbucks drive-thru line when she saw a Starbucks employee praying from their pickup window with a customer in a car ahead of them. She snapped a photo of the exchange and later told a reporter that she and her fourteen-year-old son were ‘discussing how much we loved that she stopped what she was doing and was bold in her faith and caring enough to pray with someone.”

History illustrates this truth: in the age of the cell phone, every moment can be captured digitally for the whole world to see.

This fact came to mind last weekend when my wife and I returned to a former pastorate to speak at a conference they hosted. For three days we lived in the church’s mission house and spent time on the church campus. It was a wonderful experience to be back with such kind friends. The current pastor has become a dear and trusted friend, and joining him in this experience has been a great privilege.

Nevertheless, the experience reminded me of what you go through every day: you are always “on”. There is never a time when someone you pastor or someone who knows someone you pastor could not see you and criticize what you do, wear or say.

Pastoring a local church has always meant living in a glass house, but with today’s ubiquitous technology, that’s more true than ever.

Consider three cultural and biblical responses.

One: A materialistic culture judges us materialistically.

Secularism defines us in secular terms: what we look like, what we drive, where we live, what we do. It has no context or category for an inner life or a larger spiritual dimension to reality.

A counselor once explained to me how many people determine their self-image: “I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.

The Bible says the exact opposite, of course: we are what God says we are. And he says we are his children, absolutely and unconditionally loved by the God of the universe. Nothing our culture says about us can change that reality. There is nothing our world can do to make God love us more or less than he already does.

This fact is good to remember when we are judged and criticized by others. It is an important counterweight to the employer-employee mentality that many church boards have with their pastors and other professional staff.

No matter how last Sunday or next Sunday went, you are not what you do. Your ultimate value is based on what Jesus has already done.

Two: We are always visible before an omniscient God.

In a real sense, nothing about the cellphone era changes the fact that we’re already playing always, without exception, before an audience of One. Even more than a cell phone picks up, it knows us intimately (Psalm 139:2). He knows all the future sins and mistakes that we don’t yet know we are going to commit.

Accordingly, we should constantly live in the light of his holy omniscience.

  • This fact involves our thoughts: “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is beautiful, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is any excellence , if there is anything worthy of praise, think of these things” (Philippians 4:8).
  • It involves our attitudes and emotions: “Keep your hearts vigilant, for out of them spring the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
  • It involves our private words: “In the day of judgment people will give an account of every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).
  • This involves our professional words: “Few of you should become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater severity” (James 3:1).
  • It involves our actions: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Here’s a good test: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Three: We cannot live a holy life without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just typing these verses discourages me. I know how far I fall short of these biblical standards and I know that God knows even more about our failures than I am willing to admit.

The good news is that the Spirit of God will give us the power we need to live by the word of God for the glory of God. Starting each day alone with my Father (Mark 1:35) by surrendering my day and my life to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) is not optional but obligatory.

DA Carson was right: “People don’t drift into holiness. Apart from effort motivated by grace, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to the scriptures, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift towards compromise and call it tolerance; we drift into disobedience and call it freedom; we drift into superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we sink into prayerlessness and fool ourselves into thinking we’ve escaped legalism; we slip into godliness and convince ourselves that we have been set free.

If we are to be the change we wish to see, we must experience what only the Spirit can do in and through our lives.

During the previous pastorate that we revisited last weekend, I learned the difference between a flush pump well and an artesian well. The first is drilled into a passive underground water supply, then the device is primed with water and must be pumped until it draws water to the surface. The latter is drilled into a pressurized groundwater table, then the water flows naturally to the surface.

Who are you today?

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