Ted Lasso, Mr. Rogers, and Christian Leaders in an Unhinged World

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In December of 2020, I saw a meme on the internet in which five portable restrooms were lined up at a construction site. All five of them were on fire. The meme read as follows:

“If 2020 were a scented candle…”

That sounds about right. The combination of a global pandemic, mass social isolation, emptied communities and classrooms and congregations, Zoom fatigue, and the most divisive political season of my 53 year-old lifetime, created a perfect storm that has left almost everyone, especially leaders, feeling agitated as well as tired, lonely, insecure, overwhelmed, under-encouraged, and immobilized by fear that they will say or do something that will get them called out, attacked, accused, taken down, or canceled.

In a recent text exchange with a fellow Christian leader, I asked how he was holding up. He replied, “I am ready for 2020 to end. But I might have to wait until 2030 for that to happen.”

As I write this, it is September 2021, and the year 2020 still shows no signs of retreat. If there were a competition for word of the year, top contenders might include “polarized,” “racialized,” “tribalized,” “politicized,” “divided,” and “outraged,” to name a few.

Sociologists and therapists alike are calling the climate we are in “The Great Resignation.” In an effort to escape regret and hurt and fear and other 2020-ish challenges, alarming numbers of people have “resigned” from their friendships, communities, schools, jobs, cities, and even family members in hopes of hitting the reset button on life.

Many Christian leaders feel heavy as they find themselves stuck in the crossfires. This is especially true of bridge-building types who work hard to keep themselves above the fray of partisan division and rancor. In the current climate, nonpartisan, bridge building leaders are especially vulnerable to being labeled as obsessive maskers and anti-vaxxers, woke antagonists and white supremacists, American nationalists and anti-American globalists, homophobic bigots and gay affirming sellouts, too liberal and too conservative politically, too rigid and too loose theologically, too direct to call themselves true priests and too cowardly to call themselves true prophets.

Amid such realities, it is easy to understand why Paul Tripp, himself a counselor and pastor, has labeled the assignment of pastor as a “dangerous calling.” This is not just true of pastors, but of all Christian leaders under pressure to be the rope in modern versions of the ancient Jew/Gentile cultural, ideological, and socio-political tug-of-war.

The fatigue that comes from trying to bring people together in a politically unhinged climate can take a toll. The weariness factor is so pronounced for some that, according to the latest surveys, over thirty percent of pastors and other church staff (for example) are actively looking to leave the ministry. Within my own pastor networks, the percentages seem much higher than this. Since the pandemic began, leadership complexity and demands have been unrelenting for an unprecedented number of Christian leaders. When I have myself felt wearied, I have been helped by this gentle, caring word from Pastor Joe Novenson:

“The feel of faith is not strength, but dependent weakness.”

Enters Jesus, who reminds us that in this world there will be trouble. No one should be alarmed by the presence of thorns in the flesh or even fiery trials, for it is in such trials that we receive opportunity to share in what Paul called the fellowship of sharing in Jesus’s sufferings. As the last two Beatitudes attest, even if people persecute us or say false or misleading or hurtful or behind-the-back or out-in-the-open things about us, rejoicing remains possible, for so they treated the prophets before us. Great is our reward in heaven, our Lord reassures us. The wearying things that happen to Christian leaders are things that happened to our Lord first. As we suffer similar things, we have opportunity, if we will accept it, to abide in even deeper, more intimate solidarity with Christ.

Likewise, if concerned friends point out true things about us, including our own glaring deficiencies, sins, blind spots, and the like, we have the ultimate resource in Christ himself to face our deficiencies in a spirit of humility and teachability and repentance, versus running from them. As the modern hymn reminds us, “Our sins, they are many. His mercy is more.”

I know. It’s much easier said than done.

It feels almost pie-in-the-sky difficult.

I once heard an anecdote about St. Teresa of Avila and a conversation she had with the Lord. It was a time of deep weariness and suffering for her. She asked the Lord why he allowed things to get so hard for his children, to which the Lord allegedly replied, “This is how I treat my friends.” To this, Teresa responded, “Well, then, it’s no wonder why you have so few friends!”

Amid seasons like an “extended 2020” that can sometimes feel like a long, unrelenting winter, the promises of the Gospel and the rest it provides remain. In the Gospel, there are resources not only for coping, but also for thriving in weary times. The Gospel gives us resources that help us nurture and lean into counter- and cross-cultural community and witness.

As Donald Carson has written, as “a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’s sake,” Christians possess resources in Christ to pursue harmony between individuals and groups who could not possibly come together, let alone love one another, outside of Christ. In Christ, dividing walls of hostility between male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free were torn down in early church communities. If Christ could accomplish this in ancient times, could he not also accomplish it right now?

This might be our best current opportunity for compelling, persuasive witness—to simply be kind to one another in Christ, especially across the lines of difference. To opt out of the modern culture of biting, devouring, blaming, shaming, and attacking in the name and for the sake of love.

There must be a reason why Mr. Rogers is popular again and Ted Lasso is such a celebrated TV series. Human hearts are bent, battle worn, and tired. We crave the sort of kindness, caring, empathy, and benefit-of-the-doubtism that Mr. Rogers and Ted Lasso exemplify. Both illustrate the Proverb which tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Both also point us to Christ himself, whose eighth and most memorable “I AM” statement invites all who are weary to come to him for rest, “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (see Matthew 11:25-30).

If you are a Christian leader, please recognize that Jesus’s invitation for you to come TO him comes a full seventeen chapters before Jesus asks you to go and do FOR him. His great invitation is extended to you long before his great commission.

Whatever your situation, one thing is for certain. In this or any other disorienting climate, you will only become a gentle rest-giver to the degree that you yourself can also enter the Sabbath rest of Christ. A weekly Sunday Sabbath, to be sure. But also a daily, even moment-by-moment one. The abiding kind.

If Christian leaders are going to embody his gentle and humble ways in the culture, they must first address the messy, restless, anxious culture that can so easily take up residence in their (our) own hearts. Abiding Sabbath is the only way to do this well.

It is good to remind ourselves and each other that there is no bypass road around Jesus’s great invitation in Matthew 11 to get to his great commission in Matthew 28.

To become like Christ in the world, Christian leaders must pull into the rest area to abide and linger with Christ. For the fruit of the Spirit—including the fruit of rest-giving gentleness—can only grow and be shared and sustained when we take the lead in resting in and relying on Christ.

What does this mean for Christian leaders? Chiefly, that they themselves are, first and foremost, sheep under the Shepherd’s care. It is beneath the shelter of this reality that Christ will keep, uphold, and strengthen them as they limp forward until 2020 ends…even if that doesn’t happen until 2030.

 


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7 responses to “Ted Lasso, Mr. Rogers, and Christian Leaders in an Unhinged World”

  1. Cindy Judge says:

    You have a prophetic voice. Thank you for this. I hope pastors and leaders will not withdraw or shirk their God-given opportunity to teach and preach to the reality in which we find our sub-culture as evangelicals. The next election cycle is coming. Are we ready to face it. Please take this next step and preach the whole gospel, (I.e. Ron Sider’s blog).

  2. charles kimbrough says:

    What a great reminder!

  3. Anne McBee says:

    Thank you for sharing the love of Christ during such volatile times. Over the past year I have cherished your counsel as you reminded us that a gentle answer turns away wrath. To take time and listen before responding. Acknowledge the wounds of others and love them as they express their pain.
    Thank you!

  4. Greg says:

    “We crave the sort of kindness, caring, empathy, and benefit-of-the-doubtism that Mr. Rogers and Ted Lasso exemplify. Both illustrate the Proverb which tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Both also point us to Christ himself, whose eighth and most memorable “I AM” statement invites all who are weary to come to him for rest, “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (see Matthew 11:25-30).”

    If Mr. Rogers were alive today, he might be errantly telling kids today, “You be you.” Sounds loving and kind. But when it comes to reference in moral categories, this of course is not. Instead, Jesus would with kindness, gentleness, humility and with all authority tell us, yes, do as your gifts from God affirm, but when it comes to standards for life including our moral decisions, when one turns to me for receiving for the greatest gift, the Pearl of great value, the Treasure in the field, forgiveness by grace in Jesus, one also necessarily turns away from the ways of the world and this of course is called repentance. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? That is because it is! The power unto salvation is the gospel, not our persuasive personality.

    Those who are dead to the things of God want to choose their own moral destiny and want to be their own king. And there is no socializing them with niceness out of this. I have decided that as per the Book I abide in, yes I should be kind in my approach to a non-believer and will always treat them with respect in all of my business and neighborly dealings. But if they reject the most loving message of knowing the Treasure of all treasures, then this is not a rejection of me. It is a rejection of Jesus, and I am pretty sure He is not going to lose a lot of sleep. (see Jn 7:7) And as we are faithful to proclaim Christ and make disciples in our churches of those to do profess Christ, we no longer need to add to the list of difficulties 2020 has brought us any more emotional distress over rejection from any of those who choose the world over Christ. We are free from this burden. Its Jesus’ burden to bear and He is God. Be faithful to proclaim the gospel and teach with accuracy the Scriptures and leave to God the growth as He ordains. Rest in this. It is Jesus in you that helps in this effort and we might be surprised about what He chooses to do through us.

    If one is tempted to not believe any of this, thinking that I am naive and too idealistic to be any good, look at John chapter 6 just a few words prior to the John 7 passage I just wrote about. Jesus just fed the 5000 men plus women and children. A miracle. Folks wanted to force him to be be their king to keep their bellies full and to destroy their enemies. Jesus left the scene as this was not his goal. Instead, His disciples who were well aware about Him proclaiming Himself as moral authority as God in the flesh, after he proclaims His gospel that focuses on feeding on Jesus as the Bread of Life in verses 60-65,(the gospel) we see a profound reaction in vs 66. The great rejection. It says that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” It seems that by American standards, Jesus would have made a pretty unsuccessful pastor. He managed to hold onto 11 of the faithful teenagers and early 20 yr olds. But He left the masses who wanted the world behind, and saw a number of closer associates leave because they just could not buy his message. Yes, America would reject Him as a pastor made for tv, yet by His eternal standards, we know better because look at how His gospel turned the world upside down after these events when the seeds were spread and began to sprout! May we be encouraged to stay the course and trust Him by faith and keep moving on because that is what true Christians do. .

  5. Gail says:

    Absolutely agree with Greg that we need to be Jesus. For me this means formostly always having a loving soft heart toward the Brokenhearted. I just ask God, moment by moment, daily even in my sleep, help me to be Jesus, help me to see people with your eyes. I don’t try to classify people I just want to be His hands and feet And keep it simple. The less I think about labeling the condition of another human’s heart I think the more I am able to hear God’s voice.

  6. Greg says:

    I just wanted to applaud Gail for her comment. Yes we are to care as Jesus did. Reading and hearing too many comments from cold hearted individuals about Gabby Petito’s traumatic death recently by homicide is telling of our times. I cried a tear watching the recorded interview with her by police just hours before she went missing and my impression was that she was probably under the influence of a drug, scared, insecure and without hope. And my heart ached for her with godly compassion. I wish someone would have come alongside her with a message that God loves her with an eternal love and that there is so much more for her than this troubled path she was on. The Spirit of God inside of my heart aroused a sentiment of dad in me and I said a prayer for my kids that they would be illuminated to more and more of His love and that they would be protected from evil in this world. And my prayer as husband continued the same for my wife.

    On the other hand this same Spirit of the living God in me arouses a holy incense against folks who manipulate Scripture in a way that makes an appeal to the flesh that better increases the nominal at the expense of lessening fruit of born again, Spirit enlivened and compassionate, truth seeking individuals. Only God can know motives, but if such masqueraders are anything like the “super-apostles” mentioned by Paul in 2 Cor, they alter the gospel w legalism, (7 principles for your best life now kind of legalism speckled across seeker groups all across our nation and world) are quick to point out that, unlike Paul, that they had right to receive monetary proceeds from their followers, were good at influencing and moving the masses, and were manipulative. There is a good description here on a site I enjoy perusing from time to time: https://www.gotquestions.org/super-apostles.html

    Paul was not a great orator. He was probably legally blind and w other physical maladies. He was burdened for the church. He endured many trials. He loved the churches he helped plant with a love that abides in truth and in this spirit of love proclaimed a gospel that calls for one to turn to the literal God for forgiveness who created us that necessarily turns away from sin against Him too. One of the greatest defenses for the truth of this gospel is how God took a cold hearted and callous individual in Paul the pharisee and enlivened him by the gospel of God with love that proclaimed a different message than he used to. The portion of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica chapter two is testimony of the love of Jesus in His apostle named Paul that can be had to any who choose to turn from their sin and know God, His grace and true freedom. Check out that chapter. I read often and think about how in heaven will be our Savior with such demeanor and so will be all who knew Him by grace.

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