You discovered his music years before any of your friends or the mainstream media had ever heard of him. You saw him perform in a venue that held 50-100 people. You were excited the first time you heard one of his songs playing on a commercial or being covered by someone on a national performance show. Then he sold out. The gritty voice, guitar playing and lyrics slowly evolved into something finely polished and catered for the taste of the masses. When it happened, that seemingly undefinable grit that first drew you to his music almost completely disappeared. The rough edges were part and parcel of what you loved about his music when you first heard it. Interestingly, this phenomenon is not unique to the world of music–it occurs in pastoral ministry as well.
I once heard Sinclair Ferguson say, “I don’t trust those whose hair is perfectly parted, clothes perfectly ironed and who come across as if they have it all together. Give me someone who has some rough edges and bumps. At least, with that man, I can put my hands on his shoulders and I know what I’m getting.” This is an exceedingly important observation. Far too many view ministry as a professional career track. When one starts to do so, he inevitably tries to become as polished as possible for the widest popular reception. This sometimes come in the form of outward appearance; or, it sometimes comes in the form of downplaying the hard things that a minister was once willing to say from the pulpit. There have been men who God has called and uniquely gifted for ministry who, as soon as they started getting a larger platform, sold out to the perceived expectations and desires of the masses. Instead of seeking to be faithful with the gifts God entrusted to them–and the outcome that He determined for them–such men changed in order to work their way into positions that “require” polish.
In making this assertion, I am not–in any way whatsoever–wanting to dismiss sinful behavior or speech under the guise of the praise of grittiness. That is certainly a danger that we face as we approach this subject. However, I am seeking to highlight what we see in the Scriptures regarding the prophets and the apostles–namely, the way in which God utilizes a man’s unique personality and background in the service of the propagation of His truth. Phillips Brooks captured this truth so well when he said, “Preaching is truth communicated through personality.” It is as God works His word and Spirit in type-A, driven and sometimes seemingly bombastic men like Peter and Paul that the evangelistic mission to the nations is accomplished. When the Lord chooses to use a tender-hearted man like the Apostle John, the church is built up by the greatest admonitions to love.
Imagine for a moment what some polished ministers of our day might say to one another about John the Baptist. As they meet together to consider whether they deem John to be a viable candidate for participation in their inner circle, one says, “A lot of people are talking about John. He has a really powerful presentation of truth. I think he could be a good addition to our program. I would be interested in talking with him to see how he might interact with some of our other colleagues. My only concern is that he doesn’t dress that nicely. I mean, the whole camelhair getup might scare some of the conference attendees away. Also, I am a bit concerned that he might not know how to adapt to the scene at the after-conference party–what with all those little bags of locust and wild honey that he carries around.” Another chimes in, “I hear what you’re saying. I like John…a lot. Don’t get me wrong. He has more gifts that most of us; but, to be honest, I’m a little afraid of what he might say about, I don’t know…maybe the motives of the soldiers. Plus, I probably wouldn’t have called out Herod publicly the way that he did.” By way of contrast, Jesus said of John the Baptist, “Among those born of women none is greater than John” and “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you'” (Matt. 11:7-10).
The sad reality is that we are all susceptible to fall into the trap of judging others by outward appearance and seeking to conform ourselves to human standards and measurements. Of course, we should want to have an appropriate care not to unnecessarily offend others; but, so much of what passes as a commitment to avoid unnecessary offense is really nothing other than polished compromise. It is for this reason that Jesus gave us the following pertinent command, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” When a minister allows himself to be swayed by professionalism, personal agendas or popularity, he may gain what he is after and yet lose what God is after. May God give His ministers grace to keep the grit that He has chosen to use in the unique ways that He has desired to use it in the propagation of His truth.