A few months ago something really bothered me when I watched Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (wow, that’s a mouthful). Now, I know what you’re thinking: surely it was the naked men wrestling or the fact that a perfectly good antique store was obliterated. Though the naked fight was certainly difficult to watch, it wasn’t the most disturbing part of the film.
For those of you who have been living in a cave, Borat is a movie in which comedian Sacha Baron Cohen pretends to be a reporter from Kazakhstan who is trying to learn the American culture. His film crew took a camera all over the United States and filmed actual reactions from people at the outlandish things that the Borat character does. The disturbing part?
About half-way through the film, Borat attends a dinner party at a southern home. One of the three couples in attendance just happens to be a *pastor and his wife. Now, remember, these are actual people and real reactions; this is not scripted out. It’s almost like being on Candid Camera. Guess who the first person in the group is to walk out on Borat because he’s disgusted with him?
That’s right: the pastor. To be fair, Borat had insulted his wife’s appearance, brought in some poop in a plastic bag (supposedly he didn’t know what to do with it after using the restroom, so he came downstairs with it in a sack and asked where to put it), and invited a prostitute to join the dinner party (this is the point that the pastor leaves).
And you know what? The pastor should have welcomed him and the prostitute with open arms.
It seems to me that too many Christians and way too many pastors today are trapped inside of their comfortable little bubble. We struggle to be around people who are sinful and we often avoid situations in which we know that will happen.
Think I’m overstating the case?
In They Like Jesus but Not the Church, Dan Kimball shares about a message he delivered to a large group of pastors. He told them about the fact that he does large chunks of his sermon preparation in a coffee shop because it allows him to meet new people, gain new friends, and hang out with non-Christians who don’t currently have any link to Jesus in their lives.
One pastor asked him why his people allow him to do this instead of spending time exclusively with the people of the church. Another said that he could never do that because his congregation expects him to be in the church office during the week to “care for the flock.”
Kimball, caught off-guard, asked if others felt the same way and to his surprise many of them did. Many of them felt that non-Christians needed to “come to the church building” and most seemed to indicate that if we just keep “preaching the word faithfully” then they’ll show up and eventually come to their senses.
This idea that a pastor should just care for his “flock” is very prevalent today. I’ve been on staff at four different churches: in three of those churches I will say that the pastor spent well over 90% of his time on the church property. We don’t go out because it’s easier and much more comfortable to stay inside with people who think like us, talk like us, and believe like us. And you know what? We’re losing touch with our culture.
We’re delusional if we think we’re going to win an enormous amount of people by having them come to us. It should be the other way around, and that’s why Jesus commands us to “go” (Mat 28:19-20). Furthermore, this needs to be noted: as the pastor goes, so goes the church. If as a pastor your people never see you befriending sinners and showing the love of Christ to the lost then they won’t do it either.
The pastor in Borat probably shouldn’t be beaten up too badly, right? After all, he’s just doing what many other pastors would do: running away from an uncomfortable situation.
But how great would it have been if he’d been the one to initiate discussions with Borat? Or to help Borat out when he supposedly didn’t know where to put his poop? Or to welcome the prostitute into the house and offer her some dinner? Sadly, none of this took place and many people around the world saw what is all-too-common: a Christian pastor not looking very much like Jesus when the pressure gets turned up.
*The pastor in question is Reverand Doctor Cary Speaker, and his biography sketch and church website can be found here. His take on the Borat film and his appearance in it can be found here. Unfortunately, though he is gracious about being duped in the film, he does not apologize for walking out when the going got tough. We all make mistakes, so I don’t want to be too harsh with him. I’m sure that Dr. Speaker has been used in a lot of powerful ways to further the kingdom; it’s just unfortunate for him that his mistake was plastered on the big screen.