The danger of boxes

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The other day, I wrote two articles which, it later struck me, highlighted the problem with our tendency to think we can compartmentalise out lives, putting things in different boxes.  The first was a follow up on Stephen Sizer and antisemitism. I wrote about how it is possible to think that we couldn’t possibly be racist in one aspect of our lives because we were loving and kind to people from other ethnic backgrounds.  I’ve heard a few times that Sizer kept his writings on Israel and Palestine including those that strayed into the world of conspiracy theories separate from his work as a parish vicar.

Then we have the example of Kevin DeYoung’s article on Witherspoon of Princeton.  It seems to me that in the article, KDY wants to be heard as a dispassionate academic historian, speaking about the subject of his PHD. Yet right at the bottom of his article, he signs off as a pastor. So, I doubt that many people read the article as an academic reflection.  Instead, they heard a Christian pastor speaking and they associated what they thought they heard him say with his ethical and pastoral take on a whole range of other issues.

This is the crucial point for me.  Pastors and elders cannot simply compartmentalise their lives into boxes. We like to think that we can take a break  from being pastors and speak instead as private individuals or from the perspective of another vocation/calling -the lawyer, the historian, the scientist, the politician.  I don’t think we can simply put aside the responsibilities of eldership and the pastorate.  We cannot simply take time out.

This has important implications. It means that we must think carefully before pronouncing on the many topical issues there are that we can comment on. Why shipwreck your ministry for the sake of some obscure, maverick view that you have on COVID vaccines or whatever? This is not to say that pastors shouldn’t speak on such things. It simply means that we should remember that what we say reflects on our ministry, our church and the Gospel.

It also should affect our behaviour.  It’s not just about what we say but how we say it.  You cannot take time off from setting a godly example to your church family in order to unleash the worst aspects of your character on social media.   This applies even if you are using anonymous accounts.  That’s because it isn’t just about being seen or caught out. It’s about integrity, about how we live, not just in front of others but in front of God.

I think this is a particular challenge for men because we seem to find it easier, too easy, to place parts of our lives into different boxes.  This can have tragic consequences.  I know of one deeply distressing incident where the youth leader went to the church building, ran the kids club, told them the Gospel, then went home and packed his bags, walking out on his wife and children.  How could someone be talking about Jesus and the Gospel using one part of their mind whilst in another part of their mind be plotting to break God’s law and hurt his family.  Yet that is not an uncommon story.

So ultimately, we should flee the temptation to compartmentalise not just because of how it might appear to others but because we want to declare Christ’s Lordship over all of our life and to know the fulness of the Holy Spirit in everything.

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