My line of work brings me into regular contact with funeral directors, who in turn have regular contact with churches, ministers and pastors. Knowing that I am a Christian, many of these funeral directors have relayed to me some of their experiences and dealings with Christian ministers and pastors, and sadly, some of it is not pretty. Some of these funeral directors are Christian; many are not. All of them are reasonable and generous people, and I trust that their comments and feedback are genuine and not overtly prejudiced.
While some ministers and pastors get a good report for being friendly, approachable and generally Christ-like, a disturbing number of these church leaders have been reported to be aloof, unapproachable, unfriendly, demanding and -- in some cases -- downright shonky. Some of the stories they told me would curl your hair. Often, it was observed, the worst offenders were pastors from "those large, flashy, image-driven churches" (their words, not mine).
These interactions with the funeral directors remind me of a very important lesson – as Christians we are always 'on show' to the world and once we publicly profess our Christian faith, people will judge the authenticity of our Christian witness based on our everyday behaviour and interactions.
It has been said that the best form of evangelism and Christian witness is a transformed life. Talk is cheap. No matter how eloquently we present the gospel to non-believers with our words and verbal witnessing, if our behaviour and conduct doesn't match up, we will fail in our ultimate witness to others. This is true for every person who lets it be known to the world that they profess faith in Christ, but no more so in those who are in positions of visible authority in the Christian community – ministers, pastors, elders and others in Christian leadership. We all need to remember that whether in our households or when we step out into everyday life, we are "Ambassadors for Christ".
"We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God."(2 Corinthians 5:20)
We need to exercise the utmost care that our everyday conduct reflects our claim to be transformed, Spirit-filled disciples of Christ. Jesus warns all who would be counted as his ambassadors, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matt 10:16, ESV).
The Apostle Paul also has much to say about how we should rightly conduct ourselves as Christians, both in the midst of other Christians and especially in the company of non-Christians. He urges followers of Christ to "live a life worthy of the calling we have received" (Eph 4:1). He reminds us that we should only ever conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil 1:27), that we should live worthily (1 Thess 2:12), living a life pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good deed (Col 1:10) and ultimately that our conduct should reflect the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
Mature Christians should not merely listen and read the Word, but should also be doers of the Word (James 1:22). The 12th Century Italian monk, St Francis of Assisi, who founded the Catholic order of the Franciscans, said it best when he urged Christians to "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary".
There is no doubt that once we identify ourselves as Christian, we will often come under even closer scrutiny than most. Jesus warned us about this (John 15:18). Sometimes people will be unreasonably and unfairly critical of our actions, no matter how nobly we try to act. The blind prejudice of some against Christianity will prevent them from ever acknowledging the good conduct of a professed Christian. It is also true that we are merely human and saved by God's grace alone through Christ (Eph 2:8-9). We are new creations, but we are not yet perfect. We are, however, being perfected and transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ (2 Cor 12:9, 2 Cor 3:18).
However, none of this lets us off the hook when it comes to our day-to-day conduct. We need to be constantly mindful of how we act in everyday situations, particularly when in view of others, and be careful that our behaviour reflects the life, attitudes and actions of Christ. This is even more the case with those in positions of visible Christian leadership. James 3:1 reminds us that those who are in Christian leadership will be judged more strictly because of the responsibility they carry.
We are called Christians because we seek to be formed in the likeness of Christ. Jesus is the example of how every Christian, living by the Word of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit, should strive to live and treat others. Just as the life and conduct of Jesus was his ministry, so our life and conduct is ours. We can't just be 'super-spiritual' and piously Christ-like at church, or in small groups with other Christians, or when it's convenient and we feel like it. We are called to be Christ-like all of the time, every day and in every situation. We need to strive to live in step with the Holy Spirit at every moment and in every situation. This is how we live wisely and innocently among those who are not Christians.
Roger Morris is a health professional in Queensland. He has a blog called "Faith Interface" (www.faithinterface.com.au) which explores the interaction of Christianity with science, philosophy and culture.