The One and Only Good Snake

I have, at various times of my life, either been set upon pedestals as a ministry star, or abandoned as a flop and failure—pretty much while being the same person and doing the same things. Within a span of five minutes, I’ve been told by two different people that I am an amazing and anointed communicator, but then also that I’m such a bore that I seem to be putting myself to sleep while speaking.

Never wanting to displease anyone, I’ve too often not concerned myself enough with being centered rather upon pleasing The One who really counts.

The task of pastoring is impossible. It is crazy to try to please people, because it cannot be done in a diverse community. Truth is, I’m not as good as those fans who’ve come and gone believed me to be, and a great number of the criticisms are indeed unfairly leveled by people with small lives and even smaller perspectives.

Many people are too easily enchanted by a stage. Christians—ministers even—are no exception. Sometimes we elevate our leaders like Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness … as something to pin our hopes to … something to heal us, because we sense, somehow, that we are sick and need saving. Humans desire something to look to vicariously because we are desperate for something of God that we can barely articulate … something up there.

So, we take the beautiful, the talented, the fortunate from among us and lift them up on a stage. We fawn over them. Feed them. Praise them. Buy and sell their books, or books written in their name. We applaud their sermons skillfully delivered with content provided from a nameless someone from afar.

But the celebrities disappoint, and they will always disappoint. Unlike Moses’ bronze snake (or the Lifted One that it prefigured) we do not find healing for our ills in gazing upon our elevated leaders – the Moses people of our age – but only by seeing the Snake.

The voice behind the microphone and the voice that says “amen” in the pew are not so different. The minister at the lush mega-church with a staff of many dozens and the lone pastor in a spindly rural church are far more similar than they are different.

Or at least they ought to be. Both can be voices of wisdom, servants of biblical words and truth to lost and ornery sheep. Neither can save those that gaze upon them.

Because, you see, the Lifted One erodes the heights and valleys of our elevations. Only in elevating him will we see ourselves and others as we are, finding the life we seek in the desert.

So, after years of hating and dissing snakes and even having a snake category on this blog, I have to admit that there is a good Snake – the bronze one from the desert and the person it prefigured.

(Disclosure – I have edited and expanded upon a shorter piece from Leadership Journal in writing this.)

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