Who’s your hero and why? It’s a question we ask first class midshipmen (seniors) at the U. S. Naval Academy during their one-day ethics capstone seminar, which I helped lead yesterday. The most frequent answers are parents, older siblings, coaches, and professional athletes. In all the times I’ve done this seminar, I’ve never heard anyone mention a member of the clergy, whether priest, minister, or rabbi. Why is that? Maybe our society is becoming more secular or perhaps it just sounds too dorky to say, “My pastor is my hero.”
Then I started thinking about the answers middies gave to the question why? In those cases where the students picked someone they knew personally, time was key. Parents, older brothers and sisters, and coaches all spend significant amounts of time with their children, siblings, and athletes, respectively. They form mentoring relationships. Pastors, on the other hand, are often overwhelmed, overworked, and overbooked. As a consequence, they have limited contact with the young people in their churches, even those who attend regularly. Somewhere between the first and twenty-first century discipleship turned into a program, and youth ministry became a sub-specialization or mere stepping-stone to the pastorate.
Maybe we clergy have gotten our ministry priorities wrong. Is it possible we put too much emphasis on once-a-week, in-front-of-the-congregation preaching and teaching events? Perhaps we need to make time for coaching little league, serving as scoutmasters, or tutoring kids in afterschool programs. We also need to do some soul searching about what kind of role models we are for our own children. Instead of aspiring to lead multi-staff churches with big budgets and high attendance, maybe we should look for small group and bivocational ministries where we can pour more of ourselves into fewer lives—like Jesus who spent most of his time training twelve disciples. What we need is a Jerry Maguire philosophy of ministry: “Fewer clients. Less money.”
If we do that, maybe some young people will have reason to say, “My pastor is my hero.”