On Being Liked
What a week to contemplate what it means to be in public ministry.
King and criminal. Triumphant entry and nauseating exit. Hope and despair.
Death and resurrection.
And we’re out here talking about sneakers.
In case you haven’t seen it, in the last month, an account popped up on Instagram that quickly grew to more than 100K followers featuring side-by-side images of preachers, worship leaders and pastor wives with a snapshot of the sticker price for some of their garb or gear.
I saw Jonathan Merritt tweet about it, followed along as Jamie Tworkowski dove into the deep end of the comments and listened in as the Relevant crew (along with Prop and Tworkowski) shared insights, asides, and publicly fumbled through the formation/reformation of thoughts surrounding stewardship, image, fashion/style, celebrity, and the gospel.
In contributing to the conversation, Tworkowski vulnerably admitted on his post:
I want you to like me.
Some of the stuff we do is personal style; other stuff we do is so that other people will like us.
Prop pointed out in the podcast discussion that we are talking about Instagram, a platform built to share about ourselves.
I think “I want you to like me” is built into the system.
We easily equate someone liking our photos, commenting on our clever captions, or sending emoji reactions, not as a commentary on the post, or even the content of the post, but on ourselves.
We feel liked when people double tap our photos.
We feel unliked when the post has lower than average likes.
Our feelings and identity get intertwined into this stuff.
I feel it too.
It’s not different for me even though
I’m a preacher.
I never wanted to be a preacher. It wasn’t something I went to college for originally. It was definitely something that I had subconsciously taken off the table as viable for me.
there was a night about 10 years ago when that changed. I literally had a dream about preaching a specific sermon. I talked to Mike, my friend that was in charge of arranging the services for this evening gathering, and we went for it.
I remember so clearly the presence of God, standing in that circle, the way the leather of my Bible felt in my hand, nerves soaring, adrenaline pumping, fire burning, and knowing in my bones, deep in my soul, that I am a preacher.
The last 10 years have not been a smooth sailing, up and to the right sort of success path for me as a preacher.
My instagram account probably won’t be analyzed by @preachersnsneakers.
I “grew up” as a preacher with some great people around me, and some of those people made really selfish decisions.
Some of those people were preachers, too.
And I can tell you honestly, preachers want you to like them.
It is extremely distracting.
We preachers should be focused on what God wants us to say. The role of preacher in the church today would do well to lean heavily into the prophetic voice, and arguably, most of the vibrant life we find in the church is amidst heavily prophetic teaching.
(When I say prophetic, I don’t mean the oft-confused notion of fortune-telling or dream-interpreting. I mean the truth-telling, only-do-what-the-Father-is-doing, confident-in-Jesus, people-are-less-impressive-when-you’ve-met-Jesus sort of prophetic.)
Now that I am no longer getting a paycheck from a church while remaining completely committed to preaching Christ, the interference present in our consumer culture that values being liked above being honest feels heavier.
The system has created the way: I’m supposed to build a following, get more subscribers, get more followers, churn out content, and get noticed by influencers (or become an influencer) and hope that this will be enough for churches, conferences, chapels and camps to ask me to speak and for agents and publishers to pick up the manuscript for my next book.
It’s all very salesy while trying to attain an appearance of humility.
I want you to like me, but without appearing like I’m trying to be liked.
This is what happens when I think too much. This is the rabbit hole I go down.
It has nothing to do with remaining in Christ.
So I’ll end with that story, being reduced to remaining in Christ.
Some of my top strengths are strategy, arranger, connectedness, responsibility and learner. When you put those together, you get a thinker that can mentally build all kinds of models and connections and filter out lesser combinations to arrive at the most helpful and beneficial paths forward.
A little over six years ago, some stuff broke in and around my life. For most of the years that a friend of mine and I had spent becoming friends, partnering in ministry and delving into what I had always thought was deep honesty in accountability, he had been hiding some wretched, secret sin.
In the months that followed this revelation, the structures that had held my mental and emotional processing together all fell apart.
I didn’t notice it at first, but this revelation broke my mind as much as it broke my heart.
I’ve spent much of the last six years wandering around inside my mind and my heart, searching for the connections that used to make so much sense, hoping that life would line up again.
Therapy has helped a lot in this process. Self care has as well. Writing. Reading. Learning. Exercise. Sleep. Friends. Honesty.
But the story that grounded me which consistently returns to me was reading and re-reading John 15:5-8 where Jesus talks about the vine and the branches. He keeps talking about remaining, that we would remain in him and he in us, and there was this undoing and reconstituting of this word remain in those first few months.
I had never given it much thought, but the word remain always gave me an image of calm – sort of sitting on a bench, motionless. I had a firm expectation that remaining looked like waiting.
This all crumbled. The world around me. The universe inside me. It all fell to pieces.
And in the end, surprisingly, Jesus was still there.
And the word remain transformed into this white-knuckle grip, clinging for life to the vine that is the only source of life and truth in the middle of hurricane winds that are relentlessly pulling at whatever shards of faith it could reach, casting every interaction, every person, every thought, every intention toward doubt and disbelief.
Remaining became the fight.
Because Jesus wasn’t shaken by all of this.
Jesus went through the death of death to make the life of life available to us.
Life shows up in spite of all the wreckage around us.
This is abundant life, pushing through the cracks of the wreckage around and within us.
And it is ours to have and to bring, to sow, to give, to cherish, to grow, to champion, to share and to love.
In all of this self-examination and pondering public ministry, I have found an unexpected reality about wanting you to like me.
For me it’s a little different. I’m not flaunting what I have.
Instead, I’m hiding because I want you to like me.
I have all kinds of stories and thoughts and ideas and instead of connecting those to an amplifier, I’ve kept my mouth shut, heavily editing everything I say because I don’t want to say something that is wrong or misconstrued or criticized or damaging.
That’s why I published a post about heaven last week.
That’s why I wrote this post this week.
That’s why I’m working on getting more thoughts down and hitting publish.
I’ve been so worried that people will read into what I’m saying and think that this is about them.
Worry aside, there is a thing inside me that keeps pushing me to say something, not just to say anything, but to say the thing because I have something to say. And sure, it may be about you or somebody else, someone you know or a stranger that reminds you of friends, but I can guarantee you that it is always about Jesus.
I’m a wrecked sinner, redeemed, needy child of the King of everything, pulse beating with words that need to be shared, written and spoken, and the fire, I can feel it in my bones, the fire is a furnace in my soul.
A friend of mine commented on that heaven post where it was shared in a facebook group:
The church needs more of you, even if I can’t engage with it anymore. The church desperately needs your voice.
I’ve been afraid that if I really say some of the stuff that’s in my head and my heart, that some of you won’t like me.
But if some bored Christians can take faith steps and some broken-spirits can be encouraged, I’m learning to be ok with some of you not liking me.
I just want you to know that Jesus likes the real you, the you that is back there behind all of the performance.
And I’m willing to not be liked if some people can finally believe in that Jesus.
Because it’s true. Jesus really does like you.