A black and white RCA TV was the theatre in our first home. One evening as I slouched on the sofa, our year and a half old daughter Sarah toddled into the room. She glanced first at the TV and then to me. She determined to climb up onto the couch. She wriggling her body and grunted like an Olympic power lifter until she conquered the summit. Having arrived, she proceeded to sprawl upon the cushions in scrupulous duplication of her father—right down to folding her arms across her chest.
It occurred to me that I was being watched closely. The thought was both amusing and terrifying. What was she seeing in me that might not be so wise to copy? It was the moment every parent comes to—discovering you are a leader to your children in just about every aspect of life from attitude to body posture. It’s been said the most effective parenting happens when we seek to be the kind of people we want our children to grow up to be.
Leaders know that those they serve and mentor are most likely to become like them. If they condemn, criticize and complain, their followers will learn to do the same. If they are positive, affirming and encouraging, it’s likely others will imitate. In any given church setting the pastor is the most highly visible example of Christian living. Those new to the faith will especially be watching the pastor as the role model for faithful personal conduct. This places an enormous responsibility upon pastoral leadership. There is no escaping this and I’ve learned to wisely embrace the necessity of a commitment to the “highest standards of Christian living” as our United Methodist Book of Discipline puts it.
Some of my best friends in the church are those recovering from years of alcohol or drug abuse. Many of them came to Christian faith through the 12 steps. It is for this reason that I as your pastor have chosen not to drink alcohol. I want those in recovery to know by example that life can be positive, joyful and fulfilling without it.
The scriptures teach us that there is nothing wrong with alcoholic beverages—that is not my point. Sometimes it is best for leaders to make a commitment to do something specifically for the benefit of those who are struggling. Paul put it so well in Romans 14:21, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.”Sobriety is precious especially to those who have to fight for it every day. I honor this as a pastor and pledge to do all in my power to encourage and motivate those who are in recovery and their families. This has been my personal discipline for 32 years.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, you don’t have to do it alone. Bill W.—the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous—used to say that “if you follow the twelve steps they should eventually lead you right to the foot of the cross.” Just take the first step.
In Hope and Confidence,
Pastor Tom Anderson
PS: We rejoice that Karen has completed all her radiation treatments and has now begun a 4-6 week recovery process from the side effects. We are anxious for her to regain a normal life. More answered prayer: the homeless man we’ve been praying for did indeed get his social security benefits. He qualifies now for low-income senior housing and we are praying he’ll pursue this opportunity soon