How to Overcome Being a Pastoral Poser

Introduction: The Pose

In 2001, Georgia Tech head coach, George O'Leary, left the Yellow Jackets to take over as head coach for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. A few days after he was hired, inaccuracies were discovered in his resume.

The resume stated that O'Leary had earned three letters in football at the University of New Hampshire. However, when The (Manchester) Union Leader called UNH to research a feature story on him, the school claimed he had not even played in one game. When this came to light, O'Leary offered his immediate

Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White turned the resignation down, but then asked if there were any other inaccuracies.

O’Leary admitted that he had not really earned a master's degree from "NYU-Stony Brook University," a non-existent institution named after two separate schools over 50 miles apart. When this
inaccuracy came to light, Notre Dame forced O'Leary to step down as head coach.

Your first reaction to this story may be similar to mine. A sense of self-righteous superiority. “I can’t believe...” Or, “I would never...”

But let's not be quick to judge. We are more like George O'Leary than we want to admit, because at the root of the issue is the fact that we all want to look better than we really are.

Truthfully, we all try to look better than we really are.

Especially pastors. 

This is understandable, as many people place pedestal style expectations upon those in pastoral ministry. 

We may not alter an official resume, but we embellish stories. Add drama. Include details that make the story sound better. Make the fish look bigger.

In high school, I signed up for extracurricular activities and clubs in which I never participated. Why? To pad the resume for a college application.

In seminary, I was a “member” of the archaeology club. I attended one meeting. The one with the free pizza lunch.

It was a resume builder. But like O’Leary, listing such a graduate school activity was essentially fake.

Don't get me wrong. There is a sense in which a resume is important for college applications and getting jobs.

However, when it comes to identity, the danger is a tendency to pad it, protect it, and project it.

Some call this our "pose." 

For some pastors, the pose may include a ministerial robe. Be careful with clerical vestments. I wrote about my cursed one here

For others, the pose may include an outwardly happy marriage, obedient children, theological degrees, ecclesiastical responsibility and authority, being known as a good preacher, having stellar leadership skills, or even being a master in all things "gospel."

If any of these things contribute to our core identity, we are just posing. Like an Instagram selfie. It is not a candid shot. We use angles and filters to make ourselves look better than we really are.

What if we no longer had to pose or pad the resume? What if we didn't have to stress over projecting and protecting an image? What if we no longer had to stress over looking better than we really are,
worrying about what others thought of us?

What if we could be real?

Philippians 3:1-11 shows us that this this kind of freedom is possible. It is a freedom that comes from possessing a resume that we don’t achieve, but that we receive.

Writing in 61 A.D. from a prison cell in Rome, Paul calls us to embrace the glory, freedom and joy of this new resume.

Philippians 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

1. The Pressure We Face

Regardless of our age or stage in life, there is tremendous pressure to build a personal resume that defines my identity. Something that I can point to that determines my value, importance and standing.

For the Philippians, the pressure came from "those dogs," who we call Judaizers, Jewish Christians who were pressuring Gentile believers to receive circumcision in order to receive their full approval and acceptance.

In order to be really “in” as believers, the Judaizers demanded that the Gentile’s spiritual resume include something more than saving faith in the redemptive work of Jesus.

For the Judaizers, doing preceded being.

What do we say when we meet someone for the first time? We ask, "What do you do?"

Even if subconsciously, we define identity and ascribe value based on what we do. In this way, our doing becomes our being (or, identity).

This is a huge burden to bear, and crates two classes of people—the proud and the insecure. Those proud are those who have a worldly resume in which to boast while the insecure are those who don’t (or whose doing is not as valued by the world as the doing of others).

Pastors feel this when asked, "How many people attend your services on Sundays?" Sometimes it is put more crassly as "How big is your church?"

I have a standard response. "Still under 1,000."  This is true, because while we are still under 200, we also are under 1,000. 🙂  

But my flesh wishes I could say that we are nearing 5,000 or 10,000 or more.

Thankfully, it is at this point, in our pride or insecurity, that the gospel comes to our rescue.

In the gospel, our being is based not on our doing, but on Jesus' doing. This is grace.

In fact, it is our being that now influences our doing as God’s grace turns everything we thought about religion on its head.

I no longer must achieve something to be somebody. It is by receiving a new resume that I am motivated and empowered to do anything - even pastoral work. Not to gain myself name but because I want others to know Jesus's name.

In other words, it is not doing that precedes being, but being that precedes doing!

How counter-intuitive is that?!

Furthermore, this perspective totally changes our motives for what we do. No longer is the life of a disciple drudgery. No longer do I do in order to protect my reputation and identity. Now, in view of grace, I am empowered to live for the glory and reputation of Jesus.

This is why Paul is so impassioned in the first 3 verses of Philippians 3 about the Gentile believers consciously rejecting the influence of the Judaizers. Not only were they stealing the believer’s joy, but they were diminishing the glory of God’s grace in Jesus.

2. The Danger of Success

Spiritually speaking, the better the resume, the bigger the potential for problems with self-righteous pride, self-glory and a sense of superiority over others.

Verses 4-6 reveal how Paul had been one of the successful ones. He was a deeply prideful man. This is what Paul means when he says that he had "reasons to have confidence in the flesh."

He had a stellar Jewish resume.

Ironically, it was his outward “success” that was the biggest barrier to his knowing the gift resume of Jesus. Paul’s biggest problem was not his unrighteousness but his self-righteousness.

Again, this is not to say that a good resume is itself a bad thing.

Making it your identity is.

Not only is it a bad thing; it is a dangerous thing.

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was the son of the river god, Cephissus, and a nymph. He was known for being quite the face-man.

You know the story.

The goddess Nemesis lures him to a reflection pool. When he sees his reflection, Narcissus, becomes enamored with his own beauty, can’t stop looking at himself, and eventually dies.

Of course, it is that myth that gives us the psychological term Narcissism, where we are consumed with how we look. As Cannon camera commercials used to say, “Image is everything.” This is true for the Narcissist. However, the pathology to be captivated and obsessed with one’s self was around long before Narcissus, as the desire for self-glory first sprouted in the heart of Eve, along with Adam, in the garden.

It is this functional idolatry of self that lies at the root of perfectionism, anxiety, pride and insecurity.

The pursuit of creating an identity that will be praiseworthy is a burden that we’ve been passing down through the generations ever since “the incident” in the garden.

Thankfully, there is a solution. We can be free of the burden and of the obsessive image creation, projection and protection that a self-defined identity requires.

What is the solution?

Beholding the beauty of Jesus and the wonder of his grace expressed in his love for us through the cross.

Yes, this is what pastors need. Not just the congregation. If I am not enamored with the love of God in Christ for me, then I may need to delay the Sunday service until I am.

There is nothing more compelling than sacrificial love. It is beautiful.

When I am enamored with Jesus, I will no longer need to be enamored with myself. Having received a gift-righteousness as my new identity, I am able to see my attempts at self-righteousness, like Paul, as utter rubbish.

I am able to preach with a new freedom. With a much greater Jesus consciousness than self consciousness.

This is what a congregation needs. A pastor who is unconcerned with personal success. One who is not enamored with himself, but with Jesus.

3. The Two Options

At the end of the day, I can only possess one resume—mine or Jesus's.

According to Paul, this is how we know Christ.

I consider my record and righteousness rubbish, that I may, in Paul’s words in verses 8 and 9, “gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law [an achieved righteousness], but that which is through faith in Christ [a received righteousness].”

One of the best parenting tips Kristy and I received when our kids were young is the "give them options" principle. This principles states that we limit a child’s options, and then let them choose which option they
prefer. For example, in getting dressed for school, two options are presented, the blue dress or the red dress.

Two options.

The same thing is true with identity. I have two options. Two choices. Identity myself by my insufficient pastoral record or by the totally sufficient, perfect record of Jesus.

4. The Source of Spiritual Passion

Receiving Jesus' resume as my own creates a passion in the soul and spiritual momentum.

In the face of this astounding grace, Paul said, "I want to know Christ." He called knowing Jesus as his righteousness provider of surpassing value than anything else he could possess.

He longed to experience the resurrection power of the Savior and even follow him unto suffering.

This is spiritual passion!

In Galatians 2:20, Paul states the core of his new identity in Jesus, saying, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Paul had been loved. Jesus had sacrificed himself unto death and judgment for Paul. He believed this, and it changed him.


The chief persecutor of the church became the chief preacher for the church.

Martin Luther calls what Paul is talking about "The Great Exchange." Jesus takes my failure upon himself and gives to me his perfect record—his perfect righteousness.

An identity as the beloved of the Father!

Conclusion: A Resume of Failures

Johannes Haushofer is a professor at Princeton University. You'd expect him to have a impressive resume, and he does. He holds a Ph.D. in Neurobiology at Harvard University and a second Ph.D. in
Economics from the University of Zurich.

Recently, he posted something unexpected on Twitter for the world to see. It is his resume' of failures. It includes sections titled:

  • "Degree programs I did not get into,"
  • "Research funding I did not get" and
  • "Paper rejections from academic journals."
  • "Awards I didn't get, scholarships didn't receive, and academic positions and fellowships for which I was turned down."

He says that his Resume of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective. "This resume is unlikely to be complete – it was written from memory and probably omits a lot of stuff. So, if it’s shorter than yours, it’s likely because you have a better memory."

I love that!

Because his real resume is so impressive, Dr. Haushofer is free to post his failures.

It is the same way for us!

Through faith, we can possess the resume of Jesus—his perfect righteousness!

Now, we no longer have to pad the resume. I don't have to stress over looking better than I really am. No more worrying about what others think about me.

Now I can just be... real. I can be honest about my present and continuing need
for a Savior. Not just a former need, but a now need.

I have nothing to prove or protect. Just a gift-righteousness to receive and a Savior in whom to boast.

Now let's go preach and lead like we believe this. 🙂

Discussion Guide

1. What pressure do you face to create a resume of self-righteousness?

2. How are you like George O’Leary? What is your pose of choice?

3. How can success be dangerous?

4. Did Johannes Haushofer’s list of failures encourage you? Why or why not?

5. Explain what Luther called “the Great Exchange.” Is this a new concept to you? Explain.

If you are a young(er) pastor/leader, you may be interested in the Timothy Fellowship, a mentoring ministry helping young pastors abide in Jesus by tethering all of life and ministry to the cross.