I was in Auckland, New Zealand teaching pastors, missionaries, and campus ministers about discipleship, leadership, and church growth. I am rarely late for a meeting, but this time I was having a hard time pulling myself away from the TV. Finally mustering the power to do the right thing, I pushed the red power button and rushed to my meeting.
I was not watching American Idol or Star Circle Quest, I was watching the funeral of Pope John Paul II. From the news reports, it seemed like the whole world was mourning, not just Catholics, but people of all nations and all religions. The crowds at the Vatican looked eerily like the day of Pentecost 2000 years ago with people from every nation, every language, and every ethnicity. I was surprised to see so many young people in the crowd, many with tear-stained faces.
Why was this man so popular? Why was he able to appeal to different cultures and different generations? Rich and poor, young and old, they all seemed to admire him.
On the way to my meeting, I thought of at least three lessons that pastors can learn from this Pope.
1. We must value the youth. Pope John Paul II spoke to some of history’s largest crowds during his “World Youth Day” and other events. In every nation he visited, multitudes of youth flocked to hear him. He never tried to be “relevant” in his approach to the youth of the world; after all, just how relevant can an eighty-year-old man in a white robe be to Avril Lavigne fans? Relevance, the new youth ministry flavor of the month, is way overrated. Youth are longing for reality, not relevance. It seemed like the more this Pope aged and refused to compromise moral values, the more the youth listened to him. I pray that church leaders will learn from the Pope that we do not have to be young and we do not have to compromise biblical morality to reach the youth. They are hungry for truth and ripe for harvest.
2. We must humbly admit when we are wrong. One of the most significant messages this Pope ever spoke was a humble apology for the Catholic Church’s involvement in the Crusades. Perhaps this type of humility and honesty is one reason the youth were so attracted to him. I hope church leaders will learn to admit when we are wrong, especially in situations when the rest of the world clearly knows we are wrong.
3. We must apply our faith in the real world. By supporting Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland, this Pope was instrumental in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Because he was bold enough to apply his faith to his culture, he helped change society for the better. Church leaders would do good to shun the extremes of the popular “separation of church and state” doctrine and its polar opposite, the “only vote for Christians” idealism, and follow the Pope’s example of wise and fearless application of faith to government.
May John Paul II rest in peace and may we all follow his example of reaching behind us to the next generation, of humility, and of applying our faith to the real world.