Why Protestant Pastors Should Be Paying Attention To Pope Francis’ Visit To The United States

(Credit: Wikipedia)

Pope Francis has officially arrived in the United States.

As I write this, he’s on his way to the White House after shaking hands with Catholic school students outside the Apostolic Nunciature.

I’m deeply jealous of their opportunity and wish I was able to get down to D.C. or New York or Philly to see Pope Francis myself.

It’s been about 2 years since Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Francis I. Two years since he turned the papacy upside down and redefined what it means to be the Pope and what it means to be a pastor.

By now we’ve all heard the stories about Pope Francis rejecting the luxurious papal apartment and washing the feet of a Muslim female inmate in prison and putting a child on the papal seat during a talk at St. Peter’s and embracing and kissing a man stricken with a disfiguring skin disease. In the two years since being elected, it’s become clear that these sorts of things aren’t political stunts.

They’re sincere expressions of who Francis is: a pastor who has a deep love for the poor and the outcast, the marginalized and the overlooked.

A pastor who takes seriously the call the lead by being a servant and to serve by living like Jesus.

Which is why I really, really hope other Christian leaders, especially the celebrity pastors kind who wield enormous influence among Protestants in America, are taking note of Pope Francis and the response he’s receiving.

As a Church we lose so much sleep over millennials leaving and our inability to reach those outside our community of faith, particularly those who are antagonistic towards religion. So, we create elaborate programs and spend fortunes on buildings and worship bands and stage lighting and multimedia experiences. And when that doesn’t work we try hitting people with some good ole “Turn or burn!” “God hates you and you’re going to hell!!” preaching.

But it’s not working.

People are leaving in droves despite our fancy graphics and despite our best efforts to literally scare the hell out of them.

And yet here is this humble man from Argentina who doesn’t seem to care at all about outreach programs or marketing campaigns or cutting edge worship. He’s shunned the luxurious home that came with his celebrity status, he’s stopped battling over theological issues that aren’t worth fighting over, and instead of trying to scare people into heaven with words about God’s wrath, he’s chosen to embody God’s love to the least of these with his actions.

And the world is loving it. Young and old, he’s being embraced everywhere he goes. Even those who have no love whatsoever for religion, love this man and what he is doing.

As the Church, we might describe it this way, “They’re loving the incarnated love and grace of Christ unfold before their eyes.”

Which means in his simple humility and compassionate servitude, Pope Francis is succeeding where our best programming and marketing efforts and attempts to be relevant and cool have failed – he’s reaching those who don’t want to be reached.

So pastors, if you’re out there and you’re watching the Pope’s tour of America and you really care about reaching the people in your own community, stop listening to the ministry gurus telling you how to grow your church. Stop funneling money into the latest fad program or worship trend. Stop trying to be like the celebrity Christian guru you follow online and start trying to be more like Pope Francis.

By trying to live more like Jesus.

If nothing else, it’s cheaper (at least budget-wise) and the results speak for themselves.

But more importantly, it’s a much more Christ-like, gospel-centered way of leading and living than most of us have seen in a very, very long time. It’s the kind of example the Church needs now maybe more than ever. The kind of example all of us need to embody whether we’re the Pope or a pastor or just somebody sitting in the pews.

As Pope Francis seems to be reminding us each and every day, if Christianity is going to have any credibility it has to be to lived out, not just talked about.

He’s doing a lot to restore some of that credibility by incarnating the gospel in a way that people can’t help but recognize as authentically Christ-like.

Being Protestant, he may not be our Pope, but I hope we can all – whether we’re pastor or not – find the courage to follow his lead.


As I’m always welcoming new people to the blog I sometimes like to revisit an old post or two that sparked a good conversation, but may have been missed by those who weren’t around when it was originally posted. This is a revised version of a post that originally appeared 2 years ago.