Pastoral Ministry, Pink Hair, and the Gospel

Since it’s come to my attention that there has not been nearly enough discussion of the typological and gospel nuances inherent in pink hair, I wanted to do whatever I could to rectify the situation.

Ha, that’s a little joke there, people.

If you’re just tuning in, you can go back and read my posts here and here, or maybe just google “pink hair Toby Sumpter” — that might do the trick.

I know there are some out there wincing and grimacing even as they peer at their screens. This again? Why, Toby? Why, Oh Why?

Well, because I love Jesus that’s why.

And let’s be clear: it could be any number of things: cross fit idolatry, nutritional nuttery, libertarian chicanery, glamor shot facebookery, curse word potty-mouthery, hipster beard preenery, ad nauseam. But consider “pink hair” the current place-holder for the spiritual sinkhole du jour. If the devil wants to fight there, fine, let’s have a little rumble.

But first, let’s get clear on what I’m doing. I’m a pastor. I’m a preacher of the gospel. You may be aware that at times the clergy, pastors have been designated the “third sex” — not quite male, not quite female, perhaps something else entirely. But the Bible is absolutely clear that the church is to be ruled by men not women.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church (1 Cor. 14:33-35)

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor… (1 Tim. 2:11-12)

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife… (1 Tim. 3:2)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you — if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife… (Tit. 1:5-6)

This means that there is an unmistakably masculine shape to the way God intends for His church to ruled, run, led, and loved. But it needs to be stated clearly that this male leadership is intended by God to be characterized by a martial spirit.

This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare… But as for you, O man of God, flee these things [greed]. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith… (1 Tim. 1:18, 6:11-12)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished he race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7)

The single most important thing I do is preach the gospel on Sunday mornings. That gospel includes preaching the wretchedness and hopelessness of sin and the utterly shocking and amazing graciousness of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This word is food, but this word is also a sword. Preaching is mortal combat. The church is a war zone because of the ongoing presence of sin, Satan, and the flesh. Of course this includes being a shield and shelter for every refugee from the world. It is compassion and sympathy and love for the sheep ravaged by wolves that drives all pastoral militancy. We fight sin because we love sheep. And so I also pastor people in smaller groups, lead Bible studies, welcome folks into my home, do evangelism, and meet one on one with people. And what I’m doing here on this blog is related to all of that. While it is certainly not the central thing that I do, it is one of the platforms, one of the pulpits God has given me. And if the Internet is the modern day Mars Hill marketplace of ideas and shrines, a pastor’s blog is one way a preacher speaks into the postmodern Babel with the Words of Life. There may be various ways churches and elder boards might organize how they do it, but at my church, my elders have designated my blog as a “commended ministry” alongside other parachurch ministries that are doing good gospel work in our community (e.g. crisis pregnancy center, Logos School, New St. Andrews College, etc.).

As we consider what pastoral ministry ought to look like, we really need to read the New Testament carefully. Many of the strong verbs used in conjunction with the office of elder and pastor could be summed up with the word guard. Even though an elder should be given to hospitality, that isn’t the repeated exhortation to pastors and elders in the New Testament. The repeated exhortations have to do with guarding the flock of God from false teachers, wolves, false doctrine, irreverent babble, and just plain old-fashioned vanilla sin and folly.

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking tisted things to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…” (Acts 20:28-31)

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine… this charge I entrust to you, Timothy… that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith… O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Tim. 1:3, 18-19, 6:20-21).

“But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:12-14).

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:1-3).

“[An elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced…” (Tit. 1:9-10)

Guard, guard, guard, pay attention, preach, rebuke, guard. And let me stop you real quick and ask: did you read those passages of Scripture carefully? They are the very words of God. Are they pure gold to you? Are they sweet like honey to you? Or did you just skim them quickly to get to whatever monstrosity I might be building up to? I know that I’m tempted to skim Scripture quotations. What an awful tendency. Rather than cheering and relishing God speaking to us in His word, we skim it like it was a Twitter feed. What a shame. So if you skimmed it, go back and read it again. Read the verses carefully, thoughtfully. Cherish them.

Ok now. Clearly a pattern emerges in these verses. Guard. It’s what pastors are supposed to do. Pastors are not repeatedly admonished to relate to their people or befriend or hangout with their people. Of course, good pastors must know their people and as noted above, they must be given to hospitality, but the repeated emphasis, the repeated command is guard, pay attention, watch over.

And the people that those pastors care for are required by God to submit to them in this:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).

Look, there’s that same idea again, “keeping watch over your souls.”

Now let’s say there’s a sheep loving Jesus and loving her neighbors and she just happens to be on the side of the flock where 10 yards farther over, there’s a steep cliff (she has a little pink or blue streak in her hair, let’s say). When the shepherd shows up waving his hands and staff on that side of the field, what should the sheep think? Should the sheep be offended because the shepherd might be accusing her of sin? Should the sheep accuse the shepherd of legalism? Hey, liberty of conscience, dude. No, a thoughtful sheep recognizes that the shepherd is pointing out something true. There is a cliff there. It really is dangerous. Even if the sheep decides that she’s loving Jesus and honoring her parents and blessing her community and there’s nothing to change, she understands the point of the warning. And when other sheep come along wondering what the shepherd’s point is, she explains it, “He’s warning us about the cliff right over there.”

So let’s be John Bunyan and call that cliff the Cliff of Worldliness. The Cliff of Worldliness has claimed millions of sheep that have wandered from the flock of God, who have shipwrecked their faith. We are hemmed in on every side by a militant secularism currently contemplating requiring schools and public places to allow deranged men to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms. Christian moms are wrestling with whether they should be putting girls’ panties on their little boys, and respected conservative Reformed Christian leaders are encouraging the church to normalize homosexual temptation and behaviors. And we have PRIDE parades where vile and indecent acts are simulated and celebrated in public, and if you say anything less than, “That’s totes my favorite,” you might lose your job, lose your business, and end up on someone’s hate watch list.

The point is that as we are contemplating this insanity, our culture slaughters babies by the millions, celebrates abominations with pride, and is drunk with wealth, greed, and vanity, and Christians can be some of the dullest, most naive spectators in the world. Who cares what color my hair is? Who cares whether I go along with whatever the catalogues say is beautiful?Who cares if I skip church occasionally and wear booty shorts to fit into my cross fit religion? Well, the reason I care is because I’m watching people being groomed by our masters. We’re being conditioned. They give us Netflix and porn and food and fashion, and they tell us what we must and must not do, say, or think. The biblical name for this is slavery. You are owned.

And when somebody stands up and says out loud: Um, let’s not be owned anymore. Let’s be free. There’s a cliff over there. You can tell how deep the hooks go because of the backlash that guy gets. “You can’t bind my conscience about pink hair.” Fine, but the other side has already bound it. There’s a cultural concentration camp being run by packs of roving wolves in our midst, and far too many Christians are worried about three disheveled shepherds getting out of hand. Look at the numbers. Look at the battle field. Christians need to learn wisdom. You are being herded by wolves. They’re selling you alternative, unique, newcreative, underground, shabby chic, modern, indie crap, and you’re lapping it up like an obedient dog. And of course part of the marketing scheme is selling it to you wrapped in the rags of authenticity. This is the real deal, authentic, 100% slave labor from Indonesia, pre-ripped by a hairless mole in Guatemala, and air dried by frantic free range chickens from the farmers market, all of which you can order off of GreatAuntTrudy’s Etsy shop from your iPad Pro.

Yeah, bro, drop the charade.

Now here’s the thing. I know that we have to live in this world, in this place, at this time. That means you have to go to the store and buy something to eat, something to wear, and unless we go Amish, we’re all going to look a bit like we’re from here. My point is just to use wisdom. And maybe, just maybe, if we’ve got a multi-decade cultural retreat going on, maybe, we should use a bit more caution. And if your heart cries out, “Yes, God give me more wisdom!” Then wonderful, and we’re on the same team. But if your knee-jerk response is defensiveness: “Who’s he talking about?” “Is he talking about me?” then, yes, I am talking about you.

Christ died to set His people free. Christ didn’t die so that you could stay in Egypt but feel better about it. He bled and died for your sins so that you might live before God in holiness and righteousness and joy. He didn’t die for your sins so that you would continue getting your fashion tips from sodomites. He didn’t die for your sins so that you would continue looking to the Canaanites for approval. He died so that we might go free. And in fact that freedom in Christ is the most punk rock you can get. Do you want to be different? You want to be unique? You want to stand out? You want to find yourself? Then lose yourself. Humble yourself. Take up your cross and die. There’s nothing more radical, more counter-cultural, more indie than being found in Jesus Christ. That’s the narrow way, the different way, the hard way, the good way. Confess your sins. Repent down to the ground of your bitterness, your envy, your sidelong glance at those around you. Kill your lust, your pride, your anger. Stop lying and tell the truth, confess it completely, until you get rid of that nagging feeling in your chest. Pray. Pray until you cry, until you know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, until Christ is all you have and wonderfully, Christ is all you need.

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

  1. Brad Littlejohn July 24

    Just wanted to note that there appears to be a serious mistake in the link about two thirds of the way down, which (inadvertently, I hope) defames Rev. Sam Allberry. Your text says that “Christian leaders are encouraging the church to normalize homosexual temptation and behaviors,” but in the article linked, Allberry says precisely the opposite: “Homosexual relationships of the sort portrayed in The Best Man are now normal in contemporary Western culture. For Bible-believing Christians, however, they remain something we can’t in good conscience affirm as morally good.”
    Allberry certainly calls for Christians to *recognize* that such relationships are now being treated as normal in the broader culture, but he pointedly denies that we should accept them as normal ourselves.
    This link should be corrected.

    • Thanks for raising this question, Brad. But the link is not an accident. First, Sam is a friend of mine. We spent time together when he was in Moscow a few years back, and I spoke to him on the phone last year. Sam, if you happen to come across this, I love you, brother. I know that Sam means well and intends to uphold biblical sexual norms. However, I believe this particular book review was really unfortunate. In addition to what you quoted, he also writes this about a children’s (!) book about homosexuality: “Serious issues are raised, but with a light touch and gentle humor. On the whole, it’s a charming story with strong themes and likeable characters.”

      This is at the very least a massive mixed message. “We can’t in good conscience affirm as morally good” but the story is “charming”? No, my friends, a story that condones sodomy in any way is not charming at all. Go back through the entire review and every time Sam refers to sodomy replace it with pedophilia (or rape or abortion or bestiality). Then come back and let me know if you still think the book might be “a charming story with strong themes and likable characters.”

      Likewise, Sam writes: “The two gay characters in the book come across as real, not as stereotypes. They’re not activists or pushing an agenda; they’re normal people who happen to be gay.” Right, and this is awful, terrible, sad, and disgusting. This is attempting to “normalize” homosexuality. It is an agenda. This is propaganda. The Bible calls homosexual sin an abomination. It’s detestable to God. It must also be detestable to His people. Yes, we must love our fellow man caught in this terrible snare, but we do not love them if we say they are “normal people who happen to be gay.” No, if we say that, we are hating them because we are not telling the truth. Homosexual sin is a terrible perversion that deforms peoples’ humanity. Again, replace the word “gay” with “pedophile” or “abortionists.” “The two abortionist characters in the book come across as real, not as stereotypes. They’re not activists or pushing an agenda; they’re normal people who happen to murder babies for a living.” Ah, charming. Yes, of course, they are human beings made in the image of God, but whenever we do not repent of our sin it also makes us monsters. We must not say unrepentant sinners are “normal.”

      This book review is arguing for a normalizing of homosexuality in our culture, and we must repent of that.

  2. Zion July 24

    This is so powerful. Absolutely gutting. Thank you for this piece, I know I needed it and my hair isn’t even pink.

  3. S. Harmon July 25

    Brad’s comment is still noteworthy and the link should be taken in context to a general audience. Certainly homosexual sin should be condemned, however the nuances and cultural descriptions will be relevant to an unbelieving world. Which seems to be the point. The question that lingers in my mind and perhaps Sams is: To whom am I writing? A group email to elders, a Facebook group announcement, a blog and a general Facebook post all have varying audiences. If the point is to win the sinner it seems to me that you have to apply truth in doses receivable to the patient. To be informed of the characters of a book will help a conversation among friends. Pink hair and books are a good place to interject caution, however a full indictment against the form seems obtuse. Overall, I am super happy that Toby takes his calling seriously.

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