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I do not care for shopping malls. I have not reflected on the reasons for my dislike for any significant amount of time. It’s just a gut-level, visceral reaction I have when I enter one of these buildings. I like the main streets in small towns with local shops that have their own unique atmosphere. Malls seem to want to mimic small-town main streets in some ways, but with their cookiecutter franchises that are like the stores in every other mall in every other city, they are the exact opposite of small-town main streets. In fact, they have contributed to the gradual extinction of small-town main streets.
On those occasions when I do have to enter a mall, I often sit on one of the benches outside the store while my wife shops. It’s a good place to do some people watching, and there are some interesting characters inhabiting the malls. Not too long ago, while sitting on one of these benches in a local suburban mall, I turned and saw a bizarre sight. Several young boys, about eleven or twelve years old, were walking in my direction. It appeared that every one of them was trying to copy the fashion style of the so-called “gangster rappers.” They were wearing oversized baggy jeans with their boxer shorts exposed. They had their caps on sideways. It was the full getup. To top it off, it was evident that they were trying to appear menacing.
I couldn’t help the thoughts that went through my head in rapid succession: “Did your parents let you out of the house looking like that? Are you aware of the girls behind you giggling hysterically? Do you know you’d be a lot scarier without the Pokemon T-Shirts?” You get the point. They looked silly, but they didn’t know they looked silly. They were posers, pretending to be something they weren’t, and they were failing spectacularly.
Sadly, pre-teens are not the only ones who sometimes pretend to be something they are not. Many grown men and women who should know better do similar things. The clichéd mid-life crisis is a perfect example. How many times have you seen an overweight fifty-something-year-old man trying to look and act as if he is in his twenties again? Some men do not seem to realize that unbuttoning Hawaiian shirts halfway down their chests, wearing gold chains, and driving Corvette convertibles does not cause people to be transported back in time.
The same phenomenon exists in the church. I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve visited or been told by others of churches that have adopted some kind of new worship service, not because it is who they are, but because they think it will make them more acceptable to a younger crowd. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but churches that do this do nothing other than make themselves look as silly as those twelveyear- olds in the mall. And the younger crowd isn’t fooled for a moment. Like a middle-aged man trying to hide his baldness with a comb-over, the truth is obvious to everyone.
This phenomenon is also evident in some pulpits. Occasionally one comes across preachers who embrace a ma nner of speaking that is completely unnatural for them. Some attempt to adopt the mannerisms and enunciation of preachers they admire and respect, even though such mannerisms and ways of speaking are not their own. Some put on airs. I’ve heard some go so far as to attempt accents that are unnatural to them when they preach. Impersonating a police officer is a crime. Impersonating a Victorian-era Englishman in the pulpit should be.
There is a potential danger in such behavior, aside from looking silly, because saying something in a way that is forced and artificial can very easily distract people from hearing what is being said. If the content of what is being said is a political speech, a classroom lecture, or something similar, the consequences may be minimal. If the content of what is being said is the gospel, the consequences may be eternal. There is no need to place such obstacles in the way of biblical truth.
The prophets and apostles came from all spheres of life. Some were priests. Some were farmers. Some were fishermen. And yet they proclaimed God’s Word. Peter and John, for example, did not pretend to be educated philosophers or Pharisees when they proclaimed the gospel (Acts 4:1–12). Their listeners recognized quite easily that they were “uneducated, common men” (4:13). Peter and John understood that their identity was not the important question their listeners needed to be thinking about. The truly important question their listeners needed to consider was the identity of Jesus.
Whether we were born black or white, rich or poor, let us be honest about who we are, recognizing that our true identity is found in Christ. Let us not place unnecessary stumbling-stones in the paths of unbelievers. Let us leave the playacting, pomposity, and pretentions to the experts in Hollywood, where bad impersonations are expected.