When I was a young child, the Christopher Reeve Superman movies captured my imagination. Superman was basically indestructible. And who wouldn't want a John Williams score filling the air after performing a good deed or overcoming an obstacle? Yet the thing that resonated so deeply within me was the fact that the otherworldly Boy Scout represented the epitome of unselfishness.
But the paradox of this fictional character is that the virtue of selfless heroism is always accompanied by his own self-interest. In helping others, Superman helps himself. As he fulfills his own destiny, others are better off. This paradigm doesn’t work out as beautifully for us pastor, namely because we are not indestructible. In fulfilling our calling, we pray that others are better off. However, if we are not careful, we can easily find ourselves drained or even approaching burnout.
We cannot allow our lives to be overrun by an adolescent super power fantasy. While Superman is a character of fiction, the battle between selflessness, self-interest, and self-limitations is very real. And on this point, the worlds of pastoral theology and superheroes share enough common ground to provoke a needed realization. We cannot be the superhero of every situation. Moreover, we are not called to be the superhero of every situation. Remember Ephesians 4:11-16? God has called the church as a body to ministry. No one man has all the gifts or energy (or power) necessary to meet the needs of a church.
I learned this most poignantly as I talked with my five year old son one night before bed. “Daddy, are you more powerful than Superman?” I wanted to tell him yes. Every dad wants to be a superhero in the eyes of their son. But, heroically I admitted that I was not.
“Is anyone more powerful than Superman?” he said.
"Well," I said, "Jesus is." I kissed him goodnight and climbed in my own bed exhausted. In a very real since, my answer to Solomon was not a cheap "Jesus juke." It is a profound reality that all pastors need to be reminded of. We are not supermen, and we are not the saviors or rescuers of our churches. We are called to point our people to the one who is. Once we understand that, we can lay our heads on our pillows at night and rest in the sovereignty and providence of God over the churches we have been called to pastor.
Let us be careful not to give into the idolatrous drives related to personal accomplishment, approval of others, and even perfectionism – helping others to help ourselves. Sure, it feels great to perform a pastoral deed or overcome a ministry obstacle. And there is nothing wrong with striving towards a Christ-like unselfishness. However, we must do so with a realistic, healthy, and humble understanding of our limits. To put it simply, we need to realize that while we are men of the cloth, we are not men of steel.