Pakistanis’ adulation of pastor cause for reflection

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By Michael Ashcraft –

If you want to be treated like a rock star, go to Pakistan.

I’m kidding, of course. The honors lavished upon me, a visiting preacher in Pakistan, seemed excessive. The Pakistani Christians apparently don’t get too many American preachers, and they feel so grateful when they finally get one that they unleash an excess of appreciation.

I’m talking about more than a red carpet. My Dutch pastor friend and I, first, were treated to a drummer and a flutist to welcome us as we made our approach on foot to the church at night. Then there were fireworks. Next, the showers of red rose petals that fell like confetti over us. Finally, the garlands around our necks and the sultan’s hat on our heads.

There’s only one catch: You don’t to keep the cool sultan hat. It’s just for the reception. Then they take it back, along with the garland.

“This is to honor you,” Pastor Sarfraz Masih explained. His church and Pakistani Christian school is in Faisalabad.

But I wanted to do like Paul in Acts 14:8-18 and “tear off my robes and rush into the crowd shouting, ‘People! Why are you doing these things? We also are people, just like you!’” I wanted no part in pastor worship.

Instead, I humored them because maybe — my trans-cultural missionary experience cautioned me — they weren’t actually worshiping a gora, Urdu for a white guy. Maybe, they were just relieved to get a boost from outside.

When I was a missionary in Guatemala, every time a preacher would come from America, it lifted our spirits. We showed gratitude with an overflow of good food and tours of the natural pristine paradise of Guatemala.

Maybe, the Pakistanis were no different in their feeling, though their manner of showing it was different.

After service, most everyone wanted a picture with the preacher. But the armed bodyguards that you were required to have, positively bristled anytime an unauthorized person got too close.

Rock star for a day. Pastor Mike Ashcraft with his retinue of body guards.

Did I say I had bodyguards? Yes, four of them. There was no concealed carry; these bad boys in black brandished pieces straight outta Call of Duty. Having a retinue of bodyguards can make you feel like a celebrity. And I’m just a small church pastor from the San Fernando Valley.

I made it a point to tell the 1,000-person crowd in my sermon that I was a nobody and that Christ was everything, the only thing. They clapped and cheered wildly. In fact, that statement received more response than just about any other I preached from the pulpit. So maybe they weren’t keen on pastor worship.

My host, along with the bodyguards, didn’t want me to be among the people much. I guess they considered it a security risk. Maybe it was just easier to assure my safety if they kept me sequestered away.

I tired of this. Jesus hung out with the people, so I wanted to be with them too.

Pastor Mike bolted from the the safe room, where he and other pastors lunched, and went out to be with the people.

After one lunch, I sprang from my jail. I bolted and went out among my brothers and sisters in Christ. I took pictures and smiled. I don’t speak Urdu, and they didn’t speak much English. But we all speak the universal language of Jesus. All artificial barriers of nationality and race dissolve; we are one in Christ.

Here are my observations about the profuse pomp:

  • Don’t let it get to your head. Pride goes before a fall, the proverbs intone.
  • If people admire you, then take advantage of the attention to re-direct it to Jesus. “He must increase, I must decrease,” said John the Baptist.
  • A greater reception will be given us in Heaven.

So go ahead and be a rock star — a star shining brightly for the Rock.

To learn more about a personal relationship with Jesus, click here

About this writer: Michael Ashcraft pastors a church in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.