There are three main branches of the Christian church in the world today–the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, and the Orthodox Churches located primarily in the Eastern part of the world. There is much we can learn from Catholics and Orthodox believers—even though they have plenty of problems and we do not agree on a number of points. This is especially true when we consider Pope Francis. Here are a few of the top lessons I am learning from him:
“I ask you to pray for me. Don’t forget!” Pope Francis says repeatedly. It is disarming. Luis Palau, a friend of his, notes in a Christianity Today article that he was always asking people for prayer. In a visit to prisoners in Philadelphia: “ I come to you as pastor, but mostly as brother. No one is perfect and without need of forgiveness.”
He refrained from using the perks of his office in Argentina; instead he cooked his own meals and took the bus to work. When he was elected Pope, he flew to Rome via economy class and carried his own luggage. When the Pope arrived in the United States, he chose to ride in a small Fiat over a luxurious limo. He refused to live in the usual Papal Palace. Instead he lives with other priests at St. Martha house.
What might it say that I don’t ask more regularly for prayer from the people God has called me to serve? In what ways might I have crossed the line into feeling entitled?
2. A Priority Commitment for the Poor
He was once known in Argentina as a bishop of the slums. He is a pope who has installed showers at the Vatican for the homeless. After Pope Francis addressed Congress, he was invited to dine with them, but chose to eat with Washington D.C.’s homeless population instead.
As one Catholic scholar notes: “He’s more comfortable with the poor and the vulnerable than the rich and powerful. To go from some of the most powerful to the least reflects his view of the world and the church and economics.”
I am challenged. What percentage of my time now is actually involved with the poor and marginalized?
3. Willingness to Go Outside the “Religious Box” for the Sake of Love
Pope Francis has offended conservatives and progressives. The Pope has refused to judge individuals that would otherwise have been shunned by the Church – whether it be the LGBT community or the Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis. He demonstrates love and respect to everyone – Christian or non-Christian, child or adult, sick or healthy, wealthy or poor.
He ensured the 9-11 Memorial service at Ground Zero was an interfaith service, sharing the stage with religious leaders from Buddhist, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh faiths. I was deeply moved watching that service. So many things he does catch us off guard because it is unfamiliar.
As one journalist noted: “The Pope has pulled off this remarkable feat of not changing the content of church policy, but changing the tone.”
My prayer is: “Lord, help me to be like Jesus, unafraid to go outside of the “religious box” of my role as an evangelical pastor for the sake of love. At the same time, grant me the grace to listen and serve those with whom I differ.”
Pope Francis is the leader of nearly 1.1 billion Catholics, yet he has made an artful, thoughtful connection to be accessible. He makes cold-calls to people around the world. He called Michele Ferri, the 14-year-old brother of a gas station operator killed in an armed robbery. He called an Italian woman who asked him in a letter to help her solve the mystery of her daughter’s murder. The Pope dialed (he does the calling, not an aide) a convent of cloistered Carmelite nuns in Spain to wish them a Happy New Year.
When they didn’t pick up, he left a message, jokingly asking, “What are the nuns doing that they can’t answer?” He later called back, and this time the nuns were gathered around the phone to talk with Francis on speakerphone.
5. Openness to Learn from the Larger Body of Christ
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis often prayed with Pentecostal pastors and routinely sat down with them in dialogue. He has met with Joel Osteen, Gayle D. Beebe, (president of evangelical Westmont College), John and Carol Arnott. Evangelist Luis Palau considers Pope Francis a personal friend. He has invited Rick Warren to speak at the Vatican and the Catholic World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. He regularly reaches out to Orthodox priests and leaders.
When is the last time I, or an evangelical leader, has invited a Roman Catholic or Orthodox leader to address one of our major conferences or churches?
What might you add to this list?