The Fishbowl, My Friend
Why living on display isn't the worst thing ever.

As a young pastor I hated the "fishbowl effect" of ministry. You know—that feeling that everyone's watching you, and that your mistakes count more. It seemed unfair to my young mind that my personal shortcomings (which would never be an issue in terms of most people's employment) could lose me my job, my reputation, and my community.

Maybe the reason it bothered me so much was that I had such a surplus of those shortcomings.

But through years of living in the unfailing eye of critics and cranks (along with cheerleaders and encouragers!) I've come to see the fishbowl in a slightly different light.

Now the fishbowl is my friend.

Think not to lie hid

Richard Baxter, a Puritan pastor who lived in the 1600's spoke of pastoral life this way:

"While you are as lights set upon a hill, think not to lie hid. Take heed therefore to yourselves, and do your work as those that remember that the world looks on them, and that with the quick-sighted eye of malice, ready to make the worst of all, to find the smallest fault where it is, to aggravate it where they find it, to divulge it and to take advantage of it to their own designs, and to make faults where they cannot find them. How cautiously, then, should we walk before so many ill-minded observers!"

Baxter understood that those who call others to live like Jesus would necessarily be faulted when failing to live so themselves. He understood that the fishbowl's a perennial dynamic in ministry. And so he encouraged us to live as though the world was watching. Because they are. There are those in our lives ready to shout "hypocrite" at the slightest provocation, to call us out for human failings which they themselves share and even, as Baxter says, to make faults where they cannot find them.

But Baxter took it further. He said we ought to be glad for this.

"As you take yourselves for the lights of the churches, you may expect that men's eyes will be upon you. If other men may sin without observation, so cannot you. And you should thankfully consider how great a mercy this is, that you have so many eyes to watch over you, and so many ready to tell you of your faults; and thus have greater helps than others, at least for restraining you from sin. Though they may do it with a malicious mind, yet you have the advantage of it."

That's right. The fact that you have more eyes on you, more people examining how you live means that you have greater helps in living rightly than others. What they might mean for evil, God means for your good.

June 17, 2013