I’m 6 foot 3, 300 pound, shaved head, goateed, 5 o’clock shadow, and I’m covered in tattoos and scars. I only wear Dickies & t-shirts and I don’t own an oxford shirt or pleated khakis. I look more like the guy who is going to repossess your car than the guy you ask for prayer. When I meet new people one of the things I hear the most is “Really? You work at a church? You don’t look like a pastor.” On one occasion the guy I was talking to scoffed, “Oh you work at a church? Are you security or the janitor?” I laughed and told him I was a little bit of both.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not bothered by these comments. Truth be told I love the fact I “don’t look like a pastor”. Once we get past the surface level of our conversation the person I’m talking with usually shares a story of how they had been mistreated by a pastor in their past. Or they comment about they might have gone to church growing up but they never could relate to the pastor. There seems to be some baggage associated with their definition of “Pastor”. I believe if I did look like the “Pastor” these people wouldn’t spend time getting to know me. Sadly how I look can either help or hinder my ability to build relationships or be able to share Jesus with them.
Back when I lived in the Oakland Bay Area I always went to the same tattoo shop to get all my work done. The first time I went to get tattooed the artist and I started a relationship based on tattoos, bands, and movies. It was pretty basic surface level “get to know you” tattoo shoptalk. But by the second and third tattoo session we started talking about growing up and family and future plans. It wasn’t until my fourth tattoo from the same artist and about 20 hours spent together when he finally asked me what I did for a living. Whenever I get asked that question I never answer it flat out as “I’m a pastor”. Now, this isn’t because I’m ashamed of my job but I have learned that words like Pastor, Church, and Jesus can turn people off and end a conversation. So when I finally got asked about work I responded, “I work with at risk teens” I added, “I’m kind of a mentor, counselor, and teacher all in one”. Once I say that the next question is either “what exactly do I do” or “how did I get started in that”. I love those questions because it allows me to share my story of growing up and wishing I had someone to invest in me. Once you get me going I can quickly get passionate about how young men and women need older mentors in their lives. After a few minutes of my story, I usually asked where I work and I tell them at a church. That’s when the conversation normally pauses for a moment as the other person looks at me a little confused. And then it’s said “Really? You don’t look like a pastor.”
There was one point in life where I tried to look like a pastor. A few days after getting hired at my first full-time pastor position I was told, “If I was going to be a pastor, then I was going to look like a pastor”. Armed with the church credit card the other youth pastor and I headed to the local mall. I got outfitted with a crisp white shirt, a stiff black suit and a skinny blue tie. After the wardrobe purchase, we went to get a haircut and shave. Within a few hours and a couple hundred bucks I looked like a pastor. (The picture here is from that day – I look like a dork). Along with a variety of khaki pants and starched collar oxford shirts, I wore the pastors uniform every day for the next 2 years. Along with playing dress up, I had to act like I was so happy that I couldn’t help but smile and chuckle all day long. Oh, I hated myself. I worked so hard to be someone I wasn’t, simply to impress a boss I didn’t want to work for. I didn’t look like me, I couldn’t talk like me and I had become everything I never wanted to be. I did this all in the name of employment – not God.
It took getting burnt out and disillusioned by pretending to be someone I wasn’t for me to finally quit my job and walk away from my charade. What hurt the most was I loved my students, I loved the schools I worked with, and I loved my youth ministry – but I hated trying to be a pastor. So I quit and took 6 months to figure out who I really was and what I wanted to do with my life. What I realized in that time was I sucked at being a “Pastor”, but I was pretty good at being Mike Hodson. Mike Hodson loved Jesus, loved spending time with others, loved sharing Jesus with others and was a lot of fun to be around. The other guy I was trying to be, Pastor Mike, he was no fun at all and not many people wanted to hang out with him. From that day forward I decided that I was just going to be Mike Hodson no matter where I worked or who I hung out with. I can tell you that my life, my relationships, and my ministry have been better ever since.
Please understand this is not an attack on Pastors or those who work in professional ministry. I work at a church, my job description is pastor and I wouldn’t change that. I love the local church and am honored to be serving in God’s Kingdom. I am humbled to serve along the men and women that work in the ministry setting. What I am saying is I was no good being someone I wasn’t and I wasn’t helping the church that employed me. The best thing I did for that church was quit and allow the next guy to take over.
Since then I have come to terms with the idea that I can only be who God designed me to be. I can only be Mike Hodson – the tattooed, Raider fan, who loves Old Twangy Country music and Hard Core Punk Rock, the guy who laughs at all the wrong times and cries at those sad animal shelter commercials, the guy who still struggles with doubt and insecurities, who doesn’t know it all or have it all together. Yes, I’m that guy and totally OK with all of it. I can tell you these things about me and so many other things because I know who I am and I know how my God uses me. I know I am not a suit and tie pastor, I am just a regular guy who loves Jesus and loves others. So I am not only OK, but I am secure in and proud of the fact that I don’t look like a pastor and God willing I never will.