5 Ways Pope Francis Is Winning People Over (And Why Evangelical Leaders Should Pay Attention)

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As Pope Francis concludes his widely celebrated visit to the American Northeast this weekend, it’s clear that he is effortlessly transcending his faith tradition and leaving in his wake a flood of near universal goodwill, during a time when skepticism and cynicism toward organized religion may be at its zenith, with high-profile Christians making the news for all the wrong reasons.

Here is how it’s happening and what Christians of all stripes can learn from Pope Francis.

1) He leads with love.

This is the heart of Francis’ message; the extravagant, lavish, scandalously diverse love of God for all people; not some people or deserving people or appropriately repentant people or morally acceptable people or saved people, but all those who have breath and beating hearts.

The Pope isn’t defined by the stuff he hates or the people he attacks or the pulpit-slamming tirades he unleashes. Most of all he doesn’t broker in the caveated love that so many Evangelicals specialize in, as they preach a paradoxical Gospel of heavily conditioned Grace.  For Francis love leads and love wins, because his God is love. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

2) He walks well the walk.

Whether it’s the way he eschews the customary historic trappings of his position or the modest manner in which he travels or the concerted efforts he makes to be real and reachable, Pope Francis exists in such stark contrast to the all-too familiar image of the sequestered, pampered Evangelical megachurch pastors we see so often submerged in bloated opulence, all the while championing a homeless, poor, street preaching rabbi the claim we’re all supposed to follow.

Through crystal clear acts of quiet humility and gentle compassion, Francis is allowing us to tangibly see Jesus in real-time. For all his wise words, his very life is his greatest sermon.

3) He fearlessly stretches the faithful.

Insider pushback and politics be damned. Whether affirming the humanity of all people or chastising corrupt governments or calling out the unbridled greed of modern Christians, this Pope does what Jesus always did so well; he gives hope to the marginalized and maligned, while simultaneously prodding the cozy power holders out of their apathetic slumber.

The really beautiful thing about Francis is how he (in such opposition to so many Evangelical leaders), doesn’t selectively use the Bible to curry favor with his core on one or two hot button issues. Instead he allows the naked, unadorned, in-context words of Jesus to challenge and convict everyone equally, pulling  all listening from where they are to a more loving expression of faith.

4) He elevates all people.

Jesus preached and modeled that he came to be “servant to all”. This is one of the tragically discarded aspects of his ministry in the modern Evangelical world, where high-profile pastors and celebrity leaders are so often insulated from and elevated above the very people they are called to care for as they grow in influence and notoriety.

Rather than being selfless servants who kneel to wash filthy feet and who gladly break bread with the most disregarded in their midst, too many current Christian leaders preach on elevated pulpits and massively lit stages bathed in applause and accolades—and they simply never climb down. Francis (as Jesus did) intentionally lowers himself so that others may be lifted up.

5) He effortlessly exudes joy. 

Preacher Billy Sunday once said, “If there is not joy in your religion, you have a leak in your religion.” This, perhaps more than anything is Francis’ sadly unique calling card and what is causing the watching world to so bend their ears to his words. His joy is not relegated to a few rote platitudes in an otherwise angry, vitriolic, mean-spirited display. His appreciation for life and people form the sweet, consistent core of his ministry and comprise his loudest testimony; not condemnation or war rhetoric or flavor-of-the-day boycotts or brimstone-fueled social media rants.

You get the feeling that Francis loves people; not just their eternal souls—he loves them here and now and his effervescent gratitude in each moment is something that can’t be scripted or manufactured or created with a heavy web presence, a book deal, and some glossy head shots. The “joy of the Lord” truly appears to be his strength.

As someone who was raised in the Catholic tradition, I’ve been all too familiar with the mistakes and missteps and sometimes the downright criminal history of the Church. Yet in an extremely short time Pope Francis has made so many good decisions and taken on so many brave, previously unfought battles, and I am filled with gratitude of what he has done and hope for what he will continue to do. His theology and ministry are not faultless, yet the same can be said for anyone who has ever walked the planet (with one big exception).

For now, he has made me proud to be associated with the faith of my childhood and he is reminding us all, that most people don’t really hate authentic faith or reject Christ as much as we’ve been told; they just haven’t really seen either all that much in Evangelical Christians who have had the spotlight and the microphone and the platform these days. (You all know who you are).

Francis is engineering a radical revolution of love that simply reeks of Jesus, and people all over the world from every faith tradition and from no faith tradition are noticing and rejoicing.

I pray that my Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters, especially those in leadership are paying close attention.

This is a teachable moment.


(Note: News broke on 9/30 about the Pope secretly meeting with Kim Davis while visiting the US. Even if true, this does not in itself nullify the work he has been doing and it doesn’t change the reflections above regarding the balance of his ministry. It does however mean that the Pope needs to be accountable for the visit itself and for the message it sends the LGBT community and those who support them. As with many faith leaders and with each other—we still have a long way to go.)

0 thoughts on “5 Ways Pope Francis Is Winning People Over (And Why Evangelical Leaders Should Pay Attention)

  1. AND he can affirm the basic humanity of everybody WITHOUT pushing for gay marriage and widespread homosexual “you will agree with us or else” mentality. In fact, he says that gay marriage is Satanic, but that Christ wants to deliver people from Satan’s grasp. Don’t exclude- include. But don’t sacrifice truth to do it.

  2. When I saw how he loves others and humbles himself with no judging or condemning, I thought, “now this must be how Jesus looked.” He is gentle and his eyes sparkled when he smiled. I don’t know his heart but it sure appeared to be full of love, like a father would have for his children. The kind of love a child of God longs for. Great article!

  3. Good stuff. Yep. Joy is certainly compelling.
    That said, too often, religious types fall into the trap of exuding insincere, contrived, joy – putting on false “happy faces.” And that inauthenticity is the off-putting, rather than compelling.
    One needs to know, own, embrace, and integrate their shadow sides and to be authentic in order to be truly whole and compelling to others.
    See more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2011/10/halloween-a-time-for-me-and-my-shadow/

    Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

  4. Passtor John Pallovitz thanks for standing up for us but I kinda understand Davis part though to in it but she understands parts from the bibles but for me to understand an harden person like her I have to put myself in her shoes but its hard to but I am one of the parts of the LGBT guys in Omaha Nebraska soon to moving back to Washington state to be with someone that I love and care about I know its wrong to be with an other man but its all I have known and my uncle is full christiain and tried to force me to change my ways saying to me if you belive in GOD then I will have to leave being gay but I cant see how that others have the right to judge us like it says that I am the only one that can judge no human can and I just been pushed out and away from churches for judgeing who I am when I came out few years ago my parents stopped talking to me and like 2 years ago we started talking and they still love me for who I am thanks for saying the things you have said.

    Sincerely:

    Lonny Hokanson

  5. Hello! The YouTube video embedded at the bottom of the post below keeps highjacking the page to its location, so that I can’t read the whole of your post. Please address this issue so that myself and your other followers can read your entire message today. Thanks for saying the stuff that needs to be said, since far too few people will. Peace, Sarah Date: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 12:36:03 +0000 To: sarahc_smile@hotmail.com

    • I and numerous other people here have mentioned this problem to John on more than one occasion, but it never seems to get fixed. It happens not just here but on many of the other main posts by John. It is really disruptive and makes visitation very difficult. I think from some pop up notes I have been getting on my computer, WordPress is mindlessly posting video ads without screening them for corrupt script and other programming problems.

  6. Excellent post! I found it via Ray Russell on Facebook. One cannot argue with the Pope’s message of love although I disagree with other issues. Perhaps his visit will have a positive impact on lives. The most moving moments for me were the ones at Ground Zero with other religious leaders. Raised in the Baptist church, I don’t attend anymore.

  7. I am in such full agreement here, John. I was moved at every event where he spoke or didn’t speak. I don’t know if you saw the 911-ground zero ceremony in full. I was blown away as faiths from all over the world stood on that stage together offering prayer for peace (some in tears). Then Francis gets up and speaks so gently and lovingly – ending with asking everyone to stand and offer an act of peace. They, and the crown, all turned to shake hands and/or embrace. It was palatable – I cried!

  8. He doesn’t judge anyone – just loves them for who they are – at their level – without judgement. I’ve heard more judgement sermons than I’ve ever wanted. I feel more at peace and one with God since I stopped going to church. And some will judge me for that. Let them. Only God has the right to judge me. My relationship with God is between me and Him only. I was raised anti-Catholic, but see more of Christ in Pope Francis than in any other pastor or Christian I’ve ever known. I thank God for Pope Francis.

  9. Yes.

    Yes.

    Yes.

    I too was raised as a Roman Catholic, a faith I never felt connected to as it felt utterly irrelevant to me from a very early age – it seemed to be all about rules that made no sense, and a God that was extremely and irrationally selective. It didn’t feel much like the Jesus of the Gospels.

    I left it at 19 . . . a very long time ago.

    This Pope feels right at home in my Universalist milieu as his God and my God seem to be all about a love that is extended to everybody. I agree with you that his theology and ministry are, in my humble opinion, not faultless and he continues to defend what I consider to be indefensible articles of Catholic doctrine – but that’s totally cool . . . it’s why I’m a Universalist and not a Catholic. (Ironic that those two words are actually synonyms, isn’t it?) The freedom to disagree and still respect and love each other is so . . .

    so . . .

    Damn . . . it’s just so downright Christian!

    It feels as if this Pope is the exemplar of a kind of Christianity big enough to be inclusive of everybody . . . even non-Christians . . . or those like me who consider themselves to be Christians inclusively, but not exclusively.

    We all have something to learn from this man of wisdom and peace.

    I am very encouraged.

  10. Yes.

    Yes.

    Yes.

    I too was raised as a Roman Catholic, a faith I never felt connected to as it felt utterly irrelevant to me from a very early age – it seemed to be all about rules that made no sense, and a God that was extremely and irrationally selective. It didn’t feel much like the Jesus of the Gospels.

    I left it at 19 . . . a very long time ago.

    This Pope feels right at home in my Universalist milieu as his God and my God seem to be all about a love that is extended to everybody. I agree with you that his theology and ministry are, in my humble opinion, not faultless and he continues to defend what I consider to be indefensible articles of Catholic doctrine – but that’s totally cool . . . it’s why I’m a Universalist and not a Catholic. (Ironic that those two words are actually synonyms, isn’t it?) The freedom to disagree and still respect and love each other is so . . .

    so . . .

    Darn . . . it’s just so downright Christian!

    It feels as if this Pope is the exemplar of a kind of Christianity big enough to be inclusive of everybody . . . even non-Christians . . . or those like me who consider themselves to be Christians inclusively, but not exclusively.

    We all have something to learn from this man of wisdom and peace.

    I am very encouraged.

  11. It looks as though I need to comment to see other comments, so here goes. I moved in the other direction. I grew up in the evangelical circles and became Roman Catholic at about 35. There is so much more to Christianity than what I was exposed to as an evangelical.

  12. I have a soft spot in my heart for this man for exactly the reason you mention here, John. He is authentic, and it shows. He is living water, and it shows. He is light and salt, and it shows. He allows the Spirit to enable him to display the love and grace of Jesus – and it shows. We can all learn from this humble servant of God how to let the Spirit work in us to show the heart of Jesus.

  13. Raised Catholic, turned fundamentalist, left it at some point for something that was hopefully better?

    Are you following me around or summat? 😉

    I’m not a Francis fangirl myself but if he gets fundagelicals and other hardliners to seriously think about their wackadoodle Republican Jesus conceptualization and their obsession with Ayn Rand, I reckon that’s all to the good.

  14. When I heard about the Pope secretly meeting with Kim Davis, I was devastated. But then this event was explained in Chris hayes show on MSNBC. It was snuck in by the Papal Nuncio , who, to date, are remnants of Pope Benedict’s appointments. ( I heard they’d be taken out of their positions soon , just like that bishop from Lousiana who threatened to excommunicate Sec. John Kerry… He was demoted by Pope Francis ) I’d like to get more info about this meeting. Otherwise, I’d consider his visit a sham. I’m a practicing catholic to this day, and I think the Church has to thank the Jesuits for that.

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