The Maxim of the Mask

Kris BarnettKristopher Barnett, Leadership

Oxygen mask

The award for longest running and most unwatched mime act must belong to the stewards and stewardesses who pantomime safety directions before each airplane lifts off the tarmac.  Few pay attention to the rehearsed routine as these stewards of the airlines display the proper procedure for buckling a safety harness, opening an exit, and inflating the life vest located under the seat.  (Am I the only one who questions the need for life vests on flights over Arizona?) I was once caught on a flight with no reading material and listened closely the entire routine.  One particular item caught my attention because it seemed counterintuitive – the Maxim of the Mask.

As the stewardess demonstrated placing a mask over her mouth and nose, the taped voice-over instructed passengers to don their own mask before assisting any nearby children.  The instruction seemed selfish.  What happened to women and children first?  Did chivalry fly out the window when man abandoned the ocean liner for the jet plane? Although the Maxim of the Mask might not seem chivalrous, it will save more lives in the long run.  Without oxygen, you cannot help anyone around you.  You will likely pass out while trying to help them with their mask.  Your dead weight will be of no use to them.  However, donning your own mask will provide oxygen and allow you to assist others.

Ministry and the Mask

Minister, you can better assist others if you adhere to the Maxim of the Mask as well.  This Maxim seems particularly troublesome for ministers.  Like the chivalrous airline passenger, the instinct of the minister is to help others.  They readily rush to the hospital, meet over breakfast, and cancel their own vacation to handle a crisis in a congregant’s family.  While normally this instinct is good, ministers must never forget the Maxim of the Mask: “If you don’t take care of your own oxygen supply, you will not be any good to anybody!”  Minister, your oxygen comes from your time in the presence of God. Ministry and church work will clamor for your time and the needs of humanity will constantly bombard your schedule.  Your meetings, appointments, and paperwork will tempt you to rush into the world without donning the mask.  But remember the Maxim of the Mask.  You will be better equipped and better prepared to minister when you have inhaled the pure oxygen of God’s presence.

You’re probably thinking…”I’ve heard all this before.”

I imagine that you’ve heard this warning before.  I would anticipate that the call to spend time with God has crossed your path in the past.  Like the busy passenger ignoring the preflight pantomime, I imagine that you have probably grown adept at ignoring the warning.  You’ve heard it before so you block it out.  You keep racing forward, denying your time with God and ignoring your need for spiritual oxygen.  You fool yourself into thinking that your hectic pace negates your need for air, but the Maxim of the Mask doesn’t lie: “If you don’t take care of your own oxygen supply, you will not be any good to anybody!”

Modified header image provided by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Kristopher Barnett is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity in Biblical Languages (2001) and a Ph.D. in theology with a concentration in preaching (2008). His dissertation was A Historical/Critical Analysis of Dialogical Preaching. His undergrad work was completed at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas with a B.A. in Communication (1997).
Prior to joining the Christian studies faculty at Anderson University, Dr. Barnett served as pastor to three different churches; Forestburg Baptist Church (TX), Ridglea West Baptist Church (TX) and most recently, East Pickens Baptist Church (SC). Prior to pastoral ministry, he served as youth minister at two churches and did a youth internship at another.

Kris Barnett is the author of What Now?, a companion guide to the Bible. He is a member of the Evangelical Homiletic Society and has twice presented papers at the EHS conference (Wake Forest, NC and Birmingham, AL). Dr. Barnett enjoys filling the pulpit for local churches and serving in an interim role for churches seeking a pastor.

Dr. Barnett is married to Kelly, who is a graduate of ASU with a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in psychology. They have four children, Kenzie, Karsen, Noah, and Kassie.

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