It is hazardous to be a successful leader. It is especially hazardous to be a successful spiritual leader. In addition to the fight with one’s ego, there are always the dogged, relentless attacks of the enemy.
These assaults plead for a place in the flesh, longing to look through the eyes of the pastor and count the number of followers. These and many other hazards tempt us to turn the whole calling of ministry into a tragic—albeit subtle—ego trip.
Let me mention some of the pros and cons that accompany a pastor gaining a following.
The Pros of Pastors Gaining a Following
Among the pros, I would start with the obvious fact that large numbers of people are being helped—for which we are very grateful. There’s nothing wrong with that. The truth of God spreads farther and wider than before. Even revival can sweep into a community as a result of persistent praying and good expository preaching.
Another pro would be that loyal followers who pray provide protection from that which could otherwise distract or discourage. Isn’t it reassuring and relieving to know that many people pray regularly for us as pastors? I have people who remind me somewhat regularly, “You’re in our prayers. We ask God’s protection for you. We’re lifting you up this week.”
That is a marvelous benefit—to be shielded by the prayers and support of loyal people.
The Cons of Pastors Gaining a Following
The con side of having large numbers is that it’s easy for a pastor to become enamored with himself. Far too easy. He can begin to see himself in a role of power that dispenses God’s wisdom, sees its supernatural effects, and takes all the glory personally.
The temptation is so subtle, isn’t it? Pride is always ready to take over. Let me encourage you to take God seriously, but don’t take yourself all that seriously.
The downside of gaining a following is that popularity can begin a drift into a cult-like culture.
- A pastor can become so aware of his own indispensability that he starts to speak ex cathedra—or so he thinks.
- His opinions are revered on par with Scripture.
- The elders would never think of crossing him—for fear of losing him and the crowds he gathers (and the money they give).
The result? The pastor is no longer accountable. That’s terribly frightening. That’s why I surround myself with a group of men who aren’t that impressed with me . . . and who hold my feet to the fire.
I hope you have a similar group around you.
Spiritual leadership is hazardous work.
But if we walk with a healthy fear of the dangers of success—and take practical methods to avoid them—we can enjoy the benefits of gaining a following . . . and marvel that God would condescend to use us in His work.