The way God chooses to lead His ministry is often difficult to get our arms around. Finding direction in the corporate world comes somewhat easier. There’s a clearly stated bottom line, shareholders to report to, and defined markets that guide company decisions.
Ministry matters are rarely that obvious and never that objective. We serve a Head we cannot see, and we listen to a voice we cannot literally hear. Often we feel as if we’re being asked to follow a plan we do not understand. And of course, during the process of discovering God’s leading, we experience enormous changes. These are changes we must embrace in the power of the Spirit if we are to obey our Lord’s lead. Though we are accountable to the churches we serve, ultimately, each one of us, as a pastor, answers to God. Without that sort of single-minded devotion to the Lord, we run the risk of becoming people-pleasers or worse, slaves of other’s expectations. Pastors who become pawns as they focus on pleasing people are pathetic wimps.
Honestly, there have been times in my life when I stumbled onto that slippery slide. I look back on those occasions with great regret. Nothing good ever comes from a ministry devoted to pleasing people! Rather than being a warrior for the King, it is easy to become an insecure coward, relying on human opinions and longing for human approval. By His grace, you and I don’t have to go there anymore.
Our responsibility is to deliver what God’s people need, not what they want. As we do, that truth should hit us with the same authority as it does the folks to whom we communicate. May God deliver every honest pastor, every truth-seeking church leader, and every Christian from the bondage of pleasing people.
“Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant” (Galatians 1:10).
Pastors can easily fall into the trap of money-grubbing. Or in simpler terms, we can be greedy.
This is true if money winds up in the pastor’s pocket that was earmarked for some other realm of ministry. This is true if the minister is asked about his financial policy with regard to ministry money, and he responds with a “that’s-none-of-your-business” type of reaction. Dependable shepherds are not motivated by what Peter referred to as “sordid gain” (1 Peter 5:2, NASB). The old King James Version bluntly calls it “filthy lucre.” That’s an archaic expression, but it says it straight. “Not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”
My counsel to all in ministry is to keep your hands out of the money. Period.
A major trap pastors can fall into is exclusivism. That’s the attitude that says, “I alone am right.” It’s the “us-four-and-no-more-and-I’m-not-sure-about-you-three” kind of attitude. An exclusive spirit occurs when a pastor allows (or even promotes) a clannish, cultic kind of following around him.
Paranoia often accompanies an exclusive spirit: “Other ministries don’t do it as well as I do”—or some similar statement. Watch out for that kind of attitude. Guard yourself from too many first-person pronouns. It is nothing more than pride.
I know a minister who began to live a lifestyle of sensuality. He got around it by preaching the doctrine of “privacy.” I’ve never seen anything near the doctrine of privacy in Scripture, but he found it. (I should say he forced it!) And it became one of his major messages.
When black-and-white facts are whitewashed, when wrong is justified with a defensive spirit, when inappropriate actions are quickly glossed over and/or denied—watch out. Something’s wrong. Rationalization is occurring.
As pastors, we have to be careful that we don’t exchange our role of teaching what the Word means with a dogmatic deciding what it means. Scriptural truth must never be altered to fit the pastor’s lifestyle; it’s the other way around.
Not long ago I put together a short list of some of the unique battles that accompany the role of the pastor. I’d like to share them with you over the next few blog entries. While the battles we pastors face are many, I want you to consider five in particular . . . not necessarily in the order of their importance.
The first is the problem of authoritarianism. It’s easy for the pastor to become authoritarian. What does that look like? If the minister needlessly represses the freedom of God’s people, if he becomes inflexible and dictatorial, tyrannical and oppressive, if he bullies people with threats, if he lacks a servant’s heart, if he himself is not teachable, if his arrogance has replaced humility, then he has become an authoritarian. He needs reproof . . . even if he is the pastor.
Rather than racing into the limelight, we need to accept our roles in the shadows. I’m serious here. Don’t promote yourself. Don’t push yourself to the front. Don’t drop hints. Let someone else do that. Better yet, let God do that.
Today would be a good time to resist going through life and ministry trying to live according to your own understanding—thinking if you can just climb one or two more rungs, you’ll be there. Then you’ll have what you need. Your family will be (what’s that word we like to use?) . . . comfortable. You know what your family needs most? They need you to be right with the Lord. That takes humility . . . especially as pastors.
If God is pleased to expand your ministry, trust me, the word will get out. You’ll be found . . . in God’s time. If you’re necessary for His plan, God will put you in the right place at just the right time. God’s work is not about us. It’s His production, start to finish. So back off. Let Him pull the curtains and turn on the stage lights.
Or He may choose you to be one of the nameless, lesser-known individuals who make the difference for someone else. View either path as a privilege . . . because it is.
Your part, pure and simple: humble yourself. Go there, my friend, and stay there.
I’ll never forget a principle I first heard from Francis Schaeffer while attending one of his lectures. There he stood in knickers and a turtleneck sweater, delivering a message to a group of young, idealistic listeners—many of us struggling to find our way. I heard him say this again and again: “The Lord’s work must be done the Lord’s way. The Lord’s work must be done the Lord’s way. The Lord’s work must be done the Lord’s way.”
If you’re in a hurry, you can make it work your way. It may have a pure motive and all the marks of spirituality, but it won’t be the Lord’s way. Stop and realize that.
Stepping out in faith always brings clarification of God’s plan. When Ananias went to see Paul (then Saul), he received additional information (read Acts 9:10–21). As Saul submitted himself to the ministry of Ananias, he found out more about God’s plan for his life. You’re “a chosen instrument of Mine.” I’m going to use you “to bear My name” (9:15). Saul hadn’t known that before. (He had never read the book of Acts!) He knew nothing of what was in store for him until Ananias took that initial step of faith. Both men discovered that God Himself chose Saul to be His instrument and that intense suffering would mark his ministry. That’s the way God operates.
When Cynthia and I first sensed God’s direction to leave California and relocate our Insight for Living ministry, we could hardly believe it. We had planned to stay in the same place for the rest of our lives. Neither space nor time allow me to describe the things God has shown us since we made the decision to move. Initially, very few people could grasp God’s plan for us. In fact, some firmly rejected it. But now as God continues to put the finishing touches on His magnificent portrait, what we see is absolutely beautiful. Until we took that initial step of obedience, all we had was, “It’s time to go.” It’s amazing to me, even as I write these words! Surprises always bring about clarification of God’s plan.
Good leaders have affection for people. Paul writes, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God . . .” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Is that great, or what? Paul didn’t shrink from sharing his emotions with his flock. That strong man, an apostle of Christ, looking back on the Thessalonians said, in effect, “Oh, what an affection I had for you. How dear you were to me!” Those are affectionate words of intimacy.
To keep this simple and easy to remember, I want to suggest that affection for people can be demonstrated in two ways: small yet frequent acts of kindness and stated and written words of appreciation.
You have to love Paul’s humility. Here was a man in his sixties who has been preaching for years asking for prayers for a clearer delivery. Read his words carefully:
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2–4)
There was no pretense with Paul. No degree of success or number of years in the ministry gave him a false sense of ultimate accomplishment. He knew he had not yet arrived. He remained dependent on the Spirit of God. He was convinced his preaching could be improved. And so with a genuinely thankful heart, he entreated his fellow believers for their prayers. Can you see the power of that kind of attitude? Very refreshing in the first century. And very rare in the twenty-first.
No wonder the man made such a lasting impact for Christ.