Are you an aspiring Superman?
I’m not talking about pulling on a pair of blue tights and a red cape and putting a fancy “S” on your chest. I’m talking about an attitude: “I am self-sufficient,” “I need no one else,” or “I will show no weakness or admit any inadequacy.” These betray the presence of the Superman Syndrome—that particular peril for pastors who go it alone.
Funny thing is, I’ve rarely seen anyone lose ground by admitting inadequacy or weakness. The best professors I ever had said, “I don’t know, Chuck, but when we come back together I’ll try to have that answer for you.” I deeply respect that attitude in a person. Kids acknowledge weakness all the time and never feel as if they’ve lost face.
As pastors, we set ourselves up for letting people down when we pose as Superman. I remember a young believer in our church who gushed, “I don’t know of anybody I admire as much as I do you.”
“Stop right there,” I interrupted. “I appreciate your admiration, but always remember: When it comes to one another on this earth, never put anyone on a pedestal.”
“I never thought about that before,” she replied.
“Only one person deserves to be on a pedestal, and He’ll never fall off. That’s Jesus. You can respect me,” I continued, “but please don’t put me in that place where I’m sure to let you down.”
By the way . . . have you heard what the mother ape said to her baby ape? “Watch out about climbing on those high poles. The higher you get, the more they’re gonna see your rump.” Remember, when you’re up high, you’re a big target. You’re on display. So it’s essential to say, “I can’t handle this myself.” Or, “I need you guys right now.” Didn’t Jesus do this at Gethsemane?
As 2 Corinthians 2:16 asks, “Who is adequate for these things?” Obviously, the appropriate attitude is to embrace this fact: We are not self-sufficient. We need other people. It’s wise for us to ask for help. We should never leave the impression that we don a cape and tights.
Let’s get practical. Ask for help! Hardly a day passes that I don’t ask someone to assist me in doing something. Also, make sure that when someone helps with a project, that person gets the credit. If a guy comes up with a great idea, and the whole church applauds it, let the people know it was his idea. Why leave any other impression?
Admit weaknesses and failures. Acknowledge your own fallibility. Don’t buy in to the Superman Syndrome. You can’t carry the weight of the whole world on your shoulders. Someone else already has that distinction.
Paul wrote with urgency, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1–2). In other words, stick with the preaching plan God has promised to bless and use: preaching the Word. Deliver the biblical goods! Be a man of the Book!
Did you notice something here? This exhortation is not addressed to the hearer; it’s for the speaker. The one who is to obey this command is the one proclaiming the message. That’s you. That’s me. That’s all who are called to stand and deliver.
We’re to be ready to do it in season and out of season. Being ready implies being prepared both mentally and spiritually. Don’t try so hard to be so creative and cute that folks miss the truth. No need for meaningless and silly substitutes for God’s Word. They may entertain but rarely convict the lost or edify the saved. Teach the truth.
In essence, Paul says, “Don’t be lazy. Do your homework. Don’t stand up and start with an apology that you didn’t have adequate time to prepare. That doesn’t wash.” And prepare your work faithfully—when it’s convenient and when it’s not.
Sadly, in an alarming number of churches today, God’s people are being told what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. They are being fed warm milk, not solid meat. A watered-down gospel will attract large crowds (for a while), but it has no eternal impact. I’ve not been able to find any place in the Scriptures where God expresses the least bit of concern for increasing numbers. Satisfying the curious, itching ears of our postmodern audiences is an exercise in futility.
The task of ministry is to deliver truth. Frankly, I intend to continue doing just that, by God’s grace, until the day He calls me home. I believe that’s your passion as well. That’s why you became a pastor. Thankfully, there is an ever-increasing body of believers who long for nourishing messages based on the Word of God, not human opinion.
Will you answer the charge?
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations. . . . And surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:19–20 NIV). There is no greater challenge and no more comforting promise. Believe it. Trust it. And by the grace of God, just do it!
I’m right there with you.
Good leaders are enthusiastically affirming. Paul writes,
You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children. (1 Thessalonians 2:10–11)
Ever spent a Friday night on hard bleachers, in front of the father of the high school quarterback? He’s his own cheering section. Why? He’s a dad! The kid on the field is thinking, “Dad, come on, knock it off.” But his old man is standing up there, yelling at top volume, loving every minute of it. There’s no question who he’s pulling for.
Perhaps you’ve longed for more affirmation from your father. Let’s face it; encouragement goes a long way in preparing a child for life. No one should be getting more encouragement from us than our own children.
Pretty convicting stuff, isn’t it?
Good leadership balances the tender nurturing of a mother with the loving affirmation of a father. Encouragement is like an oasis in a hot, barren desert. It brings needed refreshment to weary individuals whose souls are parched from time spent in the desert of self-doubt. There’s the desert of failure when we’ve tried so hard to succeed. There’s also the desert of no progress when we so want something to happen but it doesn’t. And there’s the desert of family rejection, abuse, and a thousand other arid, monotonous landscapes of life.
In those desert experiences, we all long for an oasis where we’re able to get a cool drink of water. Though it may not have come from your father, determine it will come from you. Give the affirming words of a father, who, in speaking, dips his ladle deep in ice water, and as he pours them out, they cool the spirit and refresh the soul.
Affirming leaders create loyal followers . . . in the church and in the home.
Many centuries ago, a woman thought things were too far gone.
She didn’t think there was anything she could do. It was only a matter of time before all the Jews would be exterminated.
You remember Esther. She was the Jewish wife of a Persian king, the man who was about to be tricked into making an irrevocable, disastrous decision. All of Esther’s people would soon be exterminated.
But just one person could turn the tide. One!
Esther’s adoptive father got her attention with these words,
“And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
That did it.
She broke longstanding protocol and put her own life at risk. She marched into the king’s throne room, spoke her mind . . . and ultimately rescued the Jews from holocaust. One woman—only one voice—saved an entire nation.
As is true of every person who stands in the gap, Esther was willing to get personally involved to the point of great sacrifice. Or, as she said, “If I perish, I perish” (4:16). She didn’t think, “Someone else should be doing this, not me,” nor did she ignore the need because of the risk.
Sacrifice! It’s the stuff that people with true character are made of. They’re the ones who make a difference. Sacrifice is the quality that defines the servant’s heart.
Before you toss all this aside, saying to yourself, “Aw, that’s for somebody else. How much difference could I make?” just stop to consider the value of one.
Once you learn to approach each day with the heart of a servant, you soon find that one person really can make a difference. There is lasting joy and real peace in that way of living. And the good news is that the Lord is actively seeking those who are ready and willing to follow Him, no matter the sacrifice or cost.
A wonderful verse reminds us: “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
It’s a lesson every pastor should take to heart.
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2:4)
The art of unselfish living is practiced by few and mastered by even less.
In today’s me-first world, we shouldn’t be surprised. It is difficult to cultivate a servant’s heart when trying to survive in a chaotic society dominated by selfish pursuits and narcissistic leaders. The greatest tragedy of such an existence is what it spawns: an independent, self-sufficient, survival-of-the-fittest mentality.
On top of everything else, the culture around us is determined to shut itself off from the benefits of faith.
- Christian values are ignored.
- Christian principles are shunned.
- Christian absolutes are mocked.
- Christian charity is viewed with suspicion.
Nevertheless, the church’s message of hope and transcendence, which is its greatest source of compassion, must continue, even if it is often rejected with scorn and disparagement. Our acts of kindness are received reluctantly, with the result that too many Christians find it easier simply to give in or give up.
As I look toward the future, I see nothing on the horizon that offers any hope for a change. Nothing external, that is. Grim as it may sound, we are on a collision course, and more and more travelers are lonely and confused.
Some are downright angry.
They offer cynical advice: “Look, you can’t change the world. Just look out for number one, press on, and keep your mouth shut.” Those who embrace this philosophy surround us. I admit there are times in my more hurried and hassled moments when I tend to listen to that erroneous counsel.
But this philosophy doesn’t satisfy. Human beings were not designed to live and treat others like that. There has to be a better way to enter eternity than being cold-hearted, empty-handed, and out of breath!
The art of unselfish living must be implemented from within before it can be expressed without. It is unlike anything you’ll hear from self-made superstars and celebrities whose lifestyles are not compatible with being a servant of others. That’s to be expected.
We see it modeled best in Christ. The world sees it modeled in Christians.
We all own an invention that is almost essential.
It is very revealing, and it never tells a lie. It says it like it is, yet it never makes a sound. All of us stand before it prior to going out in public. And if we didn’t, we should have. It is a mirror—especially a full-length mirror!
God’s Word calls itself a mirror. It reflects the truth. I’ve observed over the years that churches rarely stand before full-length mirrors to examine themselves. We pastors are often the same.
I’ve discovered that it’s helpful to back off occasionally from our activities, important though they may be, and just look at ourselves a little closer in the mirror. Do that with me for a moment, will you?
Look at what Paul wrote to a church obsessed with image: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1).
What we do is not about impressing others. The pastorate is not a place where an image is polished or where emphasis is placed on one’s self. Paul didn’t preach with overpowering oratory or philosophical arguments to wow his Greek audience in Corinth. He came as a simple man with a very basic, albeit, profound message regarding Christ.
In fact, what we say is all about exalting Christ. Paul continued: “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (2:2). Look at your reflection in that verse. Do you see the person of Christ and the work of Christ on the cross in your ministry? Those two thoughts deserve center stage.
Ministry is not about my agenda. It is not about my personality. It is not about my charisma. “I came to know nothing among you,” says the apostle, “except Jesus and His work on the cross.” As pastors, we must step aside and remind the flock that it is Christ who is the Head, and it is His cross that is important.
If our congregations leave a service more in love with Jesus, it was a successful time of worship. If they leave impressed with another dimension of the cross, you and I have done a good job.
So this Sunday, as we stand to deliver—with our hair combed, our teeth brushed, and our messages carefully prepared—let’s remember that our purpose is not about impressing others.
It is all about exalting Christ!
May I remind you of four of the most powerful perils that can level even the mightiest? They are fortune, fame, power, and pleasure. Each works overtime to win a hearing, to gain a foothold, to woo us in. Not even pastors are immune to these temptations.
Whether subliminal, subtle, strong, or supreme, these messages search for chinks in our armor as they appeal to our natural appetites. “Get rich!” (fortune). “Become known!” (fame). “Gain control!” (power). “Be satisfied!” (pleasure). Each of these attractive snares invites our attention, holds out a juicy carrot, makes beautiful promises; yet, each is an enemy always crouching and ready to plunge.
Being masters of deceit, these messages employ one favorite method throughout our lives—temptation.
Let me mention a very practical thing about temptation. I have found that if I can stop the process fairly early, I’m safe. But if I leave my hiding place and venture toward the bait, there is a point of no return. I cannot turn around. If I go that far, I’m sunk.
So how can we have victory over temptation? First, our natural focus must be counteracted. Openly confess your weakness to a trusted friend. Hide nothing. Use Scripture memory to replace sensual thoughts with spiritual thoughts.
Second, our leisure time must be guarded. Cultivate a plan, perhaps an exercise program, an intensive reading program, a hobby, a series of practical projects to occupy your time. (You might even brush up on your Hebrew or Greek.) Watch out for those movies! If necessary, keep the television off. And stay away from any activity on the internet that has no accountability.
Third, our close companions must be screened. Take a good look at your circle of friends. Do an honest evaluation of those with whom you spend personal time. I can offer you a principle you can bank on: until you clean up your companionships, you’ll never clean up your life.
Fourth, our vow to God must be upheld. Just as jealously as we would guard the marriage vows, we’re to guard our promises to God and our commitment to purity.
Excellence—moral, ethical, and personal excellence—is worth whatever it costs. Pay the price. Start today!
Nothing less will ever satisfy you or glorify God.
I am the product of mentoring.
There have been men in my life, some of whom you would not know if I mentioned their names, who have made a major difference in my life. They saw potential where I did not. They encouraged me to become something more than I was. They reproved and corrected me. They modeled what I longed to become.
Hands down, one of the most significant men in my life has been Dr. Howard Hendricks. “Prof”—as his students affectionately called him. He retired after completing sixty fruitful years of teaching in the seminary classroom.
That’s not a typo . . . sixty years! Prof has since gone home to be with the Lord.
Near his retirement, I had the privilege of participating in an interview with Prof that I’d like to share with you. The video’s dialogue lasts just a few minutes . . . but its lessons continue to linger in my mind. In fact, they are life-long.
That’s where you come in as a pastor. I urge you not to underestimate the impact your ministry is having on those who hear your words and—more importantly—on those who observe your life (see 1 Timothy 4:16). Week after week . . . month after month . . . year after year—you are making an eternal impact on the lives of countless individuals. Never forget that.
I will always esteem Prof Hendricks as a personal hero because he committed his entire life to building into the lives of others.
That, my friend, is what the ministry is all about.
Can’t watch the video? You can download the audio file instead.
John Donne is one of the least-known saints in history. The 17th century poet and preacher endured a life of persecution, pain, unfair imprisonment, and lengthy suffering.
It was during his term as Dean of the great St. Paul’s Cathedral – London’s largest church – that three waves of the Great Plague swept through the city. The last epidemic alone killed 40,000 people. In all, a third of London’s population perished, while a third more fled to the countryside, turning entire residential districts into ghost towns.
Donne’s life had been no picnic. Released from prison and now blackballed, he couldn’t find work. He and his wife Anne lived in grinding poverty, and Anne nearly died from childbirth more than once. Donne himself suffered intense headaches, intestinal cramps, and gout. His longest literary work during this excruciating period of his life was an extended essay on the advantages of suicide.
He decided at the late age of forty-two to seek ordination as an Anglican priest. The year after Donne took his first Anglican church, his beloved Anne died, after having borne him twelve children in all (five of whom died in infancy).
Amazingly, this was the man appointed to St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1621. With all his trials, he hardly seemed a likely candidate to lift his nation’s spirits during that era of the plague. He stayed near his beleaguered parishioners—arising every morning at 4 a.m. and studying until ten at night. He delivered sermons of such power, the vast cathedral remained crowded with worshipers despite London’s declining population.
It was then—at the zenith of his public ministry—his dread disease was diagnosed along with his death sentence. What is noteworthy is that he never “retired” from his calling—and he refused to become a passive recluse. While surviving those dark months, he stayed engaged with people. His life modeled the priceless value of enduring companionships.
Among his best-known writings are lines from his work, Devotions, written only a few years before his death. You may remember some of them:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent … if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
The importance of our staying engaged in the lives of others cannot be overestimated. Isolation is not only unbiblical and unwise, it is, in fact, unhealthy. You get weird.
Finding and nurturing a few very close companions throughout your years in ministry is a key ingredient to surviving. If you are one of those in that category—you are miles ahead of those who think they can survive on their own.
I must add — you are also rare.
Sarcastic infighting. Negative putdowns. Stinging stares. Volatile explosions of anger. Doors slamming. Desperate feelings of loneliness. Awkward silence. Those descriptions portray the marriages in many homes and families.
And also, in many parsonages.
We are not immune, are we? It is possible that you have gotten to the place where you look for excuses not to be home. Or to be there as little as possible. It’s easy in the ministry to justify our absence, isn’t it? Even in our own minds.
For more years than I care to remember, I was so insecure and fearful it wasn’t uncommon for me to drill Cynthia with questions—petty, probing questions that were little more than veiled accusations. It is amazing she endured it. Finally, we had one of those famous showdown confrontations every married couple has had. (Yes, even pastors.) No need to repeat it, but she made it painfully clear that I was smothering her, I was imagining things she never even thought of doing . . . and it had to stop. Her words hurt, but she did the right thing. Thankfully, I took her seriously.
I went to work on this ugly side of my life. I confessed my jealousy to Cynthia. I assured her I would never again treat her with such a lack of trust. I asked God for grace to help, for relief from the destructive habit I had formed, and for the ability to love and give myself to this woman without all the choking conditions.
I distinctly recall how much an understanding of grace helped me. It was as if grace was finally awake in my life, and I could appropriate its power for the first time. It seemed to free me; first in small ways, and finally in major areas. I can honestly say today that I do not entertain a single jealous thought. Grace literally wiped that slate clean.
I’ve said for years now that my favorite place on earth is just inside the door of my home. I absolutely love being home. It is there I find maximum security and acceptance, fulfillment and accountability, responsibility and harmony, and honesty and love. Why? Because we are committed to the same common denominator: Grace.
- Grace releases and affirms. It doesn’t smother.
- Grace values the dignity of individuals. It doesn’t destroy.
- Grace supports and encourages. It isn’t jealous or suspicious.
What does it take for us as pastors to be just as thoughtful and encouraging and creative with our wives as with those who sit in front of us on Sundays?
I have the answer: it takes grace.