Picking up from yesterday’s post concerning when Church Leaders Fall, I want to give you some more thoughts that helped me to continue on in what we are called to do. The enemy loves nothing more than to challenge our faith by the failure of others. In fact, William Gurnall in his classic work, The Christian in Complete Armour, lists as one of the strategies of temptation that the devil uses is to get us looking at those who are in positions of influence and success and then create public failure to discourage us.
4. Public ministry “success” does not always mean that all is well.
The soul of the man collapses long before the trappings of his public ministry unravels. The old adage, “A man never falls far” is true. When we see a church leader fall, you can count on it that it rarely was a sudden failure. A man can be publicly lauded and elevated and behind the scenes be rejected by God.
Years ago, I was in the Barnes and Noble in Montgomery, Alabama and ran across a biography of Jimmy Swaggart. That book noted that during the 1980’s that within his own denomination, he had no peer as a preacher. Any conference that wanted to have a good attendance always made arrangements for him to preach because it had some sense of credibility with his presence. But when one gets so busy that he trusts in the arm of flesh instead of the anointing of the Spirit, complications will occur. One may compartmentalize his sin for a certain amount of time, but over the course of the long haul, carnality always will reveal its presence. No matter what level of talent that we have been gifted with, talents have never provided salvation for anyone. Please, please do not allow the trappings of success to justify improper or even immoral activities. Be a man of integrity.
Just because it appears to be successful does not necessarily mean that God is in it.
5. A man has to live what he preaches.
If you can rationalize and justify your wayward behavior and then get up and rail against those sins in a pulpit, your soul is that of a worm. The sharpest words that Jesus had were for those who were hypocrites (Matthew 23). You must live what you preach. If you don’t live it, don’t preach it!
We can get so busy doing that he forgot about being. We are human beings not human doings. The farther along in the ministry that one progresses the more of a premium that spiritual disciplines must be fostered. Prayer, fasting, and reading Scripture just for the sake of reading the Book are invaluable. Prayer develops and nourishes the passion of the preacher. Fasting develops the discipline of both body and soul. Reading Scripture adds wisdom and gives us options when we are faced with weariness, temptation, and discouragement.
No ministry will ever rise above what occurs in the secret place of the closet. An old survey conducted by Leadership Journal found that pastors pray an average of 22 minutes per day. Of the 572 who were surveyed, 57% spend less than 20 minutes a day in prayer, 34% spend between 20 minutes and one hour a day in prayer and 9% pray for an hour or longer daily. This thing about renewing your mind that Paul mentions in Romans 12 really works. But perhaps we have gotten so high tech with all of our gadgets that we think that praying our way through something is too old-fashioned. However, that was what Paul affirmed would keep us from conforming to this world and then transforming the average man into a noble instrument to be used for God’s purpose.
Prayer and devotion to the Word will help us to live what we preach.
6. I will never again be trapped into believing that success is what I can “see.”
We Americans put way too much emphasis on buildings and bucks or nickels and noses as someone has aptly said. We place way too much emphasis on image at the expense of substance. Preaching at conferences, camp-meetings, and seminars is not necessarily the benchmark of successful pastoral ministry. The real pattern for ministry is what you will read about namely the Bible, more specifically the job description you find in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
You may see outward “success” but God is more concerned with inward godliness than with public persona.
7. The real heroes are usually the men that you cannot see.
While it is crucial for God to have visible and capable leaders, the majority of the work is going to be accomplished in the trenches where real pastoral ministry takes place. It is amazing how that God uses the sanctifying work of a godly ministry to hone and shape our souls. When we are given to prayer, ministry of the Word, evangelism, encouragement, helping, and serving it puts a lot in the tank so to speak.
Over the years, I have come into contact with men whose real holiness and godliness put a longing in my heart to be closer to God. I have met men who truly gave themselves to the ministry of prayer and it showed in the complexities of life. I have met men who were literally filled with the Spirit in such a manner that it provoked me to good works. The vast majority of those men would be looked upon with disdain because they do not pastor large churches. They just serve where they are called to serve. They love their people and their people love them.
On a concluding note, a long time ago a minister, whose name now slips my memory, said that it was a must that I read Richard Exley’s book The Perils of Power. It is long now out of print but I want to leave this thought with you. Every man has his own blind spots and dangerous Achilles’ heel. Consider your areas of weakness and face up to them. Where spiritual self-examination occurs, is where the power of the Spirit moves into our lives. The following describes one pastor’s experience:
Somehow I made it through the public confession, on adrenalin I think, but following the benediction an awful weariness settled upon me. Like a sleep walker I made my way down the center aisle to the front doors. Years of weekly repetition gave my handshake firmness, my smile warmth I didn’t feel, and my words of personableness which belied the awful emptiness within. Eventually the last worshiper departed and I re-entered the now empty sanctuary and looked around in despair. The silence was overwhelming, almost eerie. I made my way to the altar, then to the pulpit.
Standing there it all came back–my call to the ministry, the skimpy years when we both had to work so I could finish seminary, my first sermon, the night I was ordained, our first church. Then I begin to weep, soundlessly at first, just huge tears running down my cheeks, then harder until my whole body shook. Great heaving sobs rent my soul. I wept for what might have been, what should have been. I cried for my wife, for the terrible pain I had caused her, for the anguish that now locked her in painful silence. I cried for my church. They deserved better than this. They had trusted me, loved me, and I had betrayed them. And I cried for me, for the man I might have been.
I stood behind the pulpit, touched it, ran my fingers over the smooth wood and realized as never before what a sacred place it was. And with that realization came guilt so great that I couldn’t breathe. The magnitude of my sin, my betrayal, drove me from the pulpit and I stumbled to the altar and sat down. An accusing voice inside of me whispered, ‘How are the mighty fallen.’
There was no reason to stay, no reason to linger longer, but I couldn’t tear myself away. My life was ending, unraveling thread by thread, and I was powerless to stop it. Over the years, I had told ministers, again and again, that they had identity as persons not just as preachers, but now I discovered it wasn’t true for me. Without the pulpit, the church, the ministry, I had no self. I could feel myself becoming invisible, turning into a nonentity–breathing and taking up space but having absolutely no reason to exist.
Think long and hard about it! Read those words again and think about what one tosses away when immorality enters into his personal life. Think about what it was like when you preached the first sermon that God really used. Think about your wife and children. Think about those saints that you serve. Guard yourself. Keep yourself. Maintain your love for God.
More tomorrow. . .
Thanks for reading. . . .