While we want to be faithful as pastors and spiritually fruitful congregants to help those entrusted to our care–as well as members of the same body, we must ever guard against allowing ourselves to slide into a role that God hasn’t given to us–a role that only He possesses.
When I was an intern preparing for ministry at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, I asked Dr. Paul Tripp, “If you could give any one piece of advice to young men preparing for ministry, what would it be?” Speaking from years of pastoral experience, Paul responded, “Don’t become the fourth person of the Trinity for people.” What he obviously meant was, “Don’t try to stand in the place of God and do what only God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can do in someone’s life.” You can’t effect the change that you labor so diligently to help bring about in the lives of those entrusted to your care–only the Lord can produce real and lasting change (1 Cor. 3:6-8). There are real dangers that pastors face when they function as if they are the fourth person in the Trinity. Consider the following.
- Congregants may develop sinful dependency. Jack Miller, in his small but important work, Repentance: A Daring Call to Real Surrender, explained the danger of congregants developing an unhealthy dependance on their pastor when he tries to be too much for them. He wrote:
All too often religious leaders are flattered into accepting the role as priest by sympathetic parishioners who admire their gifts and graces. In accepting this role, they harm themselves and the ones for whom they attempt to mediate. It must be acknowledged that they are sinners and may love people’s honor and praise more than they know.
But the problem is even broader and deeper than pastors and their relationship with the members of the congregation. Christians who witness with power and effectiveness will find that others will look to them to do the work of Christ for them. For instance, as the pastor must take care not to become priest to needy people in the congregation, so the youth worker must take care not to become priest to the young people. The evangelist must follow suit with new converts.
Because most of this is unconscious, it is all the more dangerous. We are not to make men and women our own disciples, but to make them disciples of the Lord. Therefore, repentance means that people must turn from trusting in empty cisterns like ourselves and thirst and drink from Christ alone.1
I have witnessed this very thing–both in my own life and in the lives of congregants with relationship to biblical counselors to whom the pastors have sent them. This is also prevalent with regard to college students and the campus minister. I would suggest that there is an even greater possibility with that arrangement, since the college minister’s most prominent responsibility is to meet one-on-one with students on a very regular basis. When there is not an ecclesiastical accountability for many of the students with whom he works, the college pastor must be exceedingly cautious about becoming a priest to a student when coming alongside of one who has fallen into some particular sin.