We ought to be content being obscure, nobodies in pastoral ministry. We have tumbled into dangerous territory when those secret motivations of, “I need to keep this popularity going” creeps in. We usually will disguise it as, “I need to be faithful to God by blessing all of these people,” and, “I just want to be impactful for Jesus in my ministry sphere.” If we’re not careful, our ministry sphere can become our own ego. Obscurity is not a danger to faithfulness. On the contrary, obscurity may be essential to a faithful ministry. We ought to beware of wanting to matter.
It happened again. Another pastor has fallen. From Mark Driscoll, to Darrin Patrick, Bob Coy, Tullian Tchividjian, and now Perry Noble; the past few years have witnessed more pastoral disqualifications than any of us would like to see.
As a young man with eight mere years of senior pastor experience, I have been attempting to learn and re-learn a few basic-but-essential lessons from these tragedies. A few thoughts for some of us young men in positions of church leadership:
- None of us are above a fall.
As young men, we ought not move past this too quickly. We may not be currently battling a sin from which another fell. However, external circumstances can change quickly, subjecting us to unprecedented weakness and temptation. If caught off guard, compromise becomes a short step away. We are no better than any of the fallen.
It’s good for me to a bit afraid of myself and my remaining sin. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
- We ought to be content being obscure, nobodies in pastoral ministry.
We have tumbled into dangerous territory when those secret motivations of, “I need to keep this popularity going” creeps in. We usually will disguise it as, “I need to be faithful to God by blessing all of these people,” and, “I just want to be impactful for Jesus in my ministry sphere.” If we’re not careful, our ministry sphere can become our own ego.
Obscurity is not a danger to faithfulness. On the contrary, obscurity may be essential to a faithful ministry. We ought to beware of wanting to matter.
- Before stepping into a pastoral position, we need to do everything possible to have currently-qualified and recognized elders affirm our qualifications.
We test people in things like practicing medicine, law, and dentistry. Where I live, backcountry ski guides have to prove themselves in a long, drawn-out, technical process before they are considered for the job. And rightfully so: lives are at stake.
So it must be and more in pastoral ministry. Do we understand what is at stake here? Passages like 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9, and James 3:1 are good reminders. Men are to be tested, taking more time than less (1 Tim. 3:10). “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others” (1 Tim. 5:22). This is why lengthy, drawn-out ordination processes are wise for testing men in the local church. Too often, we hear, “My church/Bible study grew from [small number] to [big number] in [short amount of time]. Therefore, God must be affirming me.” Nowhere does Scripture indicate such criteria for pastoral qualification.
- Much of our ministry focus should be on personal holiness and sound teaching.
True ministry impact is not a function of filled pews, but teaching and character (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16). As young men, we ensure the safety of God’s reputation and other’s souls as we give ourselves to sound character and teaching.
As young men, we need to be slow about assuming we can present a full, theological understanding of a doctrine. Sometimes, upon beginning to grasp a new doctrine, our untamed excitement gets ahead of us, and we present that doctrine in an unbalanced way. We jump the gun. We have not taken that doctrine and marinated our minds in an unrushed way in all of Scripture, so as to mature in understanding its connectedness to the whole counsel of God.
Further, we will stay the course with a sound, biblical understanding of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. It would be best for us young men to veer away from charismatic teaching. What does this have to do with faithfulness as pastors? This is not to say that the embracing of charismatic teaching inevitably leads to moral failure, nor that cessationists do not experience pastoral disqualification. However, erroneous pneumatology has consequences in things like the doctrine of sanctification and pastoral calling. It lends towards an individualism and subjectivism. Oftentimes, pastoral calling is more rooted in, “I heard a voice/Jesus spoke to me/had a dream that I was called to the ministry.” But Scripture presents no such thing as evidence of pastoral qualifications (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9). Similarly, experiencetends to supersede special revelation in ascertaining one’s qualification. “If there are so many people experiencing some spirituality here, then this must be from God.”
- A robust, sound theology of sanctification is central to ministry longevity.