Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, shares more current church dangers…
‘When I came to proclaim to you God’s secret purpose, I did not come equipped with any brilliance of speech or intellect. You may as well know now that it was my secret determination to concentrate entirely on Jesus Christ and the fact of his death upon the cross. As a matter of fact, in myself I was feeling far from strong; I was nervous and rather shaky. What I said and preached had none of the attractiveness of the clever mind, but it was a demonstration of the power of the Spirit! Plainly God’s purpose was that your faith should not rest upon man’s cleverness but upon the power of God’ (1Corinthians 2:1 1-5 JB Phillips).
Paul clearly understood that his role as a preacher was to glorify Jesus Christ. He had that in common with John the Baptist who once said, ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (John 3:30).
As the focus on the preacher increases, that on the One about whom he preaches diminishes! There is a subtle danger about which every preacher must be aware – appreciation and admiration of the preacher can so easily feed the insatiable beast of pride.
Confusion in the church today is often compounded by the pastor/preacher.
When the superstar preacher is confused with the servant role of preacher/pastor
We are living in the age of the superstar preacher, that is, preachers who effectively use the media to promote their celebrity status and to make themselves look good in the eyes of those who see or hear them. Their ‘status’ is generally seen in the accoutrements of success – luxurious houses, expensive cars, stylish suits and even personal airplanes! The implication is God’s approval on their work is measured by their materialistic accessories.
Unfortunately this idea of the ‘importance’ of the preacher has a spin-off effect on many other preachers who try to emulate the ‘superstars’ and who seek to attain some measure of recognition for themselves in lesser settings, including the local church.
Some would argue that celebrity creates an opportunity for having a wider audience for their message. But we see a significant contrast when we compare the superstar preacher with Jesus Christ.
Despite the title of the 1970s musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus didn’t seek publicity – rather he shied away from it. He didn’t …
• Seek to appeal to popular approval
• Modify his message to avoid causing offence
• Allow the political correctness of his day to determine what he preached or did not preach
• Craft his preaching in a way that his listeners would be entertained
• Make a performance out of preaching!
Jesus did not see his ministry as a ‘profession’ nor did he pursue it in a way that ensured an income that would make him wealthy. The only plan he had for his future was to glorify the Father in all things. And his reward for a wholly self-giving, God-honouring, people-loving ministry was a wooden cross!
But that example the Lord gave is not appealing to many preachers of today whose plan is wholly opposite to that of Jesus. And not only today. Such people who erroneously call themselves preachers have always been with us. Paul wrote to Timothy about those ‘who think that godliness is a means to financial gain’ (1 Timothy 6:5).
And in comparing his own ministry to that of some other preachers he wrote, ‘Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God’ (2 Corinthians 2:17 emphasis mine).
A great 14th century Czechoslovakian preacher, Milicius de Chremsir, was concerned about many preachers in his day who wanted to highlight their own qualities and abilities. He wrote, ‘Such a one, God does not elect to be a fisherman of men. They do nothing good and ascribe themselves virtues.’
And a few more quotes from Godly preachers who rightly understood the crux of preaching …
George Whitefield, who with Charles Wesley was used by God to lead the Evangelical Revival in England in the 18th century, wrote, ‘It is a poor sermon that gives no offence; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.’
C H Spurgeon, the 19th century Baptist pastor who was given the title ‘The prince of preachers’, wrote. ‘Unless we have the spirit of the prophets resting upon us, the mantle which we wear is nothing but a rough garment to deceive.’
Leonard Ravenhill, the 20th century preacher and author, wrote, ‘The church right now has more fashion than passion, is more pathetic than prophetic, is more superficial than supernatural.’
The preacher’s role as a servant urgently needs to be rediscovered in these days.
When ambition to be a pastor/preacher is confused with divine calling to that ministry
The fact is that not everyone who serves as a pastor is called to be a pastor!
A desire to be a pastor (or preacher) and even having gifts of eloquence and academic ability do not in themselves qualify a person to the ministries of pastor or preacher.
Spurgeon, in Letters to My Students, wrote that it is ‘… as a matter of fact, the gift and calling of only a comparatively small number; and surely these need to be as sure of the rightfulness of their position as were the prophets; and yet how can they justify their office, except by a similar call?’
Those ministries are wholly dependent on the call and commission of God. Ample evidence of this is found in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and all the Old Testament prophets were called specifically by God as were the apostles and Paul.
Consider, for example, Jeremiah and Paul…
Jeremiah didn’t want to serve God in such a ministry and he tried to argue his way out of it (Jeremiah 1:5-7). But he responded to God’s call and, despite his reluctance, his passion to proclaim God’s message could not be withheld. He wrote, ‘His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot’ (Jeremiah 20:9).
Likewise Paul could not suppress the commission God had given him. He wrote, ‘… I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! … I am simply discharging the trust committed to me’ (1 Corinthians 9:16-17).
The burning passion that was exemplified and articulated by both those men was not in any way related simply to a wish or desire or a personal choice to choose such a ministry as a profession. It was the specific and personal call of God to them, and their conscious response to God, that qualified them for their ministries.
No real preacher, no real minister is self-called or parent-called. To be a real minister, it is necessary to have a divine call on one’s life. Authority to do the work of God must come from God. How can one speak in the name of another without having been commissioned to do so?
Apart from such a call no one should become a pastor or preacher for the authority so to minister must come from God alone. God calls and commissions and only when he does so should anyone say ‘Yes’ to such ministry.
When corporate skills are confused with Godly leadership
The church is family, a fellowship of people bound together by their relationship with Jesus Christ. But it is also an organisation which manifests itself in various forms and with various names.
Inevitably organisations need to be run with efficiency to avoid the squandering of resources. And this is true of the church – but only partly.
Many books have been written in recent years to enable churches to manage their affairs and finances better. The principle is that the better a church’s resources are managed, the more efficient and effective that church will be.
There is a degree of truth in that. Jesus said, ‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?’ (Luke 14:28). That makes sense.
Also in Luke 16 Jesus told the parable of the wise manager. Clearly Jesus was advocating wise planning and a sensible use of our resources.
However, that principle goes off track when it is the foremost one applied to the ministry of a church. When the church is viewed principally as a business to which a management business model is applied to make it more dynamic and productive, something of immense significance is lost – the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit who does not seek to work within the confines of our business model!
The church’s concept of productivity must not always be understood only in terms of profit and loss. The corporate sector’s target is profit while the church’s target is mission.
While ‘administration’ is listed as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:28), not all pastors have this gift. One of the pastor’s primary roles is leadership, which includes unpacking God’s vision for the mission of his church, and such a mission may, from a corporate perspective, appear foolish. The pastor needs more than corporate skill and nous to lead a church into the ministry and mission to which God calls it.
The business of the church is ‘Kingdom Business’ and the best corporate skills can never replace the direction and power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus never promised effective business expertise to his disciples when he commissioned them to proclaim his good news throughout the world (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8).
But he did promise his permanent presence (I am with you always) and the power of the Holy Spirit (You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.)
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from concerned Christians. In his well-researched Grace Revisited he reveals grace as having a strong active meaning and is like a many faceted diamond out of which shines a greater understanding of the great God we worship.
Normally $35 but obtainable from the author for $25 (plus postage). Link/orders/enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
(See also this month’s Dr Jim’s Focus Christmas article – The Light of Hope)