Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Idolatry in Pastoral Ministry

... it is a fine work he desires to do (1 Tim 3:1).

Church-planter, Eric Davis, a friend from my seminary days, has offered a very important post on Church-Planting and Idolatry. I would suggest that the relevance of Eric's thoughts extend beyond church planters to younger pastors, specifically, but even more generally to all the Christians who pray for them, are shepherded by them, and who occasionally form committees to hire them.
A desire for ministry, and especially church-planting, should never be thought of as a sanitized, neutral desire. On the contrary, there are not many more dangerous means of laboring for self-approval than ministry.

... It’s ok if your resume says: “____ has never: spoken at a conference, planted more than one church, written anything, or preached anywhere outside of Ulysses, Kansas. He does 2 services per week with 42 people in a dilapidated modular building.”

Take a deep breath and remember that your well-being is in the finished work of Christ and not filled pews and satellite campuses. Recall that Jeremiah was not invited to a conference, but thrown in a mud pit. This is not to glory in hard ministry or little fruit, but to calibrate our motives. Hunker down and give yourself fully to the word and prayer until your promotion to glory where you will be rewarded by the Chief Shepherd. Neither repudiate, nor be enamored by, apparent success. Praise God that Christ is preached; take heed to your own faithfulness, and thank the Master that you get to shepherd his flock among you.

Much of what is happening in contemporary evangelical church-planting is fleshly. Young men, who, perhaps, mean well, yet are looking to leap over the cross and grab that crown.
Please read Eric's entire post.

I agree - and have previously-posted regarding the same - that the "fleshiness" in many contemporary evangelical circles is distressing and disconcerting. I for one am growing less and less enamored with my own generation, which may be the point (of God's sanctifying work in my own heart).

Interestingly, Paul uses ἐπιθυμέω (epithumeo) in describing the aspirations of the elder / pastor in 1 Timothy 3:1. It is interesting because that word is typically rendered as "lust" in your English Bible. In fact, Paul will use the nominal form in 2 Timothy 2:22 and exhort Timothy to "flee from youthful lusts [= ἐπιθυμίας, epithumias]." Our fight as younger pastors is keep sin, Satan, or the world-system from turning our good desire into one from which we are accountable to flee.

So, if you are not a pastor, this is how you should pray, encourage, and even hire (when that comes up) the younger pastors in your life. And it may be as simple as, "Lord, please make and keep his epithumia the good kind."


  1. Great post. If young pastors need to "hunker down and give yourself fully to the word and prayer," then church members need to be satisfied with God's provision of this all-sufficient ministry. Even if the church doesn't have a (insert pet church activity here) ministry. Or even a decent choir.

  2. Absolutely, Sharon; thanks for the comment. It is apparent that one of the challenges in pastoral ministry is doing your job as God defines it, but the other challenge is helping the church understand exactly how He has defined it!

    Though, to be clear, this is not a "shepherd, blame the sheep" issue. The real enemy is in the pastor's heart, when he believes success in ministry is climbing a ladder of influence (i.e., small church to big church to area speaker to conference speaker to author to left-local-church-entirely for conference circuit). And guys are lying if they deny that temptation is out there.

    Success is being faithful over the long haul, not necessarily being more influential. Though it is ironic how the two often go hand-in-hand. That is, the faithful men are usually the ones that (rightly) become more influential. The danger Eric points-out is for younger men to see the outcome and circumvent the intermediary labors and years, trusting God with the breadth of your ministry, as seems best to Him.