Notes from Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp
Does my ministry define me?
There are only two places for a pastor to get his identity: Vertically (his relationship with Christ) or horizontally (situations, experiences and relationships in his daily life).
Has ministry become my identity? Does the office/vocation of “pastor” define me?
Or am I a child of God, in daily need of grace, in the middle of your own sanctification, still in need of the body of Christ around me and called to pastoral ministry?
Do I think that my biblical literacy and theological knowledge define my maturity?
Maturity is not merely something I do with your mind – it is about how I live my life. It is possible to be theologically astute and very immature. My mind does need to be renewed, but my heart needs to be reclaimed by the powerful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reclamation of my heart is both an event (justification) and a process (sanctification).
Knowledge is an exercise for the brain; wisdom is the commitment of my heart that leads to transformation of my life.
Do I confuse ministry success with God’s endorsement of my lifestyle?
God blesses our ministry, often when our hearts are not right, out of zeal for his own glory and out of faithfulness to his promises of grace for his people.
Signs of a pastor losing his way
- He ignores the clear evidence all around him. No one is more influential in my life than I am, because no one talks to me more than I do. I can beat myself down; tell myself that I am not the problem and make excuses; I can build arguments for my own righteousness. I can, as a pastor, fall into the trap of, while holding the beautiful Savior before others, working hard to become my own savior.
- He is blind to the issues of his own heart. I can hold the view that no one has a more accurate view of me than I do and therefore close myself off to the view and helpful criticism of others. Patterns are thus unaddressed and a disconnect between my life and my ministry grows.
- His ministry lacks devotion. I must daily admit how needy I am, receiving from the hands of the Savior all that I need, living a life of active relationship with Jesus. This means having a ministry that is fueled by personal devotion, rooted in humble, heart-deep confession. I let the text I am preaching be fleshed out in my life. One thing that makes a sermon compelling is that the preacher is worshiping his way through his own sermon.
- He stops preaching the gospel to himself. If I am not feeding my soul on the realities of the presence, promises and provisions of Christ, I will ask the people, situations and things around me to be the Messiah they can never be. Either I seek Jesus to my Savior or the things around me.
- He doesn’t listen to the people closest to him. We must keep out eyes open to the warnings that God gives us through our family and the faithful members of the body of Christ
- His ministry becomes burdensome. I am spiritually empty and carrying the burden myself. My drainers outweigh my fillers. I lose the joy and I am just “grinding out” ministry.
- He begins to live in silence. When people are my substitute Messiah, I cannot be honest about my sins and weaknesses. Secondly, I begin to fear being known, or “found out”. So I do not make the regular, healthy confessions of struggles to my ministry co-partners.
- He begins to question his calling. I begin to think that either I am attempting to do something I am not called to do or I am thinking and doing wrong things in the middle of ministry I was clearly called to. Since it is difficult to see myself as the problem, I begin to think that ministry is the problem.
- He gives way to fantasies of another life. My dream becomes getting out. He talks with his wife about the prospects of life outside of ministry.
Big theological brains and heart disease
Bad things happen when maturity is more defined by knowing than by being. Danger is afloat when I come to love ideas more than the God whom they represent or the people they are meant to free. I am called, not to just teach theology to my people, but to do theology with my people.
Content and theology of the Word of God is not an end in itself – it is a means to an end. The desired end is God honoring, life-shaping worship. When the Word of God, faithfully taught by the people of God and empowered by the Spirit of God, falls down, people become different (Is. 55:10-13).
So what is the danger?
- Spiritual blindness – we can fail to see that we need fixing just as much as anyone to whom we have been called to minister.
- Theological self-righteousness – it is tempting to think that maturity is more a matter of knowing than a matter of living. I can get puffed with my knowledge.
- Dysfunctional personal relationship with the Word of God – My study becomes more a world of correct ideas than a world of submission and obedience to the Lord.
- Lack of personal gospel neediness – I don’t approach the Word of God with a tenderness and neediness of heart. My study brings me over and over to my desk, but seldom to my knees.
- Impatience with others – Self-righteous people tend to be critical, dismissive and impatient with others.
- Wrong perspective on ministry – Ministry is driven more by theological correctness than by worship and love for the Lord Jesus.
- No living communion with Christ – It can all degenerate into a Christless Christianity that puts its hope in theology and forgets the transforming power of Jesus.
More than Knowledge and Skill
How would you define a successful ministry? A pastor’s ministry is never shaped by his knowledge, experience and skill. It is also always shaped by the true condition of his heart. In fact, if his heart is not in the right place, all his skill and knowledge can actually function to make him dangerous.
The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of – can I say it: in love with – his Redeemer. so that everything he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says and does is propelled by love for Christ. Not everyone works from this foundation. It is vital to remember that every pastor is in the middle of being reconstructed by God’s grace. He will face crucial personal and ministry choice points. In those moments what will win the day and determine what he will do will be his heart. Whatever rules his heart will direct his life and ministry.
Joints and Ligaments
Every pastor is, in fact, a man in the middle of his own sanctification – shouldn’t he be receiving the normal range of the essential ministry of the body of Christ that every man needs? Simply put, I am a member of the body of Christ and I need what the other members of the body need – I am no different.
Hebrews 3:12-13 warns us not to fall into an evil, unbelieving heart. This is what happens when sin does when undetected, unexposed, unforgiven.
If I give way to sin in my life, I can admit my wrong and place myself under the justifying mercies of Christ, receiving his forgiveness, or I can erect some self-atonement that essentially argues for the rightness of what I have done. Our self-atoning arguments are acts of pride, rebellion and unbelief. The endpoint of this process is a “hardened” heart. What once bothered us does not bother us anymore. What once activated our conscience doesn’t anymore…. a scary place to be. We come to doubt the God we represent to others – and it is hard to represent someone that you have come to doubt. It is nearly impossible to give away what you yourself do not have. And working to be more publicly righteous that I actually am is exhausting and burdensome.
Sin is deceptive. It deceives ten out of ten people reading this book. When you are physically blind, you know it – you do things to compensate for this physical defect. But spiritually blind people are not only blind, they are blind to their own blindness. They are blind, but they think they see well.
This is where the essential call of this passage comes in – the call to encourage (exhort) one another daily, “that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The blinding ability of sin is so powerful and persuasive that you and I need daily intervention. Each of us, whether pastor or congregant, needs the eyes of others in order to see ourselves with clarity and accuracy… so that we are not spiritually blinded and end up with hardened, unbelieving hearts.
The author of Hebrews teaches us that personal insight is the product of community. It is very difficult to get it by yourself.
Steps that will help a pastor come out of isolation:
- Attend a small group that he doesn’t lead
- Seek out a mature person to mentor you at all times
- Establish a pastors’ wives’ small group
- Be committed to appropriate self-disclosure in your preaching
- Go regularly to the homes of families in your church to be encouraged
- Make sure that there is someone regularly mentoring the pastor’s wife.
- Make sure to get away for weekends with your wife
- Make sure that counseling help is always available to the pastor and his family
The Missing Community
Our problems come when we are missing the true, authentic, functioning body of Christ (Ephesians 4, 1 Cor 12, Heb. 3:12-13)
Pastoral candidates come from a seminary environment where, for years, they were not pastored and had, at best, a casual relationship with a local church. They are now called by a church that doesn’t really know them. This is all complicated by the fact that they are not joining the church, per se, they are being called to lead it. It is an unbiblical and unhealthy culture.
The ministry of the Word in the life of a local church happens on two levels:
- The public ministry of the Word, making up the formative discipline of the church. It happens in groups and therefore must be generalized.
- The private ministry of the Word, making up the corrective discipline of the church. It takes the individual truths (that everyone is exposed to) and applies them with specificity to the lives of individual believers.
Private ministry of the Word depends on public ministry of the Word to give people their formative foundation, and the public ministry looks to the private ministry to counsel people into understanding the specific practical life implications of what they have been learning publicly.
Ephesians 4 – pastor equips the church – the church encourages one another.
1 Cor 12 – the body is unable to function without the other members; “that the members may have the same care for one another.”
Col. 3:15-17 – Paul envisions a well-prepared body of Christ with the Words of God dwelling in their hearts, teaching and admonishing one another. It is an “all-of-God’s-people-all-the-time” paradigm.
Teaching helps us see life God’s way
Admonishing is helping you see yourself God’s way.
There is a cycle of danger:
- Unhelpful assumptions – the church assumes that because he is a pastor/biblical scholar, he can live without the normal protections and encouragements that apply to any other believer.
- Unrealistic expectations – the church does not expect him to deal with sin, get tempted, get discouraged, or be lazy. They expect him to be joyful, be a model husband, be content with significantly less pay than most people with his level of education, have a perfect family, etc.
- Reticence to speak with candor – a culture of isolation develops and both the body and the leaders will be reticent to speak honestly to the pastor about personal matters.
- Absence of timely intervention – the daily exhortation of Heb. 3:13 goes lacking, the church does not invite the pastor into a culture of loving candor and allows him to live in functional separation.
- Loss of personal respect in the face of personal revelations – the pastor begins to live in a continual state of spiritual hiding and growing separation. When he finally confesses weaknesses, everything come crashing down.
- Dysfunctional systems of restoration – The church is tempted to simply replace the man they have lost confidence in.
- Lack of discernable pastoral repentance and growth – It is a very sad thing when a pastor moves form place of ministry to place of ministry and does not grow as a result of the things that a God of grace has exposed. (Sin uncovered should always be viewed as grace given)
- Carrying problems to the next site of ministry – self explanatory
- Dishonor to Christ’s name
When we enter ministry, we expect spiritual warfare from without. What we do not anticipate is the battles that go on in our own hearts – battles that are unique to or intensified by pastoral ministry.
Ministry is war:
- War for your heart (between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God, fought on the field of your heart). The danger is that we are often seeking to get things out of ministry that we should not be seeking.
- War for the gospel – We have to fight for the gospel to be the resting place of our hearts. When I forget the gospel, I begin to seek from situations, people and positions what I have already been given in Christ (identity, hope, security, well-being, meaning, and purpose).
Two competing kingdoms
Everything I do in ministry is done in allegiance to one of two kingdoms: either the kingdom of self or the kingdom of God.
- I will be treasure oriented in my ministry – We have been designed by God to be value oriented, purpose-motivated beings. God gave us this capacity because he designed us for the worship of him. So what you do in ministry is always done in pursuit of some kind of treasure. The battle of treasure is all about working daily to keep as important what God says is important in our personal lives and ministries. Pastor, what is important to you in ministry?
- Your ministry treasure will command the allegiance of your heart. The war of treasure is fought at the center of what makes you think what you think, and desire what you desire.
- What captures the allegiance of your heart will will shape your ministry actions, reactions and responses. Worship isn’t first an activity, worship is first our identity. That means that everything you and I say and do is a product of worship – so the treasure that rule our hearts will control the things that we do.
- My functional treasures are always attached to either the kingdom of self or the kingdom of God. Christ really does give us only two options (Matt. 6:19-24). This is a very helpful diagnostic for pastoral ministry: The absence of what causes us to want to give up and quit? The pursuit of what causes us to feel overburdened and overwhelmed? The fear of what causes us to be tentative and timid, rather than courageous and hopeful? The “need” for what robs our ministry of its beauty and joy? The desire for what sets up tensions between ministry and family?
Could it be that many of the stresses of ministry are the result of our seeking to get things out of ministry that it will never deliver? Are we asking ministry to do for us what only the Messiah can do?
** A twenty dollar bill does not have twenty dollars worth of intrinsic value ($20 worth of paper or ink). It has the value that has been assigned to it by the U. S. Treasury department. Thus it is with most of the things that we treasure, Few of them have intrinsic value. No, most of them have assigned value. They have value because we have named them as valuable.
We do this all the time. We are constantly naming some things as important and other things as not so important. So the number of twenty dollar bills attached to something will determine my actions: I will take that job or buy those clothes if there is an appropriate number of $20 bills attached to the work.
In pastoral ministry, it is very hard to keep important in our hearts what Christ says is important. It is critical to understand that my ministry will always be either propelled or victimized by what I treasure.
Crucial Treasure shifts
- Identity: moving from identity in Christ to identity in ministry
- Maturity: defining spiritual well-being not by the mirror of the Word, but by ministry
- Reputation: shifting from a ministry shaped by zeal for the reputation of Christ to a ministry shaped by hunger for the praise of people
- Essentiality: moving from rest in the essential presence of Jesus the Messiah to seeing oneself as way too essential to what God is doing
- Confidence: shifting away from a humble confidence in transforming grace to overconfidence in one’s own experience and gifts
We must always remember that:
- We live in a dramatically fallen world – we are located in a place where some kind of trouble greets us everyday
- The big battle is fought in your heart – the biggest trouble is located inside of me, not outside of me
- You will run somewhere for refuge – to people, to entertainment, to God your Father
- Where you are heading trouble will be no more – eschatological hope.
“I don’t think anything excites me anymore” (the head of a national ministry)
We are frequently told, indeed, that the great danger of the theological student lies precisely in his constant contact with divine things. They may come to seem common to him because they are customary. As the average man breathes air and basks in the sun without ever a thought that it is God in his goodness who makes the sun to rise on him, though he is evil, and sends rain to him, though he is unjust, so you may come to handle even the furniture of the sanctuary with never a thought above the gross earthly materials of which it is made… God forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of God! B. B. Warfield (p. 113-114)
Have you quit being moved and thankful? The beauty that once attracted you is still there to see, but you do not see it – and you cannot celebrate what you fail to see. Could there be any greater danger in ministry than that the one leading the ministry would lose his awe?
Psalm 145 gives insight. Every human being has been hardwired by God to live in daily awe of him. One of the central missional gifts of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to give people back their awe of God. The spiritual danger here is that when the awe of God is absent, it is quickly replaced with awe of ourselves of of creation/creatures.
Theology is vitally important, but whatever awe of theology we have is dangerous if it produce in us a practical awe of God. Awe of God puts ministry strategies, ministry gifts and experience, music and liturgy, buildings and property, history and traditions in their proper place. We do not trust in any of these, but in the God of awesome glory.
Awe of God will capture you and your ministry or you will be captured by some kind of created awe.
It is hard to give away what you do not possess yourself. How are you doing with your awe of God?
The practical ministry fruit of the awe of God includes:
- Humility – in the face of his glory I am left naked with nothing whatsoever to hold before myself or others
- Tenderness – no one gives more grace than one who knows his deep need of it
- Passion – whatever I am facing, the expansive glory of God gives me reason to get up in the morning. My passion for ministry is not about how I am being received by men; it flows out of the reality that I have been received by him.
- Confidence – that inner sense of well-being and capability in ministry, is not untoward self confidence, but comes from a knowledge of whom I serve
- Discipline – self-discipline, essential to ministry, is rooted in worship
- Rest – the knowledge that there is nothing too hard for the God of glory that allows me the surety to rest in my ministry work
How do you get your awe back? Run to the father and confess your awelessness. Ask him to open your eyes to his glory. Determine to spend a portion of everyday meditating on his glory. Cry out for the help of others. Be grateful.
Is what we do out of faith or mostly out of fear?
- In a fallen world there are reasons to be afraid. My life will be shaped in some way by the brokenness of my world. Biblical faith does not require me to deny reality, and fear can sometimes be a healthy thong.
- In relationships with flawed people there are reasons to be afraid. Everyone I minister to and with is a flawed human being still in need of redemption.
- Fear can be a very good and godly thing when it causes me to be watchful and to protect the people in my ministry from the dangers of real evil.
- Fear can be an ungodly and dangerous thing when it overwhelms my senses and distorts my thinking.
- Fear is only ever conquered by fear – Awe of God is the solution here. It is only the fear of God that has the spiritual power to overwhelm all the horizontal fears that can capture my heart.
Four Debilitating pastoral fears:
- Fear of me – self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. In this case, my mind in on my inadequacies and not on the adequacy of God
- Fear of others – I cannot allow myself to be so sensitive to the opinions of others that I am unable to lead. “Because all the people you minister with and to are still dealing with indwelling sin, relationships and ministry with them will be messy. People will hurt you and damage your ministry. People will demand of you what they should not demand and respond to you in ways they should not respond. In the middle of this, particular people, those who are influential and vocal, will loom larger than they should in your thoughts and motives. They will be afforded more power to influence you and the way you do ministry than they should. Rather than working for the glory of God, you will be tempted to work for their approval… your ministry is being corrupted by an ancient human fear – the fear of man.”
- The fear of circumstances – There is a constant unpredictability to life and ministry. I have to be very disciplined when it comes to what I do with my mind. Romans 4 tells us of Abraham, that he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb (faith does not deny reality; rather it is a God-focused way of considering reality), but he meditated on God and he actually grew stronger in his faith, even though nothing in his circumstances had changed yet.
- Fear of the future – I always live and minister in the hardship of not knowing. Not knowing is hard. The more I concentrate on the future, the more I give way to the fear of the future and the more I’ll be confused and de-motivated in the here and now.
So where do we go from here?
Fear is a daily battle and there are moments when all of us get captured. What should I do about fear?
- Humbly own my fears – Fear is never defeated by denying it’s existence. Own my fear and run to the only One who is able to defeat it.
- Confess those places where fear has produced bad decisions and wrong responses – allow vertical awe replace horizontal fear.
- Pay attention to my meditation – What grabs my attention when I am driving or when I have a few quiet moments? I can choose what I think.
- Preach the gospel to myself – in this way I am not motivated by human success, respect, and acclaim but from plenteous grace, which I could never have earned.
Mediocrity in ministry is not a schedule or laziness problem. It is a theological problem. The standards I set for myself and ministry are directly related to my view of God. If I know that it is my job as a pastor to pass this glory and beauty of God down to another generation, then I am aware that it is not possible to do this without daily viewing the grandeur of God.
One could argue that every worship service is little more than a glory war. Will the hearts of this group be captured by the one glory that is truly glorious or by the shadow glories of the created world? I am speaking to people whose hearts that are fickle and distracted, seduced by other glories. The are living in the light of God’s glory everyday and yet are capable of being functionally blind to its splendor. I am speaking to the single lady who thinks a young man will deliver to her the happiness she has been seeking. Sitting before me is the teenager who can’t think beyond the glories of Facebook or Twitter or a video game. There is the middle aged man who is captured by the glory recapturing his youth or the wife who is wondering if she will ever experience the the glory of the kind of marriage she has dreamed about. There are those gathered for worship who are distracted by grief, anger, discouragement, loneliness, fear, frustration because the glories they have looked to for their meaning, purpose and inner happiness have once again failed them. Even their wonderful experiences did not leave them satisfied, so they sit there empty, hurt and confused.
They come into worship in the middle of a war that they probably don’t recognize. It’s a war for the allegiance, a war for the worship of their hearts. In ways they don’t understand, they have again and again asked the creation to give them what only the Creator can provide. They have asked people, situations, locations and experiences to give them life, security, identity, hope – to heal their broken hearts… they have asked these things to be their savior. It is a glory war, and wounded soldiers sit before us.
So it is a high and holy calling to sit in the midst of this glory war commissioned to be one of God’s primary tools to recapture the wondering hearts of battle-scarred and battle-weary soldiers. To these beaten-down ones, I have been called to as an ambassador of glory. To speak into their confusion with gospel clarity and authority. To represent the glorious king who alone is able to rescue, heal, redeem, transform, forgive, deliver and satisfy.
If my heart is in functional awe of the glory of God, and I am aware of this ever-present glory war, then there will be no place in my heart for poorly prepared, badly delivered, functional pastoral mediocrity. If the awe of God does not reign in my heart, then that awe won’t shape my preparation for and delivery of the ministry God has called me to.
Mediocrity is a heart problem. We have lost our commitment to the highest levels of excellence because we have lost our awe. Awe amnesia is the open door that admits mediocrity. A commitment to excellence is a a commitment to display the glory of his presence and grace as powerfully and clearly as I can each time his people are gathered. It means that I have experienced the awe of God in such a way that I have a zeal to display and communicate it to others. I am never just doing my duty or going through the motions.
Excellence in ministry flows from a heart that is in holy, reverential, life-rearranging, motivation-capturing awe of the Lord of glory. It is when I am in awe at the reality that I have, by grace alone, been attached to what is truly excellent in every way that I want to be an ambassador of that excellence. I will be committed to the discipline of preparation. I will commit myself to look upon the beauty of the Lord and regularly confess my sins. I will integrate and personalize the biblical passages and theology I am studying. I will craft how I communicate these truths to the people God has entrusted to my care – a helpful turn of phrase, a personal illustration, a practical point of application.
If awe amnesia has produced a comfortableness with mediocrity in ministry, which is a functional contradiction of the glories you celebrate, don’t wallow in shame. Run to your Redeemer. Confess your sin and ask forgiveness. Bask in His glorious grace, and commit yourself, by His grace, to the disciplines of excellence that will only ever happen as he rescues you from yourself and gives you back your awe once again.
Between the Already and the Not Yet
When I think I have arrived and have quit being convicted and broken by my own weaknesses and sins, I will begin to make bad ministry decisions. When I consider myself a law keeper, my preaching and dealings with people is based more on law than gospel. I will have no problem laying unbearable law burdens on others. Then I cease to become part of what God is doing and instead I am in the way of it.
The key thing to remember is that, as a pastor and teacher, I am in the middle of my own sanctification. I am not yet free of sin and it’s attendant dangers. If we do not look at ourselves with an honest assessment from the reflection of the mirror of the Word, we will have a distorted view, as through carnival mirrors. Here are a few examples:
- The mirror of ministry knowledge – Bible knowledge is a vital, essential, irreplaceable thing; but it must not be confused with true faith or personal spiritual maturity. For example, I may be mature in my understanding of God’s sovereignty but live a life of fear, because in my immaturity I have attached my security more to my control than to God’s wise rule.
- The mirror of ministry experience – Experience will teach me some things, but it simply has no power to make me holy.
- The mirror of ministry success – It is Christ alone who builds his church. this is humbling because I have to admit that i have no power whatsoever to change anyone or advance God’s kingdom. So ministry success is always more about the Lord we serve than about us.
- The mirror of ministry celebrity – Since the people who are affected by my ministry do not know me in my private domain, they cannot know my heart. I must take their congratulatory words as well meant but lacking in accuracy and, therefore, spiritual helpfulness.
Do I examine myself daily by humbly placing myself before the one mirror I can trust, the Word of God?
When I think I have arrived:
- I will not think I need what I am preaching.
- I will not be open to the ministry of the body of Christ and I will cut myself off from its protecting and sanctifying ministry.
- I will expect of others the perfection I think I have achieved (if I think I am keeping the law, I will be comfortable throwing the law at others).
- I will feel feel qualified to have more control than I have. Pride causes me to hunger for power and collect ministry allies (and at the same time, ministry enemies). Ministry has just become politics and Jesus has left the building. A kingdom is being built, but not the kingdom.
- I will not feel the need for daily communion with Christ.
- I will take credit for successes that only grace can produce
- I will feel entitled to what I could never earn or achieve.
- I will feel less than watchful and protective when it comes to temptation and sin
- I will load more on mu ministry than I can responsibly handle.
Pastoral ministry is always shaped, formed, directed and driven by worship. Your ministry will be shaped by worship os God or worship of you or, for most of us, a troubling mix of both.
We need to see Jesus as our model of pastoral humility (see John 13:1-17).
This stunning act of humble love came, not from Jesus’ forgetting who he was, but from him remembering who he was. Genuine humility flows from security. Jesus calls us sometimes to do the lowest, most debased thing so that his kingdom can come and his
will and work can go forward.
If I think that there is kingdom work that is beneath us, we think that because we are identity amnesiacs. And there is a short step between forgetting our assigned position and inserting ourselves into God’s position.
The damaging fruit of self-glory:
- Self-glory will cause me to parade in public what should be kept in private (as the Pharisees did)
- Self-glory will cause me to be way too self-referencing. Proud people tend to talk about themselves a lot. They do not reference weakness; they do not confess sin.
- Self-glory will cause me to talk when I should be quiet (control the conversation)
- Self-glory will cause me to be quiet when I should speak (not attribute to grace what should be)
- Self-glory will cause me to care too much about what people think about me. I will fall into ministering the gospel of Christ, not for his glory, but for mine.
- Self-glory will cause me to care too little what people think about me. I do not think that I need my thoughts, ideas, attitudes, motives evaluated by others.
- Self-glory will cause me to resist facing and admitting my sins and weaknesses. My inner lawyer will rise up in my own defense.
- Self-glory will cause me to struggle with the blessings of others.
- Self-glory will cause me to be more position oriented than submission oriented. I can never be an ambassador and a king at the same time.
- 10)Self-glory will cause me to control ministry rather than delegate ministry.
In God’s mercy, he will crush my crown under his own feet. My Lord is not just after the success of my ministry; he is working to dethrone me as well.
Some pastors are obsessed with their calling and they never truly step away from ministry into their private life.
It is possible to get excited about the scriptures, not because I have myself in mind, but because I have future hearers in mind. I am not being informed, confronted, convicted, changed personally – in fact, the passage may have minimal impact on me. I am rather reading and getting excited because I am acquiring more content to share with others.
There is a battle in our minds between private study/worship and the necessity of adequate preparation. It is possible for me to jump up, ready to hit the ministry schedule and yet take not time to cultivate a personal relationship with the Lord of the ministry. I can be a leader of a gospel ministry, yet feel little need for the gospel in my daily life. I can neglect consistent habits of personal worship, not because I am lazy, but because I need to prepare for some upcoming ministry. I fail to see that my personal and ministry lives are intimately connected. This is a dangerous dichotomy.
Perhaps it is a combination of fear and gratitude that drives us to our knees and into communion with Christ each morning. It is when I face the fickleness of my heart that I feel the need to have my heart recaptured each morning. My time with God directly effects my time with people.
I am one person – the boundaries of my life and ministry are not separate and defined. I do not become a different person when I step into some kind of ministry function. I only have one heart and it goes with me wherever I go.
In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul tells young Timothy to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing, you will save both yourself and your hearers “. The private nurture of my own heart as a pastor is not only a humble confession of need and a confession of my love for my Savior, it is also a statement of love for the people that God has placed in my care. Private worship is one of God’s means of rescuing me and the people God has placed under my care.
- There are very important moments in local church ministry when the church is blessed and protected not because the person leading knows all the right things but because that person brings the right heart to the moment.
If I am ever going to be an ambassador, before people, in the hands of a God of glorious and powerful grace, I must die. Private devotional time is a tool in God’s hands to bring about the death of what needs to die in me.
- Consistent personal worship will give me an accurate view of God. It makes God big in my eyes again
- Consistent personal worship will give me an accurate view of the world. The world becomes smaller in my eyes. My hope that the world will fulfill me is recalibrated.
- Consistent personal worship will kill my often inaccurate view of myself. It causes me to think soberly, in light of God’s grace gifts (Romans 12:3-6).
- Consistent personal worship helps give me an accurate view of role God’s grace in my life
I must think of myself, not only as an instrument of the work of God, but as a recipient. If I am not a consistent recipient of God’s grace, these things begin to happen:
- The Bible ceases to be a mirror
- Worship morphs from private quest to public duty
- Christianity becomes a system rather than a relationship
- My desire to master content is not coupled with craving
- I have more concern for the sin of others than for my own
- The pride of knowing replaces the humility of being known.
There is a way in which all of us have a separation in our lives between the more pristine public persona and the more messy details of our private lives. This separation is most frequently in the mundane, everyday areas of our lives.
This is where we need to preach the gospel to ourselves. The issue lies in the way we handle all of the legitimate concerns (that which comes upon me daily, the care of the churches). It is right to carry the responsibility for these things, but I must not let any of them rule my heart or become “pastoral idolatries”. These idols must be repented of and the gospel applied to my heart.
I need to remember:
- I do not have to be anxious that I will never measure up, because Jesus has perfectly measured up on my behalf.
- Because grace allows me to get my identity and security vertically, I am freed from building them on what people think of me.
- I do not have to be haunted by what may be exposed about me, because everything that could ever be exposed has already been covered by the blood of Jesus.
- My weakness are not in the way of productive ministry, but my delusions of independent strength are.
- I can rest assured that God did not get a wrong address when he called me into ministry. My spiritual neediness does not compromise the message of the gospel; rather, my need preaches it.
- There is only one Messiah, and I am definitely not him!
Do I really live as though I think of myself (having been called to pastor others) as a person who is in need of pastoring?
So, Now What?
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 5:6-11
Five directives from this passage that are a practical way of living out the message of this book:
- Know your place – your ministry will never be about you, because it is about him
- Rest in God’s care – allow him to quiet your ministry anxiety
- Take your ministry seriously – do not forget the existence of real, personal evil and be vigilant to resist it in the grace of God
- Resist, no matter what – “the same kinds of suffering are being experiences by your brotherhood throughout the world” – you are neither alone nor unique in what you are suffering.
- Trust God’s sanctifying grace – and that he has dominion forever!