WHAT NOT TO DO IN MINISTRY
By Will Graham
Ministry is no laughing matter. It is a weighty calling; not a profession. All true ministers know this to be so. The servant of the Lord must minister due to a mighty flame ignited in his soul by the Holy Ghost. Ministry is divine business; and in this sense, it cannot be approached with a light spirit. George Whitefield preached, “As God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere and upright ministers, so the greatest curse that God can possibly send upon a people in this world is to give them over to blind, unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm and unskilled guides.”
A significant portion of twenty-first century ‘evangelical’ ministry leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. We see Christian leaders and movements completely enamoured with numbers, fame and success. Contemporary preachers are forever dreaming up new schemes and strategies to con goats into joining the church instead of faithfully declaring the whole counsel of God. Whatever happened to biblical ministry? It seems like Whitefield’s aforementioned ‘curse’ has come upon us.
Just about every Christian webpage nowadays offers some kind of tips for effective ministry, but what I want to do briefly in this article (from my own experience) is to point out three great dangers for Christian ministers and why we must avoid them like the plague. What are they? I identify them as ‘being touchy’, ‘being a know-it-all’ and ‘being a dictator’.
Firstly, being ‘touchy’ means being overly sensitive. If you are going to be a minister of Christ, you cannot get easily offended. The weak in faith are usually quick to stumble. But Christian leaders cannot behave in this fashion. Theirs to be a mature and godly character that seeks the benefit of others: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). There is nothing uglier than meeting a supposedly ‘spiritual leader’ with an unstable character. I have lost count of the amount of so-called ministers that get upset (or even angry) because someone pokes fun at their age, hair colour, nationality, favourite football team or some other nonsensical vanity. If that’s your case, then for the love of God I beg you to grow up! Let me give you an example: I’m British, but I preach throughout Spain. Let’s say someone makes an insulting politico-cultural comment about Britain. What do I do about it? Do I weep about it? Do I write home about it? God forbid! I get over it! I forget about it! Britain isn’t Jesus. I have more important things to be crying about.
People trust in solid men with a noble character. That’s why the personal requirements for New Testament ministers are set so high. It’s these touchy people that make life a constant headache. They always misinterpret everything you say as an assault upon their character. You’re afraid of talking to them. If you say ‘yes’ they cry; if you say ‘maybe’ they whinge; if you say ‘no’ they grumble. You cannot win with them. I am convinced that touchy people are Satan’s missionaries. There is nothing more Christ-less than this fiercely egotistical, selfish, pity-me, I’m-the-centre-of-the-world-and-I-want-everyone-to-know-about-it attitude! If you’re one of these touchy people I’m describing, here’s a question for you: what have you got to moan about? There are whole nations starving to death in Africa and masses of helpless young girls being gang-raped all throughout Asia: and yet, you keep complaining? Shame on you! Our Lord was crucified in the most horrific manner and He uttered not a word of complaint. If you want to serve God, then kiss goodbye to that cry-baby spirit once and for all!
The second great danger I see for ministers is being a ‘know-it-all’. I have lost respect for people who have forgotten how to say: ‘I don’t know’. Let’s be clear: if you don’t know a thing, you don’t know it. We’re only human. Be honest. People will respect you for it. Just this afternoon I took a stroll with an elderly couple after church, and the husband was particularly well-informed about the history of the town in which we found ourselves. He enthusiastically recited dates, quotes, places and names off by memory. He was able to answer almost everything I asked him about the town. However, when I finally asked him something that he didn’t know, he simply replied: ‘I don’t know’. That phrase alone showed me how genuine and truthful the dear man was.
The root of the ‘know-it-all’ is pride. He wants people to recognize how clever he is and how much more he knows than anyone else. It’s precisely this type of knowledge that, “puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Now, I make no excuses for ignorance in the ministry. Every servant of God must have certain things crystal clear before ever stepping into a Christian pulpit i.e. the verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the double nature of Jesus Christ, salvation by faith alone, etc. After all, these are the core issues of our biblical confession. But no-one’s ever going to master every single branch of learning in the arts and sciences. So relax! You don’t have to have an answer for everything. You’re not God. Maybe you’re an expert in Reformation studies, but you don’t have the first inkling about the Patristic period in church history. That’s no problem! God can still use you.
The third danger is ‘being a dictator.’ I suppose this point requires little elaboration. In the West ministers are clever enough not to fall into the trap of being overtly authoritarian leaders; but many are only too willing to employ emotional/ spiritual manipulation and blackmail in order to force people into doing things and to get their own way. Leviticus 25:46 states: “Over your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigour (cruelty).” If you ever have to resort to calculating mind games and guilt-trips to keep people in your church, I can assure you that you are light-years away from the will of God. And if you ever have to offer special ministry posts to people to keep them coming to the house of God on a Sunday, you need to fall on your knees before God and repent from such wicked perverseness. The church is Christ’s; not yours!
I’ve stood in churches where posters of the preacher have plastered the walls. The whole thing stunk of a personality cult. Too many are preaching to get famous and praised by the congregation. Have we forgotten that the pulpit exists solely for the exaltation of Christ? The only One authorized to dictate in God’s house is His blessed Holy Spirit. Remember that God hasn’t called you to be a dictator. You are to be the servant of all.
The root element of these three ‘leadership sins’ which I have described is the oldest sin in the book: pride! That’s it: rotten, stinking pride! You’re ‘touchy’ because you’re full of yourself; you’re a ‘know-it-all’ because you’re full of yourself; and you’re a ‘dictator’ because you’re full of yourself. It’s pride the whole way through.
How, then, do we go about reversing this trend? We don’t need to call psychologists or philosophers to help us in our quest. The only way to get back to a Spirit-filled leadership is by following the pattern set to us by our Triune God. The Trinity is the foundation of all our church life, including leadership. And our Godhead is characterized by pure selflessness and eternal love. We see this most clearly in the Trinity’s saving mission. When we start to marvel again at the greatness and glory of our Triune God; our touchy, know-it-all and dictatorial attitudes will smash to pieces like a pot of clay. And once again, we will serve all of God’s people in the light of the eternal glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And that, my brethren, is no laughing matter. That is pure glory!