The Extraordinary Pastor – An Endangered Species
It was a real eye-opener recently to discover that a significant proportion of preachers are in it for themselves. This fact wasn’t gleaned from statistical analysis: at first I thought I was dreaming when I read Philippians 1.15. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.” This was what Paul concluded from observing how various Christian preachers behaved while the apostle was imprisoned: some laboured harder to break new ground for the Gospel, taking advantage of the publicity which Paul’s trial and imprisonment brought; others, regrettably, saw an opportunity, out of envy and rivalry, to stir up public antipathy and government hostility, and make Paul’s jail term torturous. It forced me to conclude, reluctantly, that the principle being taught is something along these lines: quite a number, if not the majority, of pastors, ministers, evangelists and preachers, for part of the time at least, are tempted to, or actually do, preach from unworthy motives, to make life harder for others, or increase their own success.
Can it really be true that a disinterested Christian leader is a kind of ‘lesser-spotted dodo’ and thus a very rare endangered species? As I kept on reading, I turned the page over and came to another comment about his understudy Timothy, in Philippians 2.20: “For I have no-one like him” – Timothy is rare if not unique – “..who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Perhaps Epaphroditus, as the very next example, is another who breaks the mould and bucks the selfish trend – that’s what I deduced from Philippians 2.30, “for he nearly died for the work of Christ.” Such men of course are not by nature selfless, at least in a God-honouring, servant-hearted way. They are, however, those who through union with the Saviour, share the mind and attitude of the exalted Saviour Jesus. Such men have learnt, through faith union with Christ, by drawing on Gospel grace, to imitate their Lord, according to Philippians 2.3, and resolve with the help of the Holy Spirit to“do nothing from rivalry or conceit.”
There was still something, however, which, like a giant rat of doubt, was gnawing and nagging away at my brain ..I kept asking myself the question whether it was fair, proper or charitable to make such a sweeping accusation (confession)? How would people react if you made such a charge? A safe place, I concluded [for fear of man, no doubt], that would bridle this wild stallion of ignorant excess, would be Matthew Henry’s Commentary. I pulled down the volume off the bookshelf, dusted it down, and had a quick scan at what he had to say, from a more sober, balanced, perspective.
“There were those who envied Paul’s reputation in the churches, and the interest he had among the Christians, and endeavoured to supplant and undermine him. They were secretly pleased when he was laid up in prison, that they might have the opportunity to steal away the people’s affection ..that they might gain to themselves the reputation they envied him”.
That sounds pretty clear, was what I thought to myself. Commenting on Timothy he adds this telling comment:
“It is the duty of ministers to care for the state of their people and be concerned for their welfare ..It is a rare thing to find one who does it naturally ..Note, seeking our own interest to the neglect of Jesus Christ is a very great sin, and very common among Christians and ministers.”
It seems, then, brothers, and fellow-bloggers, that my initial conclusion, regarding Philippians 1.15, was not suspect but rather spot-on: harsh though it may sound, the text plainly shows that the self-disinterested, Christ-minded servant-pastor, is actually rather uncommon, and the self-serving, flesh-minded, in-it-for-himself minister, is not the exception but rather the rule.
This truth, in fact, has an echo in our hearts – particularly when we start reflecting on how we react to criticism and applause, the prevalence of prayerlessness in our own lives, the factors that motivate the choices in our ministry, the rather sneaky delight when our name appears in lights, the many prayers we promise for our people but do not offer, our love of ease, comfort, self, we have to confess, that the flesh is very close.
Whether or not this carnal-mindedness has been a constant temptation, your modus operandi, or an occasional stain on conscience, the requisite course of action should be evident to God’s children – stubborn resistance, broken repentance, merciless mortification and humbled resurrection-renewal, through the Cross of Christ. We know the broken Saviour dwells with the crushed in Spirit – by grace, through faith, draw down fresh measures of sincerity and truth, and through our union with source and foundation of grace, take off selfish envy, pride, self-interest and rivalry, and re-dress our behaviour in the attitude of Christ.