Titling this blog-post was a challenge. . . and I’m still looking for something better than what I’ve used. But regardless of the title, there’s an issue common to all of us in ministry that requires a good dose of conscious-thought, honest self-evaluation, and healthy response. It has to do with how easily our good and pure intentions can get derailed, resulting in a motivational slide that can quickly undo us. Now that I’ve been in ministry for a good long time, I can say that the issue is universal. . . at least the enticement and temptation exist for us all. Way too many of us give in. I want to be on guard. I want to encourage the rest of you to do the same.
The issue hit me in the face this morning as I was continuing my journey through Richard Baxter’s book, The Reformed Pastor. Don’t let the title fool you or be off-putting. Baxter wasn’t talking about pastors teaching Reformed theology. Rather, he was passionate about seeing the compromised state of the ministry experience a reformation that resulted in a renewal in ministerial practice. If you haven’t read it, it’s good!
Baxter was writing over 350 years ago. . . but he wasn’t just writing for his own time. In fact, his words might even be more timely for us today. As I was reading I encountered this sentence: “The ministerial work must be carried on purely for God and the salvation of souls, not for any private ends of our own.” Oh man. I’m living in a world that caters to my self-obsessed sinful nature. . . a world that is constantly beckoning me to pursue celebrity, economic benefits, and a growing following. Social media and the reach it makes possible mixes with our human depravity in a spiritually lethal mix that is highly addictive and incredibly deceptive. Kids, moms, dads. . . and those of us in ministry. . . can gladly drink of this poison.
Take heed to what Baxter wrote: “A wrong end makes all the work bad as from us, how good soever it may be in its own nature. It is not serving God, but ourselves, if we do it not for God, but for ourselves. They who engage in this as a common work, to make a trade of it for their worldly livelihood, will find that they have chosen a bad trade, though a good employment. Self-denial is of absolute necessity in every Christian, but it is doubly necessary in a minister, as without it he cannot do God an hour’s faithful service. Hard studies, much knowledge, and excellent preaching, if the ends be not right, is but more glorious hypocritical sinning.”
And lest Baxter’s words from 350 years ago fail to ring true to your ears, consider what he quotes from Bernard of Clairvaux from one thousand years ago: “Some desire to know merely for the sake of knowing, and that is shameful curiosity. Some desire to know so that they may sell their knowledge, and that too is shameful. Some desire to know for reputation’s sake, and that is shameful vanity. But there are some who desire to know that they may edify others, and that is praiseworthy; and there are some who desire to know that they themselves may be edified, and that is wise.”
Lord, for those of us ministry. . . save us from ourselves.