What’s Plaguing Pastors?
This week our ministry sponsored an amazing regional conference designed to encourage and equip pastors to serve Christ with firm biblical conviction. Church leaders from 25 states, Canada, and Mexico gathered with a resolute focus on “prayer and the ministry of the word” as the paramount priorities for New Testament ministry. Words cannot describe all the Lord accomplished in our hearts, and only eternity will record the fruit that will continue as a result.
One breakout session featured a panel of experienced pastors who spoke about longevity and endurance in ministry. At the end of the session, one participant asked about the primary threats against pastoral health. The panelists offered many wise insights. As the moderator, I was enriched by their words and also inspired with some clarity about modern-day ministry.
A Time to Understand and Pray
It is good to remember that the month of October is Pastor Appreciation Month. We all should understand the unique challenges pastors face as we pray for them with a firm hope in God’s power to strengthen and sustain them. While some ministry landmines have been constant for millennia, the current technological age has accentuated certain vulnerabilities. Four specific “plagues” of modern-day ministry came to mind this week. A “plague” can be defined as “something which causes continual trouble or distress.”
The Plague of Ambition – Television, the internet, and social media have created a perception of the “haves” and “have nots” in ministry. Two thousand years ago Paul wrote about the call to leadership. He stated, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). Paul reminded potential leaders that the office and calling were noble because many shied away from the sacred role. In that day, persecution was rampant and pastors would often be the first to lose their lives for the gospel. Leaders were also the target of attacks from false teachers. Of course, they were – and are – a special bulls-eye of Satan.
Today, many who desire the “office” of church leadership can be driven by other aspirations. Sadly, the “heroes” of the faith today are not martyrs but mega-stars. They are famous pastors who lead mega-churches and write mega-seller books and have a mega-following on social media. The meaning and function of a “pastor” has been tainted by a noxious notoriety.
The meaning and function of a “pastor” has been tainted by a noxious notoriety.
The word “ambition” is from the Latin and means “campaigning for promotion” and suggests social visibility and approval, popularity, peer recognition, the exercise of authority over others.[i] J. Oswald Sanders notes that “in many cultures Christian leadership carries prestige and privilege” and “people aspire to leadership for reasons quite unworthy and self-seeking.” Conversely, he notes, “Ambition that centers on the glory of God and welfare of the church is a mighty force for good.” [ii]
We can pray for our leaders, that God would expose any motive that is not centered on the example of Jesus. We can intercede from Mark 10:42-44, asking the Lord to deliver our leaders from a pursuit of authority and instead produce the fruit of authentic servanthood.
The Plague of Distraction – The information age and availability of massive amounts of content on various “devices” has exponentially increased the diversity and regularity of distraction. I say it often: “The devil does not have to destroy pastors; he simply has to distract them.” The enemy is always launching weapons of mass distraction on church leaders today. A distracted leader will experience a diluted focus, diminished influence, and eventually a decimated ministry.
The devil does not have to destroy pastors; he simply has to distract them.
This is why our global fellowship of pastors is focused on Acts 6:4. The early church leaders were quick to empower others to handle the breakdown of the widow-feeding program in Acts 6. Instead, they were resolute to devote themselves continually to “prayer and the ministry of the word.” This wisdom and focus is still essential today. (See www.64fellowship.com for more information.)
We should pray that our leaders will embrace clear, simple, and biblical priorities as they also have the courage to say “no” to lesser things. We should come alongside our pastors and help lift their load by taking on ministry that might otherwise overwhelm or divert them.
The Plague of Impurity – I remember sitting in a meeting of pastors listening to a national expert whose chief calling was to lead the charge against the destructive impact of pornography. This meeting occurred just as the internet was taking root in society. He announced with tears, “We have officially lost the battle.” With adult websites and on-demand smut, we now have garbage disposals in our kitchen but garbage distributors in our living rooms, our bedrooms, and our handheld devices.
…we now have garbage disposals in our kitchen but garbage distributors in our living rooms, our bedrooms, and our handheld devices.
We’ve all noticed the profusion of news reports describing shocking incidents of debauchery. Weekly reports of teachers having sex with students, child molestation, rape, and a whole array of perversion leave us numb. There is a direct parallel between the increase in these tragic offenses and the spread of pornography.
A generation ago a man had to search earnestly to find these “pleasures”. Today, the battle is to avoid them. Pastors are called to a higher standard of moral behavior, but are not immune to the influence and easy access to these snares. Paul’s admonition is more relevant than ever: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
We must pray for our church leaders’ purity and encourage their accountability. The enemy lurks at every turn.
Comparison – A century ago, the only way to compare your pastor with another pastor was to go on vacation. Today, it seems that every pastor in America is compared against a composite of the “best of the best.” They are expected to have the depth of John MacArthur, the cleverness of Chuck Swindoll, the pastoral empathy of Charles Stanley, the relevance of Francis Chan, the appeal of Louie Giglio, and the hair and teeth of Joel Osteen. It is a losing proposition that stirs discontent in the hearts of church members and defeat in the efforts of pastors. Comparison is an ugly game that no one ever wins.
A century ago, the only way to compare your pastor with another pastor was to go on vacation.
Comparison was the calling card of the false teachers in the church at Corinth. Paul wrote, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Comparison is an ugly game that no one ever wins.
We must pray for our church leaders to “live for an audience of one,” seeking to please Christ alone (2 Corinthians 5:9). We must encourage them to focus on the only opinion that matters – the eternal scoreboard. We can hope that every pastor will rest firmly in the truth of his identity in Christ and remain undaunted by the relentless and superficial standards of modern ministry.
Power Over the Plagues
Paul learned the power of grace in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We need to pray for abundant grace in the lives of our pastors. Titus 2:11-12 promises, “But the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” As the hymn declares, “Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.”
May God shower our leaders with amazing grace – grace that is more powerful than any pastoral plague.
Copyright © 2017 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] Oswald J. Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994) 15