We live in an age when, increasingly, people are asking the question, “Do we need to gather on Sunday mornings for worship anymore?” It’s a valid question. After all, isn’t there a plethora of good sermon content online? Aren’t there churches that actually offer online services? And isn’t it possible to read your Bible, pray, and perhaps listen/watch/read a sermon at home?
The truth is that you can experience some of what you get at church at home. You’ll likely find a better message by listening to one of the popular preachers. You’ll might carve out more time to pray by staying at home. And you can even roll up your sleeves and get involved in works of service in your local community rather than going to church. You can even worship and sing in your shower.
Yes, to all of those. This kind of attitude really misses the point when it comes to church. At church we hear a message preached from a pastor,. as well as pray, sing and serve. This is not all church is about. There is more than simply what we “get out” of a Sunday morning.
I call it body life. Some call it community. Regardless, you cannot replace that at home. You cannot get that at a conference. You cannot get that online. The truth is that God has wired us, created us, for community. When God ordained the Church, calling out a special people for His name, you will notice that God didn’t call a “person”, but called a “people.” Our American Western individualism causes us to skip right over the plural aspect of the Christian faith.
In the Old Testament, God called out a people. In the New Testament, God called out a people. Read the Psalms, notice how often worship is spoken of us in a corporate context. Notice how often you find third person plural pronouns. It’s the same in the New Testament. The commands, the calls to worship, the theology. It was delivered to a people, not to a person.
Why is this? We grow best in community. When God’s people are gathered from every nation, tribe and tongue, when people of diverse social standing and race and financial status are put together by the Holy Spirit, something wonderful and powerful happens. We change. We learn from each other. We become family.
This is why it is so important to not simply be a token participant in your local church, but a full-on, all-in member. That means you attend as often as you physically can. That means you go to most of the events. Even the potlucks and the seemingly non-essential things. Why? Because you’re part of a local body, part of a family. We are all sacrificing time, energy, passion, and the best of our lives for Christ. And, here’s the big one, when God’s people gather corporately every week to bow their heads and lift up their hands in worship, it says something. It’s a powerful statement about who God is and who we are. It sends a loud message to our part of the world. Yes there is a God and yes we consider Him transcendent and holy and worthy of our deepest adoration.
We miss something when we check in on Sunday and then check out right after the service. We miss when we stay home and watch it online. We miss something when do a lot of Christian, churchy type stuff, but don’t actually attend church on Sunday. We miss the life of the body of Christ.
Church isn’t simply for self-improvement (I got nothing out of the message last week. I wish the music wasn’t so loud. Did you see that kid in the third row who was making all that noise?). Church isn’t just so I can change and be better at my job and my marriage and my golf game. It’s body life. And if you’re not all in, my friend, you’re missing out.
Matthew 10:38-39, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (ESV).
Has God called you to the ministry?
After being raised by Christian parents and attending evangelical churches for 17 years (my whole life), I repented and trusted in Christ alone for my salvation. A year later, I believed I was called to ministry, made this belief public at Gum Springs Baptist Church in Walling, TN. Following a 10 month internship, and after being called to serve at another local church as youth pastor, Gum Springs ordained me to the gospel ministry. I can remember the excitement of my first ministry position. I was amazed at the privilege of preaching the gospel, and I couldn’t wait to help other Christians use their spiritual gifts, and make hundreds of disciples. My bubble was burst pretty quickly. I soon realized that not everyone in the church wanted to use their gifts to build up other Christians for God’s glory. I also realized that I had no power to bring sinners to repentance and faith in Christ.
So, you think you’re called to the ministry? Based on my experience, and in light of Scripture, here are three thoughts to consider before you enter the ministry:
1. Don’t be naive. The Greatest Pastor who ever lived and who still lives today–Jesus Christ–was abandoned by His church as thugs took him to be crucified. He was betrayed into the hands of His enemies by his friend (Judas), a friend who called Him “Teacher” (Matt. 26:48-49). Do not be surprised when something similar happens to you. It’s only a matter of time. Pick up your torture device (cross), deny yourself, and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24). All Christians and their leaders are called to this living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2).
2. Don’t expect more of yourself than God does. Don’t put some arbitrary worldly burden upon yourself concerning church growth. There is no “quota” in Scripture concerning church growth that you must reach every day, week, month, year, ten years, etc. You must remain faithful. Don’t make ministry harder than God does. Preach the Word and love God’s people.
Furthermore, don’t add qualifications for pastoral ministry to Scripture. As long as you meet the pastoral qualifications of Paul’s letters (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), and other believers affirm your qualifications, you’re qualified for pastoral ministry (Also see David Murray’s Article “Am I Called to the Ministry”). You don’t have to be like Jerry Vines, Steve Gaines, Matt Chandler, David Platt, etc. to be qualified for pastoral ministry. Strive to guard your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses, but don’t disqualify yourself from ministry if God says you’re qualified according to His Scripture.
3. Don’t base your joy on your ministry. You may lead a church that is growing and flourishing, a true picture of God’s will being done “on Earth as it is in Heaven”; or, you may lead a church that is more like the church of Corinth in Scripture: immoral, immature, selfish, etc. Enjoy God regardless. Don’t buy into the American Dream and read that back into Scripture. God has called you to come and die, to come and bleed for His glory, for the sake of leading His people (1 Thess. 2:7-8). Consider it a privilege and a joy, even though the average American would be miserable in your vocation. The joy of ministry is not found in what you can see and evaluate, but in Whom you serve. He is unchanging. Therefore, rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4).
A few years after I entered the ministry, a man older than me shared that he believed God had called him to preach. He wept as he shared how unworthy he was of this privilege. I rejoiced with him, encouraged him, left, and repented, for I had lost some of the awe of the privilege of shepherding God’s people. Ministry is a privilege; and God’s grace is sufficient to sustain you, regardless what your “thorn in the flesh” may be (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The “thorn in the flesh” reminds you why you’re in ministry to begin with (God’s all sufficient grace).
Moreover, pastors are called to minister in some of the most joyful and sorrowful times in people’s lives (weddings, funerals, in health, in sickness, etc). An emotional roller coaster can quickly ensue, and one’s heart can become calloused, lacking no real mutual joy or empathy (Rom. 12:9-21; 1 Cor. 13:1-8; 2 Tim. 2:22-26). You should never become too familiar with the joy or sorrow of other Christians that you are incapable of mutual joy or empathy. There needs to be a real sense that when other Christians weep, you weep; and when other Christians rejoice, you rejoice (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26). This reality is true for all Christians, but ministers are often more intimately involved in these joyful and sorrowful situations.
Knowing the above things are true, do you still want to enter the ministry? Then God has probably called you. Rejoice and minister for His glory alone.
I’m a young guy new at leadership, leading my church as Senior Pastor, leading my family as a husband and father of four, and leading (in some ways) as an author/writer/blogger. The world gets excited about young leadership, but quite often young leaders make mistakes because we lack the wisdom of our elders. Here are five common pitfalls I’m finding my for myself and I suspect other young leaders:
1) The Pitfall of Pride
The Scriptures both encourage and warn about young leadership. The encouragement is for the young to not let their youth get in the way of leading (1 Timothy 4:12) and yet it also warns against appointing immature people to weighty positions because they lack experience (1 Timothy 3:6). Perhaps our biggest and most pernicious temptation is pride. We’re young, we’re full of ideas, we feel we can change the world. That’s good, but it can also be bad when it seals us off from needed rebuke, wisdom of mentors, and constructive criticism. Young leaders must be wary, very wary, of the various ways that pride disguises itself as something good.
2) The Pitfall of Wanting Fame
Notice I didn’t say the pitfall of fame. I don’t think fame is inherently wrong. I don’t think all celebrity pastors or Christian leaders are off track, as some seem to. I think God allows some to gain favor and find numerical success. But what we young leaders must die to is our desire to be famous. This can be tricky, a sort of fine line between desiring our churches or organizations or platforms to grow and pursuing popularity with reckless abandon. I’m not always sure where that line is–it maybe different for every person. I do know that we must guard and check our hearts to see if our motivations for ministry are to glorify God and serve His people or to enrich ourselves.
3) The Pitfall of Comparison
It takes a while for a leader to gain a godly confidence in his life and purpose. In the meantime, there is a dangerous tendency to compare and measure ourselves against our peers. Authors obsess over their Amazon rankings and privately wonder why some others seem to have more success than they do. Pastors compare numbers with other pastors and compare their sermons with the sermons of those they admire. I’m speaking from ministry experience, but I’m sure it affects young leaders in a variety of vocations.
Comparison is deadly because it blinds us to God’s unique purpose for each individual life. So we must kill this daily.
4) The Pitfall of Anti-Establishment
Our growing up years shape us in more ways than we now, with experience in church, at home, school, and community that affect us in positive and negative ways. For many of us there is a tendency to base our leadership off of our childhood experiences. We can easily become the “not” version of that negative church/ministry/business experience. I’m seeing a lot of this in the books and blogs and sermons I hear from young leaders such as myself. Uber-contemporary pastors style themselves as different than the stodgy fundamentalists of their youth. Super-serious reformed guys style themselves as different than the substance-less contemporary leaders of their youth. And so it goes. There is nothing wrong with coming to grips with the parts of our upbringing or past that we would like to do differently in our leadership environments, but we hurt our effectiveness by cycling everything we do through the prism of what we considered wrong. We become reactionary and imbalanced. We become a movement defined more by being against what we perceive as wrong than being for what God has called us to do.
5) The Pitfall of Overstatement
There is a tendency among young leaders to think of themselves as “the movement that will finally fix everything wrong with the church.” The church is going one way but we know better and we’re leading it the other way. When we’re young we tend to see ourselves as the hero in our own story, the Gideon/David/Abraham warrior that God has sent to rescue His people. The truth is probably much more humble. Even if your book lands on the NYT bestseller list or your congregation swells in size in a few years, you’re likely just one of many God is using in this generation. That’s not to tamp down enthusiasm or drive or God-given ambition. But we must remember that our story is not our own. God is the author of our story and it is Him who is after glory. We’re really not as influential or great as we think we are. And that’s okay, because God loves us when we’re a bit broken.
In seminary, I took several pastoral ministry and Christian leadership classes. In those classes, the emphasis was more on programs than on understanding the task and responsibility of the Pastor or elders. Granted, programs have an important place in the Church in terms of helping guide people towards growth but they are not ultimate nor do they define the role of a pastor/shepherd. While what I learned in those classes has helped me but it also left me with a sour taste in my mouth and with the lingering question, “Why aren’t seminaries focusing on equipping men to be Pastors who are leaders with discernment?” As I began to think about this question, recently on social media I asked people to suggest a few topics they would like to see me write on. One of these topics was from a friend of mine who wanted to see me explore the biblical model of shepherd/overseer verses the CEO American “pastor” model.
At the outset, I wish the reader to understand I am not opposed to programs but I am opposed to them if by them the Church thinks that by having programs they are “equipping” people to do ministry. Jesus never came with a program, rather He came with a message of redemption and reconciliation. The task of Pastors and ministry leaders in the Church is to equip the people of God for the ministry of carrying forth the Gospel (Ephesians 4:11-15). Let me put it bluntly: If we fail in the task of equipping the people of God then we fail the Lord Jesus. Even so, the Lord’s ministry goes forth in spite of us because it is His ministry and He has called us to be part of His divine plan. Therefore, what I want to focus on in this article is a comparison/contrast of a CEO model of ministry verses the biblical model of shepherd/overseer, set forth three critical areas of ministry for the biblical shepherds, and then look at Jesus as the Good and Chief Shepherd over His people.
First, let me state as clearly as I can that I believe local churches should be lead by a plurality of male Pastor/elders that includes the Pastor and any male pastoral staff should be ordained by biblically qualified elders (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1).
The Pastor as CEO runs the organization and has his “hand” in everything. The Pastor as CEO is one of the biggest reasons why the American church is floundering. If the leadership of the local Church is unhealthy spiritually, then so will the people in that congregation. The Pastor as CEO focuses on managing people and programs but this places the shepherd primarily in a defensive posture rather than an offensive posture. By offensive I mean the only offensive weapon Christians have been given is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God which contains the message of the Gospel. The Pastor as CEO views his job from the angle of management rather than leadership. Rather than advancing the Kingdom of God, the Pastor as CEO is more interested to maintain what happened during the movement of the Spirit. In contrast to this, the Gospel calls us to carry forth its message so the lost may be saved and people may have the scales of spiritual darkness removed in order to know and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible’s strongest warnings are for those who lead the people of God astray. Now I am not saying that the Pastor as CEO will lead people away from God, but I am saying that if he doesn’t lead them closer to God then he is at most a bad shepherd and at worst a false shepherd. If the Kingdom of God is about advance then there is no way the Kingdom of God is simply about or solely concerned with maintenance or the status quo.
Psalm 23:1 says, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The Lord is the Shepherd of the people as a whole as well as over the individual members of the body of Christ. The Deity as shepherd motif is common in the Bible (Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Psalm 28:9; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Rev. 7:17; Psalm 49:14). The Bible also uses shepherd imagery to describe the work of those who lead God’s people (Ezek 34). Thus, when Paul and Peter directly exhorted the elders to do their duty, they both employed shepherding imagery. It should be observed these two apostles assigned the task of shepherding the local church to no other group or single person. Conversely, it was the responsibility of the elders in the local body. Paul reminds the Asian elders that God the Holy Spirit placed them in the flock as overseers for the purpose of shepherding the church of God (Acts 20:28). Peter exhorts the elders to be all that shepherds should be to the flock (1 Peter 5:2). We, then, must also view apostolic Christian elders to be primarily pastors of a flock, nor corporate executives, CEOs, or advisers to the pastor. Christian elders and their work are defined by the imagery of shepherding. As keepers of the sheep, New Testament leaders are to protect, feed, lead, and care for the flock’s needs.
Now let’s discuss the function and responsibility of the shepherd.
First, they protect the flock. A major part of the New Testament elders’ work is to protect the local church from false teachers and wolves in sheep’s clothing. As Paul was leaving Asia Minor, he summoned the leaders of the church in Ephesus for a farewell exhortation. The essence of Paul’s charge is guard the flock because wolves are coming:
Acts 20:17, 28-31: “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.”
According to Paul’s required qualification for eldership, a prospective elder must be rooted in Scripture in order to refute false teachers:
Titus 1:5-6, 9: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you– if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
The Jerusalem elders, for example, worked with the apostles to judge doctrinal error. Acts 15:6 notes, “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.” Like the apostles, the Jerusalem elders had to be knowledgeable in the Word so they could protect the flock from false teachers. Protecting the flock also includes seeking the lost, straying sheep, a critical aspect of shepherding that many church shepherds totally neglect. Moreover, protecting the flock involves disciplining sin, admonishing improper behavior and attitudes (1 Thess. 5:12), and stopping bitter infighting. Although the New Testament emphasizes the elders’ role in protecting against doctrinal error, the elders cannot neglect seeking the lost and correcting sinful behavior.
Protecting the flock is vitally important because the sheep are defenseless animals. They are utterly helpless in the face of wolves, bears, lions, jackals, or robbers. Phillip Keller, writing from his wealth of experience as a shepherd and agricultural researcher in East Africa and Canada, explains how unaware and vulnerable sheep are to danger, even inevitable death:
“It reminds me of the behavior of a band of sheep under attack from dogs, cougars, bears or even wolves. Often in blind fear or stupid unawareness they will stand rooted to the spot watching their companions being cut to shreds. The predator will pounce upon one then another of the flock raking and tearing them with too and claw. Meanwhile, the other sheep may act as if they did not even hear or recognize the carnage going on around them. It is as though they were totally oblivious to the peril of their own precarious position.”[i]
Guarding sheep from danger is clearly a significant aspect of the shepherding task. The same is true for church shepherds. They must continually guard the congregation from false teachers. Although the guarding ministry can perhaps been viewed as a negative aspect of shepherding, it is indispensible to the flock’s survival. Charles E. Jefferson, pastor and author of The Minister as Shepherd, underscores this vital point: “The journey from the cradle to the grave is hazardous if every man is surrounded by perils, if the universe is alive with forces hostile to the soul, then watchfulness becomes one of the most critical of all the pastor’s responsibilities.”[ii] Elders, then, are to be protectors, watchmen, defenders, and guardians of God’s people. In order to accomplish this, shepherd elders need to be spiritually alert and must be men of courage.
Second, a good shepherd is always on alert to danger. He knows the predator well and understands the importance of acting wisely and quickly. Moreover, shepherd elders must be spiritually awake and highly sensitive to the subtle dangers of Satan’s attacks. It’s hard, however, to be alert and ready to act at all times. That is why Paul exhorts the Asian elders to “be on the alert” (Acts 20:31). He knows the natural tendency of shepherds to become spiritually lazy, undisciplined, prayerless, and weary. The Old Testament proves that fact. The Old Testament prophets cried out against Israel’s shepherds because they failed to keep watch and be alert to protect the people from savage wolves. Israel’s leaders are vividly depicted by Isaiah as blind city watchmen and bum dogs:
Isaiah 56:9-12, “All you beasts of the field, come to devour– all you beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all. “Come,” they say, “let me get wine; let us fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.”
Shepherd elders must be watchful and prayerful. They must be aware of changing issues both in society and the church. They must educate themselves, especially in Holy Scripture, diligently guarding their own spiritual walk with the Lord while always praying for the flock and its individual members.
Who can calculate the damage done during the past two thousand years to the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ because of inattentive, naïve, and prayerless shepherds? Many churches and denominations that once stood for sound orthodox doctrine now reject every major tenant of the Christian faith and condone the most deplorable moral practices conceivable. How did this happen? The local church leaders were naïve, untaught, neglected communion with God, and became inattentive to Satan’s deceptive strategies. They were blind watchmen and dumb dogs, preoccupied with their own self-interests and comforts. When their seminaries jettisoned the truth of the gospel and the divine inspiration of the Bible, they were asleep. They naively invited young wolves in sheep’s clothing into their flocks to be their spiritual shepherds. Hence, they and their flock have been devoured by wolves.
Finally, shepherds must also have the courage to fight fierce predators. King David was a model shepherd of outstanding courage. I Samuel records David’s experiences as a shepherd protecting his flock from the lion and the bear:
1 Samuel 17:33-37, “And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth. But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!”
As we’ve looked at some of the tasks of a biblical shepherd/overseer we’ve seen the importance of teaching biblical doctrine to the people of God, protecting them from false shepherds to include the need for fervent prayer and courage. No Pastor/elder/overseer or ministry leader will fulfill his tasks perfectly. Every single ministry leader is a work of God’s grace in progress but that does not diminish the reality they are held to the high standard Paul sets in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. There is good news for you and I and that is Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11; 1st Peter 5:4).
John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” In contrast to the Pastor as CEO is Jesus the Good Shepherd who “lays down his life for the sheep”. The sense in which this is meant cannot apply to an ordinary sheep-herder, no matter how good he may be. Such a shepherd may indeed risk his life in the defense of his sheep (1 Sam. 17:34-36), but he does not really lay down his life meaning he does not yield his life as a voluntary sacrifice. Also, in ordinary life the death of the herder means loss and possible death for the herd. In this case the death of the shepherd means life for the sheep! The good shepherd gives Himself so His sheep may have eternal life!
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the benefit of the sheep, but the only way in which he can benefit the sheep, saving them from everlasting destruction and imparting everlasting life to them is by dying in their place, as we learn from Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:25. It is for the sheep and only for the sheep that the Good Shepherd lays down his life. The design of the atonement is definitively restricted. Jesus dies for those who had been given to Him by the Father, for the children of God, for true believers. This is the teaching of the Fourth Gospel (3:16; 6:37, 39, 40, 44, 65; 10:11, 15, 29, 17:6, 9, 20, 21, 24). It is also the doctrine of the rest of Scripture. With His precious blood Christ purchased His Church (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25-27), His people (Matt. 1:21), the elect (Rom. 8:32-35). Nevertheless, the love of God is wide as the ocean. The sheep are found everywhere. They are not confined to one fold (John 10:16). Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Ezek 34:23; Luke 15:3-6; Heb 13:20; 1st Peter 2:25; 5:4).
Every biblical shepherd and Christian is to look to Jesus. Every biblical shepherd will seek to teach you the truth from the Word of God and lead you closer to Jesus Christ. False shepherds will give you soothing words that will only lead you astray and away from the fencepost of God’s word. Only the Bible is God’s truth. Only the Bible and the teaching therein is given by God and profitable for teaching, correcting and reproof (2 Tim. 3:16). Therefore, the Pastor as CEO is ultimately a man-made concoction to contain the move of the Spirit of God among the people of God. The biblical shepherd knows this reality which is why they seek to be both teacher and student of the Word in order to train the people of God to be discerning and receive sound biblical teaching, rejecting unbiblical doctrine.
While some of the tasks of the biblical shepherd are now clear from our examination of them, there is still much more to this topic that we don’t have space to go through in this article. The biblical shepherd will lead the people of God within the context of the local Church to grow increasingly like their Savior by preaching and teaching them of the need for ongoing repentance, growth in the grace of God, evangelism, apologetics and missions so the Kingdom of God may go forth with great speed. The kind of shepherd who leads in this manner may not be the famous Pastor you hear or read about. Regardless of their level of fame or lack thereof, such a shepherd is faithful not only in his calling but most importantly to His Savior Jesus Christ and to the Gospel. Such faithfulness is what is needed in this hour. It is for shepherds like that I join a chorus of people in praying that God would continue to send humble and teaching shepherds to His church so His church may continue to grow, expand and be nurtured in His Word.
[i] Phillip W. Keller, A Shepherd Looks at the Great Shepherd and His Sheep (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), p.25.
[ii] Charles Edward Jefferson, The Minister as Shepherd (1912; repr. Fincastle: Scripture Truth, n.d.), p.43.
I come from a very conservative theological background and I maintain many of those same convictions. But one thing that has changed in my heart over the years is my attitude toward people from different ministry contexts and denominations. I used to think that if their bullet points didn’t line up with mine, then I was right and they were wrong.
I no longer think this way. That’s not to be confused with doctrinal slippage. I feel very strongly that doctrine is vital for the life of the church and that the attempts to weaken orthodoxy by some will hurt the cause of Christ going forward. But, quite often conservatives have a “guilty until proven innocent” outlook about Christian leaders. Some self-appointed watch-bloggers view any big, successful church movement with sarcastic skepticism, as if every mega-church pastor is out to fill seats, fill coffers, and build buildings. Sure there are charlatans on the evangelical scene. There are prosperity pastors who have watered down faith in order to find Christian fame. But unless we are God (which we are most definitely not) we are not in the position to judge their hearts. We can discern the output (teaching, books, etc). But it should be done with a humble heart, not the sort of sarcastic one-upsmanship that characterizes so many self-appointed watchdogs of truth.
The truth is that there are many evangelical “celebrities” who are famous because God has blessed their teaching ministries. They are solid preachers and teachers, selfless servants. We shouldn’t begrudge them their blessing. We shouldn’t mask our jealousy and contempt behind a facade of fake discernment. Let’s not assume the worst about our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
On the flip side, some measure orthodoxy only by numbers. I’ve heard a few mega-church pastors who, when garnering criticism for a particular approach, have no other defense except to say something like, “it worked, people came.” And they push away anyone with a helpful critique as a small-minded, unevangelistic doubter. This too is wrong and prideful. Numbers cannot be the only measure of spiritual purity, otherwise we’d be able to say that a fast-growing religion like Mormonism or Islam is God’s chosen instrument of grace in this age. And I don’t think orthodox Christians are prepared to do that.
Lastly, I think we have to look at successful mega-pastors as humans. This goes two ways. First, they are humans in that they will make mistakes of methodology and associations and wording and when they do, publicly, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and forgive them and move on. Let’s assume their hearts are right, critique their methods, but not castigate them as the the next great heretic. Secondly, let’s affirm their humanity by acknowledging that some of what a pastor offers is good and wholesome and some may not be. What I mean by this is that simply because we disagree with a pastor or speaker or leader in one area doesn’t mean we should throw out all of his teaching on every area. He’s human. I’m human. Some of what I write will be spiritually beneficial. Some may not. Eat the meat, throw away the bones.
Lastly, our discernment could be more balanced and less triumphant and snarky. I personally appreciate the work of guys like Trevin Wax and Kevin DeYoung. They are men who critique with humility, love and a biblical focus. They also rarely take on a subject that they don’t know. I never detect mean-spiritedness or a sense of gotcha in their work.I may not always agree with Trevin or Kevin (sounds like a new oldies radio show), but I wish more bloggers would adopt their pastoral tone.
One more thing: We would all do well to speak with grace and clarity online. We will give account one day for every word spoken or written. Even those anonymous snarky comments left on articles with which we disagree.