Like so many things in Scripture, we can trace much of theology all the way back to the book of Genesis. Self-idolatry or self-worship is no exception. The serpent enticed Eve with words of self-exaltation: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” (Genesis 3:5). Becoming a god unto ourselves has always been the greatest temptation that Satan lays before humankind. He subtly emboldens us to take authority that belongs to God into our own hands. We often define this as rebellion, but it is far more than just rebellion, it is self-idolatry.
In essence, anything that comes between us and the one true God is idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7-22). Or, we could narrow it down even further and say that anything we love more than the Lord is an idol. God demands that we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices for His glory (Romans 12:1-2). Anything that hinders that self-sacrifice becomes idolatrous.
The Idolatry of Godless Wisdom
Leaning on our own wisdom is another form of self-idolatry (Romans 1:20-25). Paul speaks of those who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). They literally suppress the truth with their own sense of self-righteousness. This kind of self-idolatry leads to worthless thinking and God eventually gives this type of person over to complete foolishness and depravity (Romans 1:21-30).
An Idolatrous Conundrum!
Psalm 115 is probably the most poetically profound condemnation of idolatry found in Scripture. In an epic biblical smackdown, the psalmist describes idols as useless and those who make them and trust them as being just as ridiculous (Psalm 115:4-8). In other words, idolators become eerily like their idols. They make the idols and become like their own creation. They trust in idols and become like the demonic idols they trust. This begs the question: Are self-idolators really worshipping themselves? Or, have they just worshipped another idol for so long they have become like the ungodly object of their affection?
Either way, it would be wise for us all to recognize the signs of self-idolatry and remove any hint of it that might be found in our hearts.
10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry
You search you heart before you search the Bible (Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 18:30).
Your feelings matter more to you than your faithfulness (Proverbs 28:26, Luke 12:42).
You are overly obsessed with outward beauty and vanity (Jeremiah 4:30, Proverbs 31:30, Galatians 5:19-30, 1 Peter 3:3-4, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Deuteronomy 22:5, Leviticus 19:28, Isaiah 3:16-26, Exodus 20:26).
You crave flattery but recoil at conviction (Proverbs 27:6).
You lack compassion for those less fortunate than you (Colossians 3:12).
You maintain a double standard; you consider some things acceptable for you but not for others (Proverbs 20:10, Romans 2:11).
You use and manipulate people while simulataniously wanting their admiration (Luke 11:42).
Your prayers are primarily focused on your own wants and needs; you rarely pray selflessly for others (Philippians 2:3-4).
You view church as being all about your blessing; your opinions, wants, and needs are always the main focus (Philippians 2:3-4).
Idolatry Inside the Church
I know some of you are thinking that idolatry is an outside problem. No. The worst versions of idolatry are inside problems: Inside the “saints” and inside the Church. If you study the Old and the New Testaments you find that the most grievous forms of idolatry came from within the camps of God’s own people. It’s time to stop viewing idolatry as a problem far removed from the Church or something that was just an Old Testament problem. Idolatry is alive and well today. Thankfully, God is still on the throne and He still draws near to those who seek Him and Him alone (James 4:8).
Whataboutism is an old word gaining fresh attention largely because of the obnoxious world of politics. Don’t worry, this isn’t a political post. Whataboutism is basically a debate technique that deflects criticism by pointing out the wrongdoings (whether real or perceived) of others.
Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”
Essentially, whataboutism uses misdirection in the form of a rhetorical question. My kids use whataboutism all the time. Recently, while scolding my daughter because her room was a disaster she responded by asking, “What about Bubs?” At that point, she was smirking at the profundity of her own argument. She continued with what she considered to be the knockout punch, “You haven’t told him to clean his room, and it’s messier than mine.” And presto, she felt vindicated. In her mind, she had accomplished two things: 1) unveiled hypocrisy by pointing out a lack of consistency and 2) justified her own wrong behavior by focusing on her brother’s wrong behavior. In doing so, she was trying to evade the question and shift the blame.
Every kid I’ve ever known skillfully employs the whataboutism technique. I certainly did (I can hear my mother shouting “Amen”). It’s a childish artful dodge. And yet, whataboutism has become the rhetorical loophole of choice for adults who don’t want to discuss the merits of biblical morality. Whataboutism is the favorite self-justification of the average backslider. They shout, “What about all the Christian hypocrites?” And my response to them is the same response I gave my nine-year-old daughter, “Someone else’s wrongdoing doesn’t make your wrongdoing ok.”
As I’ve said before, many Christians embraced gay marriage because they saw Christians committing adultery, divorcing, and fornicating. They said and still say regularly, “You’re against gay marriage, but what about that TV preacher who cheated on his wife?” Well, what about it? Two things can be true at once: 1) homosexuality is a sin and 2) Christians can be sinful hypocrites. But finger pointing doesn’t make my sin or your sin somehow magically acceptable.
There’s an interesting case of whataboutism in the Bible involving David and his oldest brother Eliab (1 Samuel 17:22-29). David had just arrived at the battlefield with food for his brothers only to find the entire army of Israel hiding from Goliath. David started asking around about the situation. He rightfully felt indignation that a pagan giant was being allowed to defy the armies of the living God. But when Eliab overheard David’s questions he grew angry. Probably because he was feeling a surge of guilty humiliation. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. And then he dropped the hammer, “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be watching?” And there it is, whataboutism on full display. Eliab didn’t stop there, “I know your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle” he sputtered at his little brother.
Eliab resorted to a defensive posture when faced with his naked cowardice by insinuating that David was equally imperfect. He projected his own reprehensible character flaws onto his brother. Thankfully, David didn’t let that stop him from doing the right thing. Whataboutism always carries a whiff of resentment with a dash of accusation. If there isn’t any actual hypocrisy for a whataboutist to exploit they’ll simply make something up.
The argumentative whataboutism spirit of Eliab is alive and well today. Christians must resist the pressure to succumb to this toxic brand of self-justification. Jesus addressed the natural human desire to justify our bad behavior with someone else’s bad behavior. He said:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).”
The message is clear, just because your enemy was hateful first doesn’t mean you get to be hateful too or excuse hatefulness in others. Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite either. He talked it and lived it. Speaking of Calvary, the Apostle Peter wrote:
“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness… (1 Peter 2:23-24).”
Although unjustly judged, Jesus left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly. The work of the cross gives us the opportunity to live unto righteousness. Christians are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means we don’t get to play the whataboutism game. We don’t get to say, “They did it first!” In other words, we aren’t reactionary. We stand stationary on the Rock that is Christ Jesus.
Oh, and the next time someone starts pointing out all the imperfect Christians to excuse their sin; just point them towards Jesus.
“For He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”
I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities, however, God clearly ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is also Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.
Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.
My motivation for writing isn’t to berate the fallen, there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line, yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for certain if you labor in ministry long enough you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.
1. Success & popularity. Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. To this day, my brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.
Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.
Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure, but very little time preparing their heart to handle success and popularity.
2. Talent. The moment a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every single day without the help of the anointing. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).
I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I believe preachers have an obligation to work as hard as they can to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.
Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
3. Loving preaching more than people. This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.
Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased a lot of rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than true righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process I resisted the directing of the Spirit opting instead to build my favorite soap box or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.
To be clear, preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.
4. Forgetting the main mission. As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, interesting, inspiring, and fresh some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.
5. Valuing crowd size above the spiritual growth of the congregation. I’ve written a good bit on church growth here, here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Rather, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the actual spiritual health of the people.
Obviously, just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers. Which leads nicely to the next trap.
6. Willingness to sacrifice scriptural integrity for any reason at all. There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and of the trust placed in us by others.
7. Burnout. Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.
8. Ministering to others while neglecting family. I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others they lost sight of their primary responsibility.
Christians can and should seek the will of God, especially for big life decisions (Matthew 6:10, Ephesians 5:15-20, Hebrews 10:36, Judges 6:36-40). Sometimes though, I think we make the whole process far too mystical and mysterious. We make it harder than it needs to be. After all, God wants us to know his will.
The Bible contains 1,189 chapters full of guidance and direction for our lives. I’ve noticed that people who struggle the most to find God’s will spend the least amount of time in his Word. Don’t beg for God’s voice if you haven’t studied his Word, but I digress.
Below are a few quick and practical tips that will help you learn how to distinguish God’s will for any situation.
Study to show yourself approved (2 Timothy 2:15). I’ve already jumped the gun on this point, probably because it is the most important point. There’s a lot of big life decisions that you won’t agonize over if you already know God’s Word.
Paul continues that thought by saying we must, “rightly divide the Word of truth.” A lifestyle of studying and understanding the Bible will put you miles ahead of others when it comes to quickly knowing God’s will for any given situation.
God will never contradict his Word. You are not the exception to the rule. You are not the one person who can do what God told everyone else not to do. God’s word is settled (Psalm 119:89). If you feel like God is telling you to do something that contradicts the Bible you need to see a doctor because the voice you’re hearing isn’t God’s voice. I’m kidding. Well, maybe a little serious. But mostly kidding.
God’s will never removes you from apostolic authority, submission, or headship (Romans 13:2-7, Ephesians 5:21-22, 1 Peter 5:5, Hebrews 13:7, Titus 3:1). Period. Even pastors need a pastor. Even Elisha needed an Elijah. Like it or not, God has always had a chain of command and you are always out of God’s will when you break it.
It is always God’s will for you to be faithful, therefore, anything that impedes faithfulness is most likely not his will for your life (Revelation 2:10, 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Psalm 31:23, Matthew 25:21, Psalm 101:6). God wants you to be faithful to the Church, your family, your faith, and his Word. God wants you to be faithful in your marriage and to your children. Anything that hinders faithfulness to those things is very dangerous.
Let’s talk real life for just a moment – if you’re trying to decide if it’s God’s will for you to take a job that will cause you to miss church all the time it’s probably not his will. If you’re wondering if you should go to college in a city where there is no strong apostolic church you should know it’s probably not God’s will. If you’re thinking about doing something that takes you away from your family on a regular and unhealthy basis it’s probably not God’s will. If you’re thinking about dating or marrying someone who isn’t totally committed to God and his Word just know it’s not God’s will.
Seek counsel from your pastor BEFORE making a major life decision. Do not wait until you’ve already decided to seek pastoral counsel. It’s not really counseling if you’ve already decided. I specifically mentioned your pastor because he is your spiritual under-shepherd. Your pastor is the watchman on the wall. Other saints may have good intentions and even good advice, but they are not your pastor. If your pastor’s voice doesn’t matter to you than you are already out of God’s will.
Be prayerful, be purposeful, and be praiseful (1 John 5:14, James 5:16). The very nature of prayer draws us close to God. It brings us into communion and relationship with the Lord. Without prayer, you will never hear God’s voice. Purposeful and praiseful prayers are the keys that unlock the rare mysteries of God’s perfect will for specific situations.
Remember, decisions have long lasting consequences. Consider the past, present, and the future. Know that instant gratification is not always the right choice.
Lot was correct in perceiving that he needed to separate from Abraham. But he pitched his tents towards the well-watered plains of Sodom (Genesis 13:12), and just a few verses later he was living right in the middle of Sodom. Clearly, this was a decision that placed him squarely out of God’s plan for his life. He made life decisions that caused him to trend in the wrong direction.
Most people don’t intentionally try to hurt their pastor. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. However, there are subtle ways that people carelessly or inadvertently bruise their pastor. If you love your pastor and want to create a climate of revival and respect you will do your best to avoid the items listed below. Let’s dive in.
Tell him he only works on Sundays (or something to that effect). Most people say this jokingly not realizing how terribly insulting they’re being. The typical pastor is massively overworked and understaffed. Studies show that huge numbers of pastors leave the ministry because of burnout and exhaustion. Pastors often work seven days a week and have very little “off the grid” time. There’s no such thing as a definite “day off” in ministry.
Insinuate he makes too much money. First, you should want your pastor to be financially blessed (1 Timothy 5:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:9-14, Romans 4:4, Acts 6:2). If you don’t, there’s a deeper issue at play. I realize that shyster preachers and TV charlatans have tainted the waters and made people wary, but a godly pastor deserves to be compensated reasonably well.
The average pastor struggles financially. The percentage of wealthy pastors is almost microscopic. Most pastors could make a far better living in the secular workplace. When a person insinuates their pastor is overpaid they are being hurtful in three major ways. One, if their pastor is struggling financially it tells him he will always be struggling financially if this saint has anything to say about it. Two, it demonstrates a lack of respect and appreciation for the work of the ministry. Three, it exposes a mindset that is undervaluing the worth of pastoral ministry.
Refuse to tithe. There is a curious trend that most pastors notice but rarely mention out loud; people who fail to tithe are often the most demanding people in the church. They want more programs, more individual attention, and more costly improvements than the average member. Now, good pastors aren’t in ministry for the money, but being in the ministry doesn’t mean you suddenly don’t need to make a living. Refusing to tithe doesn’t just harm the church it harms the pastor’s ability to provide for his family.
Disregard, disrespect, or mistreat the pastor’s family. Some people will do things to the family that they would never do directly to the pastor. Staggering inconsiderateness or blatant confrontational unkind behavior, when directed towards the family, ultimately harms the pastor. And it’s just plain wrong.
Compare him to other preachers. Constantly comparing your pastor to another pastor or a celebrity preacher who probably doesn’t even know who you are is soul crushing to him. Your pastor is not just a preacher he is your under-shepherd. Meaning, he has prayed for you, entreated God on your behalf, and bears a customized burden for your spiritual well-being. There might be other preachers who have more oratorical skill than your pastor, but your pastor doesn’t need to feel the pressure of comparison.
Disparage new ideas. Every pastor will have a new idea from time to time. Sometimes they work out as planned and sometimes they don’t. Don’t be the person who can always be counted on for the dreaded “I told you so” when a new idea falls flat. Every leader needs the leeway to try new things and adjust accordingly. Be as supportive of new things as possible.
Minimize successes. There are few things more discouraging to a pastor than people who refuse to celebrate successes. Some folks bring a wet blanket to every celebration by pointing out all the things that are still imperfect. No matter the strength of any given church, there will always be plenty of room for improvement, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t rejoice when progress is made.
Pretend you want advice when you really want validation. Ah. This is a big one. Don’t ask for counseling when you’ve already decided what you’re going to do. If you’ve already made up your mind just admit you don’t want spiritual guidance or genuine input from your pastor. Pretending you do when you don’t is disingenuous.
Talk behind his back. It might’ve just been a moment of frustration and you didn’t even really mean what you said, but when it gets back to your pastor (and it will) it will weigh on him heavily. He’ll love you regardless but your trustworthiness will be compromised.
Withhold honor. Some saints withhold honor because they don’t want their pastor to get a “big” head. Trust me. There are more than enough “balloon poppers” out there to keep him humble. Just give honor when and where honor is due.
View him suspiciously without a valid reason. We’ve all seen pastors fall from grace whether up close or from afar. We’ve all heard or maybe even seen the horror stories of preachers gone bad. Satan uses those sad stories to plant seeds of distrust and disunity within the hearts of good people. You wouldn’t teach your kids to distrust all police officers because of a few dirty cops, likewise, extend the same benefit of the doubt to godly ministry.
Fight with other saints. Probably nothing else causes more grief to a pastor than trouble among the saints.
Complain about irrelevant things. There are legitimate complaints that are worthy of mentioning to your pastor. However, airing out every personal preference and petty dislike becomes hurtful in a hurry.
In conclusion: everyone (including myself) has done at least one of the things mentioned in this article. Your pastor loves you anyway and that’s not going to change. We’re human, and that means we accidentally hurt one another occasionally. The key is to do our best to adjust when we realize that we’re causing someone pain.
And we’re back with part three of our conversation about worship. This time we examine the issue of why people don’t seem to be singing along during the worship service. We discuss the “why’s” and the “what” to do about it. Thanks for watching. In case you’re just joining the conversation, you can go back […]
If you are a pastor wanting to be more self-aware, a saint hoping to better understand your shepherd or a pastor who wants to better understand other pastors, this article is for you.
Pastors and preachers are people with personality strengths and weaknesses just like everybody else. They’re anointed and God called, but that doesn’t mean they lose their distinctiveness. Pastors are not monolithic. This diversity of personalities and leadership styles is helpful and necessary for the overall health of the Church.
I’m fascinated by personality studies. There are hundreds of them (I still prefer Why You Act the Way You Do? by Tim Lahaye). Like many teenagers, I was awkward with a touch of moroseness; understanding why people acted the way they acted helped me make sense of the world, and it still does (here’s a very brief online temperament test that tends to be scary accurate).
From a ministry leadership standpoint, having a grasp of basic personality types is invaluable. When you understand personality differences you are less likely to be offended or caught off guard by common weaknesses. You spot strengths faster and see buried potential in people as well.
Even more importantly, understanding your own personality creates self-awareness. Knowing your own temperament will help you avoid lots of grief. We’ve all worked alongside people who are completely unaware of their flaws and overconfident about mediocrity. Or worse, they can’t see their own tremendous potential. That lack of self-awareness is dangerous in a leadership paradigm.
I’m a pastor’s kid and a pastor. I’ve spent my whole life observing preachers and pastors from all around the world. I love pastors and have been blessed with the opportunity to regularly interact with dynamic preachers. Over the years, I’ve observed fourteen distinct pastoral leadership styles that are a direct result of personality types and influences.
Most pastors and preachers are a mixture of several of these styles but predominated by one. Each of the styles listed below contains distinct giftings and shortcomings. I don’t think one style is any better than the other. What’s important, regardless of which leadership style a personality enables, is that the strengths are cultivated and the weaknesses are minimized.
My prayer is that this list will be helpful to pastors and maybe a few saints as well. Most problems between saints and pastors are nothing more than personality conflicts. Many saints misunderstand their pastor’s personality and find unnecessary offense and vice versa. I highly respect and honor every pastoral temperament and mean no disrespect by discussing them in this format. The Bible gives us snapshots of spiritual leaders from diverse backgrounds and emphasizes drastic differences between personalities. It’s still that way today.
So, let’s jump into the fourteen distinct pastoral personalities and their resulting leadership styles. Remember as you read, you or your pastor are likely a blend of more than one of these styles, but one will outshine the others.
The Theologian is a master of doctrinal dispositions and a student of Scriptural nuance. They are intensely smart. The Theologian is well versed in even the most obscure details of Scripture. Minutia matters in a big way to this kind of pastor. They’re likely to be a more introverted temperament with a strong sense of self-discipline. The Theologian’s quiet confidence and knowledge inspires and brings clarity to those around him.
Strengths: attention to detail, doctrinally sound, calming, focused, inspire spiritual confidence, produce well-rounded disciples, mentor other leaders, produce helpful resources, and hold the line against invading false doctrines. The Theologian is an irreplaceable and indispensable resource within the kingdom of God.
Weaknesses: The Theologian struggles with being heavy on information and light on application. They can be extremely introverted (check out this article for introverted leaders). At times, they borderline being extremely anti-social. The Theologian’s hyper sense of focus can easily be mistaken for unfriendliness. The Theologian’s natural tendency when teaching and preaching is to remain bland and detached; making an otherwise powerful presentation, low impact.
The Teacher is much like The Theologian minus the extensive doctrinal savvy. That’s not to say they don’t have strong doctrinal grounding, they do. The Teacher fills an important and tragically underemphasized role as outlined in Ephesians 4:11-13. Although their ministry may seem less dynamic on the surface, nothing could be further from the truth. The teacher grounds what other more extroverted ministries leave unfinished. In many cases, The Teacher is introverted but not always.
Strengths: mentally disciplined, consistent, highly organized, carefully structured, well-rounded, dependable, typically compassionate, produces helpful resources, inspires confidence, exposes and corrects false doctrine, strengthens other ministers, and produces other ministries. The Teacher is extraordinarily dependable, trustworthy, and unflinchingly honest.
Weaknesses: usually lacks creativity, resists healthy changes and struggles to engage people emotionally. The Teacher finds it difficult to be concise and naturally overloads people with more information than they can retain in one sitting. The Teacher’s high level of intelligence can unintentionally seem arrogant and condescending.
The Authoritarian has an enormously outgoing and strong personality. This leadership style is usually coupled closely with one of the other personalities on this list. The Authoritarian has a top-down mindset. Authoritarians are confident, self-assured, and strong willed (making them exceptionally gifted and effective preachers). They make an impression everywhere they go and are easily spotted in any setting. Authoritarians have a keen sense of right and wrong, loyalty and disloyalty, honor and dishonor, and law and order. They command respect and inspire others to do great things. Many of the great leaders in the Bible were authoritarians.
Strengths: brave, concise, competent, efficient, inspirational, self-disciplined, and confident. The Authoritarian inspires the kind of loyalty that generals have when leading troops into battle. They are fearless, focused, accomplished, disciplined, and courageous. They never do what the crowd is doing just because the crowd is doing it. They make fierce friends and worthy adversaries. They are a true leader in every sense of the word.
Weaknesses: ego, pride, unwillingness to change course when needed, tone deaf, unkind, quick-tempered, and reckless. The Authoritarian struggles to accept wise counsel and respect the reasoned opinions of others. Because authoritarians are so often right, they don’t handle being wrong very well. Strong people are attracted to an authoritarian’s leadership. However, more sensitive people are easily wounded by The Authoritarians aggressive personality. Without meaning to, authoritarians occasionally harm gentler personalities without even knowing it. The Authoritarian naturally lacks compassion for weaker vessels. Because loyalty is so important to The Authoritarian; disloyalty (whether real or perceived) is met with overly punitive measures. Their mission mindedness makes them extremely effective in completing tasks but generally, makes them lose sight of the feelings and emotions of the people around them.
The People Person is an interesting blend of introvert and extrovert. In the right setting they are incredibly outgoing, but in other settings they become unusually quiet. The People Person likes people, likes to be liked by other people, and likes people to like other people. They are talkative, emotional, engaging, charming, fun, humorous, witty, and networked. They thrive in a crowded room. They thrive off the energy of large groups. They dislike being alone. Their effervescent personality makes them terrific communicators. Their preaching and teaching is often full of humor and down-to-earth relatability.
Strengths: passionate, compassionate, likable personality, great communication skills, super relatable, community builders, bring other personalities together (networking), very creative, open to ideas and opinions, make people feel loved, and big hearted. The People Person operates on bursts of creative and emotional energy that is compelling and contagious. They always have big plans that usually includes bringing people together in one way or another. They are inclusive and exude self-confidence even when they don’t feel confident.
Weaknesses: quickly discouraged, easily offended, insecure, prone to bouts of melancholia, sometimes quick-tempered, disorganized, lack follow through, forgetful, appear shallow, and enigmatic. The People Person has lots of big ideas but doesn’t implement them well because they constantly overlook “pesky” details. In worst case scenarios, that same inattention to detail causes them to be doctrinally imbalanced. Because they love people deeply they are also hurt deeply by people. The People Person seems confident but often wrestles with profound insecurities. Their desire to be liked can be detrimental when making difficult decisions. They handle rejection poorly. The People Person’s desire to be center stage may cause them to feel jealousy when others are in the spotlight. They privately battle depression but most folks would never know it.
The Orator is not a standalone personality trait although it does become a defining characteristic for many pastors. Not all dynamic orators are great leaders and not all great leaders are dynamic orators. However, when the two are combined it becomes incredibly potent. Biblically speaking, I think the apostle Paul was an example of a powerful orator (Acts 17:22-31). The Orator is demarcated as being an incredibly moving preacher and communicator. Regardless of their other traits, they have the uncommon innate ability and God-given anointing to move crowds via preaching. Their preaching calls people to repentance, builds faith, motivates change, encourages, convicts, and shapes entire generations. The Orator is not typecast into one personality or leadership style. Their gift crosses lines and spectrums. Some are extremely inward while others are highly outgoing. Some pour themselves out while preaching and finish empty and spent, while others are fueled up by preaching and finish with a frenzy of energy. Regardless, their gift is usually in high demand.
Strengths: highly skilled communicators, heavily anointed, insightful, introspective, unique, inspirational, thought provoking, culture shaping, smart, mentally organized, prepared, persuasive, influential, compelling, convincing, adept, well-read, forward thinking, sensitive to the Spirit, and they exude confidence. The Orator often plays a key role in influencing movements and instigating revival on a large scale even without official positions or titles.
Weaknesses: pride and ego are dangers that every single spiritual leader must navigate, but this is especially true for The Orator. Because they are so gifted and well-liked their egos can swell easily. The Orator needs the anointing just like every other preacher, but they typically have natural abilities that could just as easily make them great politicians, salesman, motivational speakers, or actors. This means, if they aren’t careful they will rely on their own ability rather than the Lord. Also, because powerful orators are in such demand they may not always have time to develop other leadership skills before they are launched into public ministry. As the old saying goes, “not all great preachers make great pastors, and not all great pastors are great preachers.” Because orators love preaching and communicating so much, it’s often difficult for them to invest their time into developing other important attributes. However, when they do, they are amazingly impactful within the kingdom of God.
The Nice Guy is just that, a nice guy. This person genuinely cares and has a sincerity that cannot be denied. They lead from a solid core of kindness. Their personality is gentle and calming. Everyone they meet feels loved. Everything they do flows from love. They can be introverted or extroverted but meekness (not weakness) is their dominate trait. This kind of leader’s personality is usually coupled with a complimentary style; typically, The Theologian, The Teacher, The Orator, The People Person, The Poet Performer, The Organizer, The Motivator, The Weeping Prophet, or The Dreamer. They reap a loyal following because of their sincere and warm demeanor. I imagine John the Beloved (John 19:26-27) as a biblical example of the Nice Guy.
Strengths: kindness, compassion, empathy, loyalty, sincerity, warmth, and relatability. Notwithstanding other flaws, much is forgivable with The Nice Guy because they are so likable. People are drawn to them like a magnet. Their love for others flows from their love for the Lord.
Weaknesses: on the surface, you wouldn’t think The Nice Guy could have weaknesses, but they do. They dislike confrontation more than the average leader, making them anemic in crisis situations where confrontation is needed. They are often too slow to rebuke and correct, which causes problems to escalate that could have been alleviated. They are susceptible to being victimized by manipulators and blindsided by pretenders. The Nice Guy may shy away from necessary doctrines that might offend the hearers. In other words, sometimes they forget that love must often be tough.
The Poet Performer is artistic, talented, and entertaining. David comes to mind as a biblical example of The Poet Performer (1 Samuel 16:16). The Poet Performer doesn’t necessarily have to be musical, but they are always creative, imaginative, and gifted in some artistic way (oftentimes they are multi-talented). They are cerebral. Like David they can also be a warrior, but they are predisposed to spiritual things. Praise and worship comes as naturally as breathing to The Poet Performer. They are anointed in almost everything they do. They are emotional, sincere, and sensitive.
Strengths: aside from their talent, The Poet Performer is smart, intensely spiritual, focused, and passionate. Their worship compels others to worship. Their creativity helps others to experience God in dynamic and dramatic ways. They breathe life, energy, and passion into the Church. When The Poet Performer preaches it is with cadence and rhythm, almost like a spoken song.
Weaknesses: much like The Orator, The Poet Performer is prone to egotism and pride. They have so much intrinsic talent that even if they stop depending on the Spirit, they can still manipulate a crowd’s emotions. They receive a lot of adulation (deservedly), which if not received correctly produces narcissism. The Poet Performer’s emotions fluctuate wildly (just read the Psalms); hysterically happy one minute and manically melancholy the next. Selfishness is another personal battle that many Poet Performers must fight.
Caveats: again, I feel compelled to mention that most ministers are not a perfect match to any one of the above traits. The strengths and weaknesses are generalities, not absolutes. Also, commenting on weaknesses is not intended to be disrespectful or to help generate criticism. Rather, the intent behind this writing is to help us address issues with clarity and resolution. If you take the time to peruse the related articles below you will find that I support apostolic ministry and believe that pastors should be vigorously supported. Saints, I believe you should give your pastor the benefit of the doubt and lift his arms when and where he is weak. Celebrate his strengths and honor his faithful service at every opportunity.
Let me make a few disclaimers right from the beginning. First, not all big churches are healthy and not all small churches are unhealthy. Big churches are not necessarily better than small churches and the reverse is also true. However, if the body is not growing it is dying. This is true spiritually and physically. That’s not to say setbacks, sicknesses, and dry seasons won’t temporarily stunt growth, but the key word there is “temporarily”. Long-term stagnation or decline is a sure sign of an impending downward spiral if something drastic doesn’t take place to fix the problem.
I grew up in a small church plant that my father started in 1983 (the year of my birth), and I grew up alongside the growth of that church. Churches must grow into maturity just as a child grows into maturity. If a mother church grows strong she will give birth to daughter churches that will repeat the process over and over again.
The number one reason small churches stay small is that they want to stay small. This reality is often hidden stealthily beneath the surface making it difficult to spot. But if you watch carefully you’ll see it manifested in dozens of little ways. They literally have no desire to grow. Again, I love small churches, but small churches are in direct violation of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) if they have no desire to see new souls added to the church. And if a church doesn’t want to grow it will not grow.
One final clarification, 99.9% of the time the pastor desperately wants the church he oversees to grow. The lack of desire for growth typically comes from the congregation, not the clergy. In best case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) is simply complacent towards the churches growth. In worst case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) actively tries to hinder the churches growth. Regardless, this is a problem that must be addressed head on or it will choke the life out of a small congregation. Here are nine contributing reasons that small churches often don’t want to grow.
The church simply doesn’t want to suffer through a building program. This usually stems from either a faith problem or a stinginess problem. Sometimes well-meaning church members confuse good stewardship with stagnation. A small building that’s been paid off for 20 years is a wonderful thing, but if you can’t continue to grow in that building (or the location hinders growth), it’s time to take the necessary leap of faith. For other less sincere saints, they simply don’t want to commit financially to the vision of revival (think Ananias & Sapphira).
The church has lost sight of its purpose. Many churches gradually forget the urgency of the hour. They become content with their own salvation and forget that Hell is still a reality for their community. They forget that God has placed them within that community to reach the lost. It doesn’t matter how many missionary plaques you hang on the wall if you aren’t being a missionary to your own region. I often hear people say, “some give by going, and some go by giving.” I know what they mean, but it gives the impression that only certain elite people are called to reach the lost. Wherever you are right now, that’s your mission field. Far too often we allow our giving to replace going into our own harvest field.
The church has lost its love for people. Many times, it is that simple. Bitterness, pride, harshness, and unresolved anger can rip the love of Christ right out of the hearts of a congregation. At its peak, it results in a harshness so severe that it rejoices rather than weeps at the lost condition of “reprobates” and “sinners”. Hell, is a reality that should move us to tears, not cheers.
Spiritual lethargy, exhaustion, and laziness. I understand that revival and evangelism are just plain hard work; emotionally, spiritually, and physically. People who have participated for many years in the process can easily grow weary in well doing (check out my writings on this subject here and here). Some folks are just lazy by nature and this bleeds into their spiritual life as well. Revival and laziness are like oil and water; they just don’t mix.
Institutional racism or a clique mentality. I’m truly afraid that the church is still one of the most segregated places in America (click here for a related article). But God has called the church to be multicultural and accepting of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures. Some congregations want revival only if all the new people look and sound just like them. Yikes, that’s a big problem. I’m just glad the apostle Peter allowed God to change his heart so a Gentile like me could be a part of the Body of Christ.
Rampant carnality and materialism. When a church grows carnal they just don’t have room for spiritual concerns. They’re too busy with sports and movies to care if their neighbor is going to Heaven or Hell. Financial blessings are a wonderful gift from God, but we should never squander that gift on trivial things that constantly distract us from the Kingdom of God. Churches fraught with carnality and materialism would rather talk about anything other than spiritual things. They don’t have time to be inconvenienced with revival, and they do the absolute minimum they can do for God (check out this article entitled You Might Be a Carnal Christian If…).
The church doesn’t want to lose constant or immediate access to the pastor. This one is very common and even understandable to a certain degree. Saints instinctively know that as a church grows it will become harder and harder to gain immediate access to the pastor for counseling or anything else for that matter. In many ways, it’s like an only child who resents the idea of a baby brother or a baby sister. They grow jealous of the attention that their parents must devote to their new sibling. This is understandable but only to a point, if it turns into outright aggression towards new babies in the Lord it must be dealt with lovingly but firmly.
A certain element within the church desperately wants to maintain power, position, and influence. Ah, this is a big one. It’s very insidious, extremely dangerous, and usually carefully disguised. It can be anything from worship leaders and singers who feel threatened by new people who are talented or lay ministers who feel threatened by young babes in the Lord who feel called to preach. It can be anyone who feels like their position might be threatened by an influx of new people. It can be a wealthy saint who enjoys being perceived as the wealthiest saint in the church, or a talented musician who enjoys being perceived as the most talented person in the church, or board members that want to keep their authority consolidated. It can even extend to the entire congregation and their desire to keep a strong influence over every aspect of the church, therefore, they perceive new people as a threat to that power. This is almost never articulated out loud but the signs are there if you are paying attention.
The congregation has an institutional bias against the culture of growing churches. Some people are just conditioned either by their upbringing or their preconceived ideas of how a church should be to dislike large churches. In extreme cases, people like this consider big churches evil, but they’ll usually use code words like “full of compromise” or something of that nature. The reality is that small churches and big churches alike can fall into the trap of compromise. Some people fear that large churches are incapable of being friendly or warm. The reality is that small churches and large churches can fall into the trap of being unfriendly and cold. A church shouldn’t desire to grow just to be large, but it should want to be large because it wants everyone to be saved.
Final caveats: I realize there are other reasons small churches stay small. Local economies, transient locals, spiritual onslaughts, poor leadership, tragedy, rapid leadership turnover, seasons of sowing, difficult locations, and more can all be relevant factors. Also, churches go through seasons and holding patterns that are temporary conditions. I am talking about chronic conditions. However, it would be unwise to casually ignore these points without at least considering the very real possibility that one or more of these problems could be at work.
It’s no secret that our country is in a tremendous state of turmoil. America is in religious, political, economic, and moral upheaval. We seem more divided than ever by class, creed, color, and culture. This ought not to be so, but ignoring reality is not an option. Let’s narrow down that massive list of generalities to the subject of the escalating racial tensions that have dominated the news over the past few weeks.
First, all racism is rooted in hatred and hatred is a sin. John didn’t pull any punches when he said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 19:20-21).”
You cannot claim to love God and hate others at the same time. In another place, John equates the sin of hatred with the sin of murder (1 John 3:14-15). If you study the Bible and human nature you will quickly find that hatred and murder are just a few short steps apart from one another. Christians of all races absolutely must resist the pressure to be subdued by racism or hatred of any kind.
Satan knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). He works feverishly to divide and conquer. The Church must recognize and rebuke Satan’s handy work wherever hatred manifested as racism raises its murderous head.
We should also know that this proliferation of racial division is a clear indication of the soon coming of the Lord. While speaking about the end of time, Jesus said in Mark 13:8, “…nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”. Recently, my friend Reverend Victor Jackson articulated that the word nation mentioned here finds it’s root in the Greek word meaning race. Therefore, it is accurate to say that in the last days, races will rise up against races and kingdoms will rise up against kingdoms. The Church recognizes that this is the spirit of the antichrist at work. If the Church allows the spirit of division (a spirit that is antithetical to the Holy Spirit) into its ranks it will cease to be the Church.
I believe that racial injustice is more prevalent than many want to acknowledge, and less than some who peddle division would lead us to believe. The Church must stand against injustice for people of every color, race, and creed (Proverbs 21:15, Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 24:24-25, Psalm 106:3, Proverbs 21:3, Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 27:19). The Bible intertwines the unfailing love of God with justice (Psalm 33:5). In other words, love and justice are closely connected attributes of God. If we are reflectors of God’s image then we must love people and love justice.
Jesus took it a step further by commanding us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). This might not be very compelling had Jesus not obeyed his own command by forgiving the very people who put him on the cross (Luke 23:34).
As racial tensions hang over our nation like storm clouds we must remember one key Scripture: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12).
And so, as the Church stands against injustice, racism from every direction, hatred, violence, and class warfare we must be ever mindful that the battle will be won with spiritual weapons. Bullets are not the answer. Hatred and violence only instigate more hatred and violence. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King are more relevant today than ever before:
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
It is imperative that the Church models to this world what racial unity looks like in word and deed. We must stand in solidarity against violence and hatred. For the record, I believe that the vast majority of police officers do their jobs with excellence and integrity (there are always exceptions to the rule). The apostle Paul clearly admonished believers to give honor and respect to governmental authority (Romans 13:1-7). As a Christian, I grieve over every senseless loss of God-given life. I rigorously oppose violence against black lives, blue lives, and white lives. I know it sounds silly and sappy but the words of an old children’s song we used to sing in Sunday School keep ringing in my ears, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”.
We know that our weapons are not carnal but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Therefore, prayer is a powerful force of good in the fight against evil. Prayer is not a waste of time. Prayer is not just something that we do to make ourselves feel better. Prayer is not just a platitude that we talk about. Therefore, pray we must. I’m imploring everyone who loves the Lord to join me in prayer for the healing of our nation. Join me in prayer for the families who have recently lost loved ones to what seem to be unjustified acts of police violence. Pray for the families of the Dallas police officers who tragically lost their lives because of an injustice that they did not commit. Pray that the cycle of hate and violence will stop. And if you really want to be like Jesus; pray for your enemies too (Matthew 5:44).
I’m a pastor and I’ve been hurt by pastors. In fact, my most painful experiences have come from individuals who should have been spiritual shepherds. I’ve counseled with enough people to know that I’m far from alone in that scenario. Thankfully, I’m a preacher’s kid with a father who’s the real deal. He believes what he preaches and lives it too. I’ve had that consistent role model to follow when other peers and leaders let me down in dramatic ways. For that, I’m truly grateful
Let me be clear, I’m not talking about petty grievances of the “they didn’t shake my hand” or “they didn’t appreciate my potential” variety. I’m talking about legitimate situations where a pastor (or minister) was blatantly, perhaps even chronically hurtful, sinful, or harmful. Neither, am I talking about leadership differences, stylistic clashes, or minor judgment lapses, I believe in pastoral authority and apostolic boldness. I am comfortable receiving rebuke and correction from a spiritual leader. Nor, am I easily offended or hard to please. I am not fazed by the reality that pastors are fallible and very human. As a preacher, I know my own shortcomings all too well, so it’s easy for me to cut the preacher some slack. Regardless, real spiritual abuse does occur; good people do bad things, bad people masquerade as good people (Jesus repeatedly warned us this would be common), and mistakes are made. When these things happen, it’s only natural to want to tell anyone and everyone who will listen. I know it’s tempting, but that’s exactly what you should NOT do.
I’m not advocating sticking your head in the sand. Seek godly counsel, deal with the problem, keep a good spirit, put it in the past, and keep it there. As Paul said, “…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” Have you been hurt, disenchanted, disappointed, or even harmed by a spiritual leader? If so, you’re in good company; Jesus was crucified because of the influence of religious leaders. And yet, it was Jesus who admonished us to forgive and move on (Matthew 5:44, Mark 11:25, Matthew 18:21-22). I’d like to address eight reasons why I think we should avoid reliving these experiences in our conversations.
It will produce, maintain, and enhance a dangerous root of bitterness in your heart. Bitterness will destroy you and turn you into the very thing that hurt you in the first place. Hurt people really do hurt people.
It plants unhealthy seeds of distrust in the hearts of the hearers. Quick analogy, I respect police officers very much. I believe that most police officers are honorable people. However, I’ve had an extremely bad encounter with a police officer who was supposed to serve and protect. I don’t dwell on that one experience because I want my children to respect police officers. Will there be a day when I explain to them that there are a few bad apples out there? Yes. But that will never be my primary focus in conversation because, in the grand scheme of things, I want my children to honor and respect those who serve them. When it comes to spiritual leaders, I am even more careful. I do not want my family, unbelievers, or fragile saints to live under the impression that MOST truth preaching pastors are bad because of a FEW bad truth preaching pastors.
It’s not possible to move forward safely when you are constantly looking backward. As a kid, I had a weird habit of running while looking over my shoulder. Yeah, I ran into a lot of stuff and caused myself all kinds of unnecessary pain. When you constantly talk about past church hurt you destabilize your present and endanger your future.
Often, and sometimes without realizing it, we talk about such things with a desire to cause harm to the perpetrator. Understandable as that may be, it goes against everything that Jesus teaches us about forgiveness and loving our enemies and those who spitefully use us. God does not give us the authority to exact our own brand of revenge, revenge is the Lord’s (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).
Constant rehashing of pastoral failings can create a lingering distrust towards good spiritual leaders in your heart. In spite of human flaws, everyone needs a pastor. If you’re not careful, you’ll become so distrustful that you will never allow a godly preacher to have apostolic authority in your life. If that happens, the Devil will have accomplished what he set out to accomplish.
My personal observations of people who dwell on ministerial failings are that it becomes their primary excuse in justifying their own bad decisions. They excuse their bad behavior because of the bad behavior of a finite human being. Remember, our relationship with God should not be destroyed because of a ministers wrongdoing. God does not cease to be good just because a man or woman has hurt us. Wrong does not become right just because someone else goes crazy. David exampled this beautifully in the Bible. King Saul was out to kill him, and when David had the chance to take Saul’s life, he refused to touch God’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:10). Notice, David didn’t let Saul kill him, he removed himself from the situation, but he did not exact revenge or sink to Saul’s level of bad behavior.
It keeps the wounds fresh. There’s no hurt like spiritual hurt. It can be devastating and earth-shattering. Talking about it over and over again just keeps that pain from healing. Take it to the Lord in prayer, leave it on the altar, and let Jesus mend your broken heart.
It can invite the judgment of God into your life. I know this one will rub some folks the wrong way. And I’ve wrestled with this concept myself. On the surface, it simply doesn’t seem fair that our improper reaction to someone else’s sin could bring judgment into our own lives. One of the strangest biblical accounts is the story of Noah becoming indecent and intoxicated shortly after surviving the great flood (Genesis 9:18-27). When Ham, his son, saw the situation he cavalierly talked about it with his brothers. The text indicates a demeanor of condescension and disrespect for a man who had found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man who was in a temporary state of terrible failure. When Noah’s other sons (Shem and Japheth) realized what was happening they took a garment and walked backwards into their father’s tent to cover his nakedness. This was not denial; they weren’t avoiding the problem or living in La-La Land. But they had enough respect for their father’s godly history that they would not approach the situation lightly or contemptuously. Ham and his descendants labored under a God-given curse from that day forward. When dealing with the spiritual failings of a genuine man of God our demeanor matters.
Quick caveat, this article is not referring to false prophets, false teachers, or those who knowingly peddle false doctrine. Scripture clearly admonishes us to expose and rebuke them as needed (Galatians 1:6-9, Deuteronomy 13:1-4, Jeremiah 14:14-16, Titus 3:10-11, 2 Peter 3:15-18). Neither am I minimizing the pain that can come from a spiritual leaders failings. Many people, like David, have been wronged through no fault of their own. I also realize, that there are many people who incorrectly perceive wrongdoing because they are rebellious or unteachable. That’s another issue for another day. For the record, I do not endorse allowing a minister who is in sin to remain active in ministry.
I’m ashamed to say that I was exposed in a moment of self-righteousness the other day. It was a moment of critical, mean-spiritedness over a situation that I knew little to nothing about. Ouch. It hurts to type those words. And then, as is often God’s way, I happened across two articles (here and here) that sent conviction running down my spine like an icy cold water challenge.
I frequently tell my church: Feeling conviction is not a bad thing. Uncomfortable? Yes. Fun? No. Necessary? Absolutely. The real danger isn’t feeling conviction but choosing to ignore conviction. Ignoring conviction for too long is essentially “quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19)” which leads to a hard and calloused heart, far removed from God. In fact, the ability to feel conviction is the hallmark of a true believer (consider King David’s confrontation with the prophet after his terrible sin with Bathsheba).
Let me clarify a few things right at the onset: I absolutely believe that a person must be confident and sure of their Christian faith. God, in no uncertain terms, has called believers to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:15-16, 1 Peter 2:9) and righteous (1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:7, Matthew 5:20, Philippians 1:11). Furthermore, righteousness is not just a state of mind; it is manifested in lifestyle and actions. For example, Paul commands us to “Flee youthful lusts (action): but follow (another action) righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22)”. We can and must “…rightly divide (an action that demands an action) the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”, and “judge [with] righteous judgment (John 7:24)”. In other words, godly people have a right to discern right from wrong, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. To say otherwise is, well, unrighteous.
However, we all know immature Christians who use “judge not that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1)” as a mantra to justify every sinful and sin accommodating action. It’s fairly safe to say that Matthew 7:1 has become modern Christianity’s favorite verse. The implication is simple, don’t tell me what to do because only God can do that. This drives sincere Christians crazy and gives others (sometimes unintentionally) a false sense of biblical authorization for all kinds of unrighteous behavior. Furthermore, the “only God can judge me” crowd should really let that thought sink in because God will judge our every action, that alone should cause us to carefully consider our lifestyles.
So, was Jesus really condoning bad behavior, spiritual timidity, or telling us that no one has a right to call a spade a spade? If that is the case, Jesus contradicted the entire Old Testament, every other relevant event of the New Testament, and his own actions to boot. Remember the overturned tables in the temple where Jesus made a righteous judgment saying “…ye have made it a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13)”?
Obviously, Jesus was not advocating turning a blind eye to sin or telling us that we cannot make spiritual judgment calls about ourselves and others. The verses immediately following bring clarity to the whole discussion: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye (Mathew 7:2-3)?”
The basic meaning here is that we are to judge ourselves before we judge others. There is an unrighteous and unholy brand of judgment that we can quickly allow to fester in our spirit that is harmful, hypocritical, and ungodly. If we condemn others for things that we are doing ourselves we bring condemnation upon ourselves (Romans 2:1-3). If we judge hastily, callously, contemptuously, carelessly, wrongfully, or prematurely we are guilty of judging with an unrighteous judgment. Those who judge others in such a way will be judged by God in that same way (Luke 6:36-38).
Here’s a difficult question that God often drops into my heart like an atomic bomb during prayer, “Do you want to be right for the sake of being right or for the sake of being righteous before Me?” Here’s another cringe-inducing thought; you can be right and unrighteous at the same time. In many ways, that is the very definition of being self-righteous. I want to be right for the sake of helping others and pleasing God not just to win arguments or rack up spiritual points. Yes, as a believer I have the right to make judgment calls, but I want to do so righteously for the right reasons with the right attitude. Sadly, I often fail. Thankfully, I have wonderful godly people surrounding me who make righteous judgments about my unrighteous judgments and aren’t afraid to tell me so.
Some introspective questions:
Do I enjoy it when others are harshly judged?
Do I enjoy arguing more than truly helping?
Am I quick to judgment without having all the relevant facts?
Do I elevate my opinions above the Bible?
Do I judge myself as harshly as I judge others?
Am I doing the same things that I criticize others for doing?
Do I pray for the judgment or for the conversion of sinners?
Am I willing to admit when I am wrong?
Do I make judgments from a place of humility or superiority?
Do I realize that all righteousness comes from God?
Do I care for sinners or callously condemn sinners?
Am I manufacturing self-righteousness or exampling godly righteousness?
Am I jumping to conclusions or executing godly discernment?
Do I judge from a place of knowledge or from a heart of wisdom?
Am I unwilling to make righteous judgments for fear of confrontation?
Am I justifying sin with my silence?
Does my unwillingness to righteously judge harm my witness?
Will I accept righteous judgment as easily as I dispense righteous judgment?
Do I exemplify godly mercy in my interactions with people?
Have I replaced mercy and grace with acceptance of sin?
Do I righteously judge sin or unrighteously justify sin in my own life and in the lives of others?
This is an extension of my recent post You Cannot Be A Church Leader If. The interest was strong and the feedback intense so today I’m adding a few to the list.
12. You cannot be a church leader if you do not have a burden.
The apostle Paul described his burden for the salvation of his fellow Jews as a bitter sorrow and an unending grief. Jesus described a burden so strong that the parabolic shepherd left the ninety-nine to find that one lost sheep. A burden goes beyond love, a burden goes beyond concern, it is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost. It is manifested in a myriad of ways, which ultimately bears the fruit of saving lost sheep. It should be noted that all Christians are mandated to carry a burden on some level. A burden is not a calling, but it is necessary for a calling.
13. You cannot be a pastor without a Divine calling.
This point is specific to preaching and pastoral ministries. Having said that, I know many people who were called to teach Sunday School, drive a church bus, do community outreach, clean the church, or visit the sick. But all of those things can and should be done without a Divine calling if necessary. Preaching and pastoral ministry, however, is Divinely ordained and Divinely called. This article doesn’t have the space to lay the necessary theological framework for each point, but this is clearly illustrated in the ministries of Moses, Abraham, Noah, Samuel, each of the Apostles including Paul, and Timothy. Jonah is particularly interesting because he had a Divine calling, yet he lacked a burden. He was called first and God went to great lengths to take him to his field of evangelism.
14. You cannot be a church leader without wisdom.
Many people have knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information, wisdom is knowing what to do with that information. Leadership without wisdom eventually burns the leader and the followers out. Couple points: Good intentions do not equal wisdom, talent does not equal wisdom, age does not equal wisdom, charisma does not equal wisdom, personality does not equal wisdom, and enthusiasm does not equal wisdom. The higher you go in church leadership the more critical wisdom becomes.
15. You cannot be a church leader without vision.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish… (Proverbs 29:18).” That word vision comes from the Hebrew word “chazown” meaning dream, revelation, oracle, or sight. This Scripture is often misrepresented, but I think the meaning is complex. Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.
16. You cannot be a church leader without faith.
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6).” I think that pretty much says it all.
17. You cannot be a church leader without anointing.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).” I know this is an oversimplification, but if Jesus needed an anointing to preach you need one too. I think this is mandatory for pastoral and preaching ministries, and it certainly should be coveted in all other areas of church ministry as well. In a certain sense, the differences between Divine anointing and Divine calling are almost imperceptible. When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel the oil was literally poured over his head. It was highly visible for all present. Spiritual anointing seems intangible in theory, but you know it when you see it. You can feel it. Anointing brings down giants, lack of anointing cowers in hiding when adversity comes. It is palpable when God has covered a person. Anointing produces illumination, revelation, Divine inspiration, Divine operation, the gifts of the Spirit, and other tangible spiritual results. Anointing is not merely theatrics. Anointing is not good oratory or even capable leadership skills. It does not come from man, training, or education. Anointing comes only from God. God can anoint a fisherman or a theologian, a lifetime saint or a once vile sinner, or whomever He chooses. Although, God does give confirmation of anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.
18. You cannot be a church leader without a time of proving and learning.
Paul admonished Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15). Notice, when you are training you are not seeking earthly approval but God’s approval. Ministerial training was never intended to be a political process or a popularity contest. The desire for church leadership must be birthed out of a desire to please the Lord. Abraham was 75 years old when God called him and Samuel was only about 12 years old when God called him. Sometimes the training and proving periods are long and tedious. Whichever the case, patience and a right spirit are required or you will miss God’s will. That’s basically what happened to Judas. I believe Judas thought he could force Jesus’ hand. Instead, he destroyed his life and his potential ministry.
19. You cannot be a church leader without the blessing of a pastor and the covering of a local church.
Paul never embarked on a missionary journey without the unification of apostolic ministry and the covering (blessing) of a local church. This goes back to my point in part one of this post regarding submission to spiritual authority. God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via unification and through the mechanisms of authority. I’ve seen people run from church to church looking for someone to validate their personal ministry, eventually they find someone willing to give them a pedestal of some kind or another. But this is not the apostolic way, nor does God bless it. Those kinds of dissidents beget more dissidents and undermine their own ministry. It’s hard to inspire loyalty when you birth your “ministry” in disloyalty. I’ve seen this process run the spectrum from pastor, to preacher, to teacher, to evangelist, to musician, to singer, to youth leader, and on and on.
20. You cannot be a church leader without the ability to lead.
This one is going to rub some people the wrong way, but I know many good people who desired to be in leadership who lacked the ability to lead people. They eventually end up leading themselves and growing embittered. They drifted from the true “calling” that God had placed on their lives because they desired promotion. If you have a genuine calling (as we’ve already discussed) promotion will come without self-promotion. I often fear that in our rush to start new churches we push individuals into positions they are not qualified for or called into. One caveat, I do believe that if God truly calls he does qualify. However, many inadvertently substitute their own desires for a genuine Divine calling. They go to their pastor seeking approval with no desire for actual counsel. Using the apostle Paul’s analogy of the Church being like a body fitly joined together it is imperative that the shoulder work in conjunction with the neck, and the neck in conjunction with the head, and so on. When a hand, for example, tries to be a leg spiritual imbalance ensues. To be clear, many begin this journey with the best of intentions. However, good intentions alone are no substitute for God’s will.
21. You cannot be a church leader if you do not maintain a high standard of holiness.
20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. 21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. 22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:20-22).
True servants of God always produce the fruits of holiness in their inward and outward lives. The apostle James tells us that not many should become teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly by God (James 3:1). What a sobering thought. That’s why spiritual leadership is not to be taken lightly. Experience has taught me that followers will always follow at least a step or two behind the leader. Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind they are still safe (i.e. saved). When spiritual leaders traverse in the gray areas their followers fall into oblivion. Servants of God are to be modest, sober, diligent, upright, moral, biblically sound, and trustworthy. Some of this is becoming redundant but it bears repeating because of its importance.
Tis the season of New Year’s resolutions where we analyze and annotate our plans for self-betterment in the fresh year. Honestly, we break most resolutions and barely feel a twinge of regret. My 2015 goal of giving up Coke Cola lasted a miserable three days before ending with a delicious carbonated fizz. Regardless, resolutions are noble and worthy of careful consideration. With that in mind, allow me to recommend that you add the most important resolution possible to your list. I would like to encourage you to be more faithful in church attendance and participation in 2016 than you have ever been before. No matter how active or inactive you have been previously, take it up a notch or two in 2016. I promise that you will see blessings because of it. God honors faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:13, Matthew 24:45-47). Period.
We cannot expect God to bless our homes if we will not make His house a priority. Every other area of your spiritual and even physical life will be strengthened by becoming more faithful to the house of God. If in the past, you have only attended the Sunday morning service make an effort to attend the Sunday evening service as well (if your church still has one). Midweek Bible studies are a completely different format than Sunday services and they give an opportunity to learn, stretch, grow, understand, and discover things that are simply not possible in the Sunday format. Why am I asking for this intensified commitment? Because you get what you put in. You’ll only grow in God as you begin to stretch yourself. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the Spirit calling you to go deeper in your commitment to the Lord’s house.
We are biblically mandated to assemble together as often as possible (Hebrews 10:25, Matthew 18:20, Colossians 3:16, Acts 2:42, Ephesians 4:12, Romans 10:17, Luke 4:16, Matthew 6:33, Hebrews 3:13), especially as the Lord’s return grows eminent. God instituted the Church for our benefit, not as a burden but as a strengthening mechanism for our souls. The closer you draw to the Church the stronger you will become, and the inverse is also true.
This resolution goes beyond merely showing up and filling a pew. I’m suggesting that as you grow in faithfulness you prayerfully find areas of ministry that you can be a part of. You cannot be used if you are not present. You cannot be used if you are not committed or growing spiritually, but as you grow you will become an integral part of the work of the Kingdom. This is a privilege that will bring anointing, blessings, and enormous amounts of satisfaction into your life. Ask the Lord (and work with the ministry) to match your unique talents to the needs of the Church. Old-timers used to call it “putting your hand to the plow.” And that is exactly what God wants from you in 2016.
Jesus said, “…the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:37).” God isn’t in need of a harvest, it’s already there; He’s looking for faithful workers who will immerse themselves in spiritual field work.
I know that we will leave many resolutions unfulfilled in the coming year. We may not lose that five pounds, or learn that second language, fix that old car, go back to school, give up soda, or eat less sugar; but we absolutely must become more faithful to Church than we have ever been before. And as we give of our time let’s not forget that 10% of our income belongs to God as well. Freewill offerings too (Malachi 3:8-12, Proverbs 3:9, 2 Corinthians 9:7, Leviticus 27:30-34, Ezra 7:16, Genesis 14:19-20, Genesis 28:20-22, Numbers 18:21-26, Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 2 Chronicles 31:4-5, Nehemiah 10:35-37).
Officer Jason was excited to be a part of the task force commissioned with retrieving Suzie who had been kidnapped out of a Supermarket when she was only 8 years old. Now five years later they believed they knew exactly where she was being held captive; a small house on the edge of a sleepy California town. They watched the house and waited until her captor stepped out onto the front porch for a smoke. He was on the ground and handcuffed without incident within a matter of seconds. Officer Jason’s heart pounded with pride as he stepped into the house anticipating emancipating Suzie. His thoughts raced to the inevitable tear-filled reunion between Suzie and her loving parents, who had been inconsolable these past five years without their little girl. The house was filthy and filled with an odor so pungent that his eyes began to water; as Jason crossed the living room he suddenly found himself staring down the muzzle of a revolver; Suzie was holding the gun and her eyes were full of worry with a tinge of rage as well. “Where’s my Edward?” she screamed! “What have you done?” she sobbed! And then she pulled the trigger.
Thankfully Officer Jason was wearing his vest that day. He recovered quickly from the bruised rib, but Suzie is still struggling to recover from a terrible condition known as Stockholm Syndrome.
STOCKHOLM SYNDROME (sometimes referred to as Capture Bonding) is a psychological phenomenon where hostages identify with, become emotionally attached to, and sometimes even fall in love with their captors. They often defend, protect and develop strong emotional connections with their abusers. Victims of abuse such as battered wives, battered girlfriends, children, concentration camp survivors, and prisoners of war often suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. Sadly, people like Officer Jason have learned the hard way that victims of Stockholm Syndrome will resist the rescue, they will fight against salvation, and they will protect their abusers. It’s tragic! It’s heartbreaking! And many never fully recover from the psychological damage that lingers in their lives even long after the physical captivity is over. They are physically free but emotionally bound.
I see evidence of SPIRITUAL STOCKHOLM SYNDROME all around me. We know that Satan has come to kill, to steal and to destroy (John 10:19). His mission is total domination of your soul. He wants your soul as a trophy for Hell’s mantle place. He knows what his fate will be, but he also knows that every tortured soul breaks God’s heart. So he roams like a silent assassin, a quiet killer; looking to bring you into captivity (1 Peter 5:8). He knows better than to present himself as your enemy. No one would willingly open up their front door to a thug or a kidnapper. Instead, he presents himself as a friend, a protector, a savior, a helper, or even an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) if needed. He morphs into whatever it takes to bring your guard down. He’ll tell you whatever you need to hear in order to manipulate your actions and dominate your thinking. He’ll separate you from everything that can truly help you, and everyone who truly loves you. He’ll twist your mind until you’re not sure what’s wrong & what’s right, what’s up & what’s down, what’s real & what’s not. Until you call right, wrong and you call wrong, right (Isaiah 5:20).
We’ve all witnessed victims of SPIRITUAL STOCKHOLM SYNDROME who were so confused, they actually believed the thing holding them captive and destroying their life was their dearest friend. In dramatic cases, we see the drug addict who thinks they can’t live without another hit. The alcoholic who can’t make it without “just” another sip. The gambler who can’t resist playing away his kid’s college fund. The promiscuous person who lives for another cheap thrill. But those are only the obvious cases. Many others suffer silently from Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome; they’re held captive by false doctrines, fooled by faulty teachers, drained by evil philosophies, and clinging to false promises made by wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Satan is a master of deception and subtlety. When he approached Eve in the Garden he seemed friendly, familiar and caring. He disguised himself as a leader who cared more about her well-being than God did. He just wanted her to have a good time. He just wanted her to meet her full potential. He just wanted her to be free. In reality, he was setting the world up for pain, and death, and sin, and evil beyond Eve’s ability to comprehend.
Satan is not your drinking buddy, your partner in crime, your small-time pot dealer, or your local pimp; Satan is the incarnation of evil. He’s worse than your worst nightmare, and the only thing that he hates more than you is the God that made you. His only goal is gaining total dominion over your soul. Hell is not a party boat, a late night club, or an afterlife playground. Hell is not a curse word or a descriptive term for your bad day. It’s a real place of eternal judgment. Captivity there will be final. There is no escaping Hell once Satan gets you there. Hell will make your worst day on earth seem like a lazy summer afternoon. In Hell, God’s mercy will no longer restrict Satan’s evil. In Hell, the blood of Jesus will no longer set the captive free. In Hell, salvation will not be available. But if you’re still breathing that means you still have access to freedom.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 8, Jesus had a fascinating exchange with the crowd that he was teaching that day. He had just made an impassioned statement of hope and deliverance by declaring, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).” Their response was an indication of full-blown Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome. They said, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free (John 8:33)?” First of all, they had been and still were in a form of physical bondage (they were under Rome’s thumb). They were hostages in their own land. But beyond that, they were certainly in spiritual captivity. The religious leaders of the day had distorted the law into something that it was never intended to be, and sin was running rampant amongst God’s elect. Their response was as arrogant as it was ignorant. But Jesus was undeterred by their blatant Stockholm Syndrome. He ignored their denial and responded, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth forever (John 8:34-35). Sin is a cruel taskmaster who often masquerades as a friend. We fall in love with the hostage taker and attack our savior. Isn’t that exactly what they did to Jesus when they screamed crucify him and hung him on a tree? Thankfully, the jubilant words of Jesus are just as true today as they were when he first said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8:36).