Scottish Pastor Robert Murray McCheyne once said that "My people's greatest need is my personal holiness." Additionally, "It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likenesses to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hands of God." McCheyne liked to emphasize the importance of holiness in the life of a minister of the gospel. Over gifts, style or manner of preaching, and leadership experience, he stressed that holiness seen in becoming more Christlike should be the key characteristic of a man called into the ministry. In fact, everything else will unravel if the pastor faults on their personal holiness.
Several months ago, a prominent pastor who has gained notoriety due to his family background and through his preaching and writing attacked this statement by McCheyne, strongly disagreeing with it. That man has now lost his position as pastor due to admitting being in an inappropriate relationship. Perhaps his personal holiness was more important than he thought for his ministry and the people he served. (I share this not to in any way criticize and call out this individual but to illustrate the point about the importance of holiness in the life of a minister. This is why I intentionally decide not to mention his name in this blogpost. Also, I realize that I am no better than he is and could easily fall into the same temptation should I let my guard down and not be as concerned about my personal holiness.)
God Himself views personal holiness as a key characteristic for those called into the ministry. Just look at the qualifications He has Paul lay out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Have you ever noticed that all of these really are character traits? The only exception would be "able to teach" in v. 2. And not only are these character traits, but they are ones that reflect the personal holiness of the one called to be a pastor. They address how the minister deals with personal matters. His faithfulness to his wife ("a one woman man" or "the husband of one wife"). The discipline of his children ("keeping his children submissive"). The management of his entire household. His personal life in contrast to his public persona. It is crucial that we recognize this. A pastor who makes a complete failure in his personal holiness can very much disqualify himself for the ministry. (I shudder as I type this realizing how susceptible I can be if I am not careful. I am just as weak as those who have fallen and in desperate need of God's grace and His Holy Spirit to further make me more like Christ through my involvement in spiritual disciplines and the means of grace.)
What concerns me though is how much the personal holiness of a pastor is often neglected today. How many search committees of congregations looking for a new pastor take into consideration the personal holiness of their candidates? Are they more concerned with how powerful of a sermon he can deliver than they are with whether he strives to love his wife as Christ loves the Church? Or whether his children are well-behaved and obedient to him? Does that even come into consideration? Are they willing to overlook the personal holiness of a candidate that God lays out in order to get the leader that they desire?
Now it is quite possible to have a successful ministry in the professing church's eyes but be an utter failure at home. Church history is filled with powerful preachers and missionaries who were horrible husbands and faulty fathers. Who wound up sacrificing family on the altar of ministry. Whose public ministry got in the way of their personal ministry at home. Allow me to share just a few examples of some well known names who sadly neglected their personal affairs on account of their public ministry. John Wesley, who greatly promoted holiness, would not be seen as holy in the treatment of his wife. He even stated once when leaving the house that he hoped to never see her horrible face again. Or take his preaching colleague, George Whitefield, who would leave his wife for long preaching trips and considered his marriage a hindrance at times when the care of her would take him away from his preaching. Then there is William Carey, known as the "father of modern missions," whose wife was driven to experience depression, psychological issues, and eventual insanity due to his lack of care for her and the rigors of missionary life. And theological giant, A. W. Tozer, who neglected his wife for ministry and personal study. She even stated after his death with her second marriage that she was the happiest she had ever been. That "Aiden Wilson Tozer loved Jesus Christ but Lawrence Oden [her second and current husband at the time] loves me." Such successful ministers who skirted their God-given responsibilities at home. Something the Lord certainly would have frowned on and that their commitment to their public ministry did not excuse in His eyes.
So what is the point of all this? What am I seeking to do here? I want to encourage those blessed with the privilege to serve as undershepherds of God's flock not to neglect your own personal holiness. It may derail your ministry if you do as the case with the unnamed individual shared above and even if it doesn't, know that the Lord will not be pleased in how you conduct yourself with your family. Personally, I take this as a warning to myself to make my own personal holiness and growth in Christlikeness a major priority. It really is the best thing for the congregation I serve as well as my family. (I think the longer that I serve in ministry that what I preach, teach, and write is more for myself than anyone else.) And if you have not been called as a pastor, when you pray for your pastor (and as a pastor, I really hope that you regularly pray for those God has called to lead you spiritually), make sure to ask the Lord to work in his life to become more like Christ. It really is the best thing that he can do for both his physical family and his spiritual one.
Soli Deo Gloria!!!
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15
- I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Have you ever considered how the Bible describes itself? What God says concerning His very own Word? There is no stronger testimony of Scripture than God’s testimony. It is really hard to argue with the author of a book himself when he tells you what he thinks about it. That certainly is true when we are talking about God’s Word. Let’s take a look at just a few things He states concerning His Word.
In Hebrews 4:12, God tells us that His Word “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” It confronts us in areas that we can easily keep hidden from others, revealing the deepest sinful thoughts that are present inside of us. In fact, it cuts so deep that it can uncover wickedness that we are not even aware of ourselves. The Bible is a more powerful weapon than anything that man could ever create and gets to the heart of the matter unlike any other weapon known to us. In Jeremiah 23:29, God says, “Is not My word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” God’s Word can break our stubborn hearts and wills like nothing else can.
God also tells us that His Word is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Those who have been born again by the work of the Holy Spirit, have been born “not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The Spirit of God works through the Word of God to cut through how we falsely see ourselves as righteous and reveal to us our unrighteousness before a holy God thus showing that we deserve His wrath. He then uses it to break our stubborn wills that refuse to submit to Him and transform our hearts to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as our only hope to ever be able to stand before such a holy God because of what He has done on the cross. That all comes from the Word of God! In fact, even the ability to spiritually comprehend the message in order to have faith in Christ stems from God’s Word. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And not only does the Word of God serve to bring one to salvation, but to continue their growth in the Lord. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Do you not see and sense here the power of God’s Word? What else and who else has the ability to take someone deadset on sin living for themselves and transform them to seek to put sin to death in their life and live for the Lord Jesus Christ instead? No one is able to change someone’s heart or mind but God can, and does, through His Holy Word! We witness this with every major revival in history that has been recorded for us. In each case, the spiritual revival stemmed from the preaching and teaching of the Bible. For instance, what brought the people of Israel back to the proper worship of the Lord when they had fallen into idolatry was the discovery of God’s Word that had been lost under the reign of wicked kings (2 Kings 22:8-23:27). An entire wicked city is brought to repentance through the preaching of God’s Word even when the messenger himself is reluctant (Jonah 3:1-9). When the visible church fell into darkness during the Middle Ages and the leaders moved away from the Word of God as their sole authority for all matters, teaching many superstitions and a false gospel based upon the works of man instead of the grace of God, it was the faithful preaching of the Word of God by men such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin as well as the Bible being made available in the language that the people of the day actual spoke that brought about a massive reformation as people came to know the truth of who God is and what He has done to save them in Christ alone. Worship also began to return to how God has designed it to be from the perversion that man had made it. Martin Luther recognized that the Word of God was responsible for all of this transformation: “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing . . . The Word did it all.”
Know that when you hold the Bible in your hands that you are holding a mighty and powerful weapon that very well can change your life. However, it does no good setting on your shelf or only being opened on Sunday morning and perhaps also Wednesday night. How sad it is that professing Christians neglect the very Words of the One they claim to love. Or they wonder why they do not grow in their faith as they spend very little time exploring what God says. I write this not to make anyone feel guilty but to encourage you to get into the Word daily. As we begin a new year, I challenge you to make it a habit to pick up this powerful Word and soak it in every day. If you have fallen out of the habit, pray that God helps you start it up again. We can’t avoid the wonderful words of life that are found in Scripture!
Love in Christ,