Posts Categorized: Leadership

Iceberg Pastors

When you’re a pastor, from time-to-time people will ask you, ‘What do you do during the week?’ It’s an excellent question (but not usually for the reasons people ask it).

There are no job descriptions for pastoral ministry in the New Testament. There are directives and pointers that feed into the picture of what pastoral work looks like. But generally speaking I’d say that how a pastor spends his time is usually more influenced by a whole range of other factors — personality, church culture, theological heritage, character, and context.

For me, it is a matter of constant adjustments and course corrections. I doubt I shall ever be satisfied that I can confidently tell you what a pastor should do during the week, and that’s partly because there simply cannot be a universal job description for this calling.

But there is one rule that I think ought to underpin every pastor’s understanding of his calling, which is that he needs to be an iceberg. What do I mean? Simply this: that whatever public ministry he engages in (that bit above the surface) needs to be built upon a lifetime of preparation, growth, character, learning, and reliance on God (the mass under the surface). Public prayers ought to be a taste of how he prays in private. Preaching ought to be the cream scraped off the top of his brain.

Sometimes I sick a little into my mouth when I think about the cult of celebrity and entertainment that has built up around so much of pastoral ministry and church life, and the concurrent consumerist approach of the average churchgoer. If Andrew Wilson is right, and we’re heading into winter, one benefit we can look forward to is the death of such things in the church. Winter will not tolerate palm trees and piña coladas. Winter will give birth to bigger icebergs.

What does this mean in practice? It means that in amongst the many and varied jobs that need to get done in church life, a pastor must carve out time to grow, and that is part of his job.

Weirdly enough, I think a lot of pastors actually feel guilty if they pray or read on the job. I’ve often heard people reason down these lines: if your church members have to pray and read the Bible outside of their working hours, you should too, otherwise you can’t keep encouraging them to do it. That’s fine in so far as you (the pastor) need to be working hard and not be the slackest member in your church. But it’s also stupid because giving yourself to the word and prayer is your job: it’s literally the one thing we ought to all agree that you’re paid to do. The rest is more or less up for grabs.

The tragedy is that often the models and priorities of church life today do not favour the pastor-iceberg. As a result, most pastors will be tempted to fill up their week with a lot of work that doesn’t allow them to grow deep in God. This is a constant war ground for the pastor’s heart. Here are two brief applications:

1. Church members, you must realise that your pastor is called to give himself to the word and prayer (see Acts 6). There are a lot of things you might like him to be that are not part of his calling.

2. Pastors, if you are feeling stretched thin, weak in faith, over-worked, under-inspired, neglectful of the things that feed your spirit, and altogether too lightweight, then take some time to rethink your priorities and your planning. If wise productivity is all about putting in the big blocks first, then let your growth in God be the first thing you plan for.

This post first appeared over at Think Theology.

Is It A Good Thing To Want To Be An Overseer?

For a while now I’ve assumed that every Christian man ought to aspire to church eldership. Look at 1 Timothy 3.1:

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”

On first reading it sounds like Paul is saying something to the effect that the men ought to desire eldership, that this is a good and noble desire. But I think my reading has for a long time been coloured by the way I’ve heard this passage preached, where the ambition to leadership is held up (like a rabbit before a pack of greyhounds) as something to help motivate men to grow up and mature. In fact, I’ve preached it this way myself.

But on a second reading I’m not at all sure that is what Paul’s saying. For one thing, he’s not addressing all the men in the room, but only a selection — notice the “if”. And furthermore, by saying “he desires a noble task” he is not necessarily saying “his desire itself is noble”. I think the meaning is not so much an affirmation of ambition, but an affirmation of the dignity of the role. It’s like saying: “If anyone wants to climb Everest, he has set his sights very high.”

The qualifications that follow in verses 2–7 are then not so much to be treated as goals to attain, though they are worthy goals for any Christian, but rather as a checklist before daring to step into such a role as eldership. So, the overall meaning is like this: “If you want to climb Everest (which is very high) you had better be fit, well-funded, well-trained, and well-bearded.” There is not, to my mind, any comment on whether someone ought to make this a goal in the first place.

What of the ambition to lead? The reality is that many men in churches do want to be elders, and that this desire can spur them on. Is this ambition good, or is it bad?

Calvin thinks that Paul is gently permitting the desire to eldership (the very fact that Paul is addressing such men shows a tacit acceptance of the desire; he doesn’t say the desire is wrong, after all). But Calvin adds some helpful words of caution and advice:

“If ambition is condemned in other matters, much more severely ought it to be condemned in ‘the office of a bishop.’ But Paul speaks of a godly desire, by which holy men wish to employ that knowledge of doctrine which they possess for the edification of the Church. For, if it were altogether unlawful to desire the office of a teacher, why should they who spend all their youth in reading the Holy Scriptures prepare themselves by learning? What are the theological schools but nurseries of pastors?”

So there are men whose passions and interests have led them to pursue vigorous study, and if that is coupled with desire, it may be a good thing for them to find outlet for their gifts for the benefit of the church. He goes on:

“Accordingly, they who have been thus instructed not only may lawfully devote themselves and their labours to God by a voluntary offering, but even ought to do so, and that too, before they have been admitted unto the office; provided that, nevertheless, they do not thrust themselves forward, and do not, even by their own wish, make themselves bishops, but are only ready to discharge the office, if their labours shall be required.”

That is, if a man has been trained he should start finding any and every opportunity to use what he’s got long before he gets ordained. But don’t push for ordination, wait for a summons.

“And if it turn out that, according to the lawful order; they are not called, let them know that such was the will of God, and let them not take it in that others have been preferred to them. But they who, without any selfish motive, shall have no other wish than to serve God and the Church, will be affected in this manner; and, at the same time, will have such modesty that they will not be at all envious, if others be preferred to them as being more worthy.”

This is undoubtedly the test of whether ambition for leadership is well-motivated or not: how a guy reacts when he’s refused the place on the leadership team. Will he have this modesty and complete absence of envy? Will he take it as God’s will?

This post first appeared over at ThinkTheology.

How shall I stand if such mighty pillars have been cast to the ground?

fallen_pillarNothing is sadder or more destructive for the church than when leaders crash to the ground in a public way. It can be so disillusioning and disappointing for those of us who have loved and admired them (a point Matthew Hosier makes so well here). I know very little of the circumstances surrounding the decision of the Acts 29 board to remove Mark Driscoll and his church, Mars Hill, from the network. But I feel the crushing disappointment of the whole thing, given how much admiration I feel for the ministry of Driscoll.

This morning I read these unbelievably relevant words from John Owen in a book of daily readings. Read this slowly and carefully:

“It is the great duty of all believers to use all diligence that we do not fall into temptation. Adam was created in the image of God, full of integrity, righteousness, and holiness. He had a far greater inherent stock of ability than we, and there was nothing in him to entice or seduce him. No sooner had he entered into temptation but he was gone, lost, and ruined, and all his posterity with him. What can we expect if we also enter into temptation? We, like him, have the temptation and the cunning of the devil to deal with, but we also have a cursed world and a corrupt heart to increase the power of temptation. Abraham is an example for all believers to follow, and yet he entered into temptation about his wife and was overpowered to the dishonour of God. God called David ‘a man after God’s own heart’, yet what a dreadful thing is the story of his entering into temptation! I might mention Noah, Lot, Hezekiah, Peter and the rest, whose temptations and falls are recorded for our instruction. Certainly any with a heart for these things will cry out ‘How shall I stand, O Lord, if such mighty pillars have been cast to the ground? If such great cedars were blown down, how shall I stand before temptation? O keep me that I do not enter into temptation!’ Are any without a wound or blemish that have entered temptation? How will we fare? Assuredly, if we see stronger men fail, we will seek to avoid the battle at all cost. Is it not madness for a man who can barely crawl up and down (which is the case for most of us), if he does not avoid that which has brought down giants in the undertaking thereof? If you are yet whole and sound, take heed of temptation, lest it happens to you as with Abraham and the rest who fell in time of trial.”

(John Owen in Voices from the Past, edited by Richard Rushing, p.96)

On the back of this, three pieces of counsel come to mind.

1. Try not to judge that which you know nothing about

None of us have been privy to the discussions that have happened behind doors regarding all the issues surrounding Mark Driscoll. I trust the Acts 29 board because, from what I know of them, they seem to be a well-rounded and wise bunch of men. But I’m not going to dismiss Driscoll or write him off. On the contrary, my hope and prayer is that he would come through this stronger and more effective. God knows many of us have been inspired and helped by him.

2. Look at your own life and make a double effort to root out the sins of your heart

For those of us who are in positions of leadership in the church, or aspire to get there, the sentiments that Owen expresses here are poignantly relevant. I am not a pillar or a cedar, and if even they can come crashing to the ground, I had better take a look at my own life and root out the sins of my heart by the grace of God.

3. Avoid the battle of ‘entering into temptation’ at all costs

This is Owen’s main point. He’s not talking about the battle of the Christian life (which we are all engaged in), but the battle of facing down temptation, of ‘entering into temptation’. This is a situation in which the lusts of your own heart meet timely opportunities to sin, and the outcome is your inevitable downfall. Just as Jesus told us to watch lest we enter into temptation, Owen wants Christians to see that, rather than just avoiding the sin itself, we need to make every effort (through prayer and wise choices) to avoid entering into temptation. Don’t go there. Flee. Make it impossible to get tempted in the ways you know you’re vulnerable. Of course, how you do that will depend on your makeup and your situation, but we can learn from what little we know of Driscoll’s circumstances, and the far greater knowledge we have of our own hearts, to make sure we are careful in this.