Lecture 11: Requirements for Ministry (part 2)
Course: Theology of Ministry
Lecture: Requirements for Ministry (part 2)
Three, godly character is the third requirement. We know that, again, from a number of passages all through scripture, Moses, God spent 80 years working on his life before he used him —
Joseph, 13 years, and on go the stories in the Old Testament. David, who had a lot of work done in him in the wilderness; Paul, three years in the desert — all of these, one would say, character was getting forged.
And God was using lots of things from prayer and meditation to temptation to forge this character. I think I put a quote there by Spurgeon. "It would be in vain for me to stock my library or organize societies or project schemes if I neglect the culture of myself. For books and agencies and systems are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling.
My own spirit, soul and body are my nearest machinery for sacred service. My spiritual faculties and my inner life are my battle axe and weapons of war." — Great statement, huh? He was so much more eloquent back then.
It is a habit that is important to develop. And I can stress enough that that's not something you wait to develop when you graduate from seminary. That's gotta be done here. If you can't do it here, you won't do it there.
Well, I don't know if you know that. But if you don't know that, you need to know that. Form your habits. Build into your habits right now giving careful attention to your soul. Guard your emotions. Watch your spirit.
Watch your life. Now why is character so important? Obviously it's what validates ministry. There's got to be a coherence between the public and the private. So in this thing called ministry, there's got to be coherence between who we are and what we do.
As Odin puts it, you must embody the behavior you teach. And Paul's warning to Timothy is a good passage to underscore, 1 Timothy 4:16 where Paul exerts Timothy to watch yourself. For if you do — remember what he said?
If you do you will save who? You will save yourself and your hearers. So paying attention to our self is critical if we're going to save both our self and our hearers. We are what God uses.
Peter says to the leaders there in 1 Peter 5:3, "Prove yourself to be examples." Second Corinthians 6:3, Paul says "giving no offense for anything that the ministry not be discredited." First Thes 2:10: "You are witnesses. And show is God how uprightly, devoutly, blamelessly we behave towards you."
So Paul would have to go back and use that issue of his personal credibility to legitimize his ministry as you and I would have to do from time to time. Acts 20: With the Ephesian elders, Paul did the same thing. He says "remember, remember my life. Remember how I lived."
What is he doing? He's arguing for what I said is true. Look at my life. And that's what we have to say to people too when we minister God's work. We have to in effect say as Paul said, "Look at my life. It's true."
So that means we've got to really develop that part of our life. If we don't believe it, no one else is going to believe it that we're trying to convince to believe it. Yesterday I said to the congregation, "God has set something on your heart. Has he? Are you aware of what he's called you to, what he's said on your heart?
Are you aware that God's hand is upon you? Are you really aware of that?" But it sounds [inaudible] and doesn't go very far if I'm not thoroughly convinced that God said something on my heart and God's hand is not on my life.
It's what validates ministry. it's what, secondly, empowers ministry. It's what gives force to what we say, what we do. Joseph [phonetic] Stowall puts it this way: "Character is the critical mass of ministry."
Matthew 7:17-20: "Fruitfulness of our ministry is in proportion to the sanctification of our soul." Fruitfulness of our ministry is in direct proportion to the sanctification of our soul. If it's what validates, if it's what empowers our ministry, this is where the devil will attack us all the time.
He will do everything he can. He will be merciless, because it only takes on small thing, right? — One small thing. Ecclesiastes 10:1, just one fly in the moment. We can spend years and years and years trying to say it right, do it right, and it only takes one unright thing to undo all those years.
It's an amazing thing, the power of value, moral value. And every now and then when we look at scripture passages like — what is it? — Numbers 20 with Moses and its impatience and his disqualification from entering the land oughta just kind of shake us a little bit and just remind us that God takes serious sin.
So what are some of those critical dimensions of spiritual character? I'm going to mention some obvious and maybe a few that are not so obvious. One of the obvious ones is purity of motive. And the point just to put here in your notes is that self-interest has no place or maybe little place.
It's almost impossible to not have some self-interest as I think of this statement. But it should have small place. A couple passages, 2 Corinthians 5:9, Paul's ambition is to please God not men.
And along with that, 1 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul from time to time really wanted to clarify his motives. He wanted people to know what his motives were, so purity of motive — secondly, purity of life.
To be a minister is to promise to live a life of purity. Richard Newhouse in his book "Freedom for Ministry" refers to it as — it's a wonderful phrase — vocation to holiness. It's a vocation to holiness.
That's what military really is. It's a vocation to holiness. And so it means that we take at times radical actions, like Paul says to Timothy, "Flee [phonetic] youth for less." Paul doesn't say try to conquer it. Try to work it out.
You know, sometimes run for your life, right? Second Timothy 2:22, there are times as ministers we just have to realize, "Hey, there's no place for me to be here. I've got to get out of here and get out of this situation."
So, moral purity is just huge. This is where the adversary can be very subtle. We've had on our staff a very godly woman who leads one of our ethnic ministries — single woman, just really loves God.
Would have been the last person that I would have guessed would have experienced moral failure. But just 2 weeks ago she came in our office and said, "I'm pregnant." That's a hard thing.
You never know. You never know. And I think we need to be very careful in this day in which we have tendered to take a lot of restraints down in terms of movies we watch, things we read...
And every now and then we need to just remind ourselves — Okay, just remember a lot of those things get etched in the brain. And they stay there for a long time. If you're married, it's not a bad idea from time to time to say to your spouse, "Look, I just want to make sure you understand and I understand that it's vital that we stay attractive for each other."
Because the enemy will do all we can to encourage us to be attractive to somebody else — so, purity. Thirdly, when I think about requirements for ministry, one that we may not think about too much — I'm going to move from a little bit of the obvious to a little bit of the less obvious.
And that's — I want to talk about diligence for a little bit. Ministry is hard work. If anybody thinks you've entered into ministry because it's a, you know, easy way to go then they don't understand ministry.
I have a brother-in-law who always likes to kid me. "Well John, you know, difference between you and me is you only have to work one day a week." And I always tell him, "Keith, you know, that's one of the worst jokes that I hear."
And we laugh. And we kid each other, cos he knows that that's not true. But the reality is sometimes people think that's true. I remember my elder chairman a number of years ago had a younger daughter who said to him one day, she said, "Daddy, does pastor John do anything else the other 6 days of the week?"
She really didn't think I did, except maybe just have fun. It's sort of like Rick — he's the writer in the back of Sports Illustrated — Rick Riley, right? He writes a great column every week there. And he tells about one time his daughter came in and said, "Daddy, you just write one article a week for the back of Sports Illustrated.
What do you do with the rest of your time?" And he had a great answer. He said, "I worry what I'm going to write in that one page." And that's a lot of what ministry can feel like.
But it is hard work. And there are two dangers we need to avoid. The first one I think I've listed there is — Do you see it — [Phonetic] Acedia? I'm not sure if that's the right pronunciation.
But it is a word of Greek origin that means literally "without care," without care. Let me develop this a little bit. Another description of it is — there's a wonderful article that came out in First Things a number of years ago entitled "The Noon Day Demon."
This Acedia that creeps up in the heat od ay. And it was something in the early Monastic tradition that they really work for because people in ministry struggled with it. Here are some descriptions.
It is a despair over continuing to stay passionate about the things of God. It is a despair over continuing to stay passionate. Or maybe somewhere in ministry you begin to doubt whether God intended for ministers to reach for the heavens.
What I'm talking about is really subtle stuff, not the obvious like moral impurity. But it's the more subtle ways that the adversary begins to creep in — a dullness of the soul, a dullness of the soul that can stem from a restlessness that we're not getting a handle on — a dryness of the soul, a dryness of the soul that lets the word became tasteless, prayer monotonous, even maybe pointless.
Have any of you ever experienced this? — All of this, as opposed to a vigorous piety if you will. And it's something we really have to watch over because if our zeal begins to dull, people will feel your barrenness.
It will come out. It just can't help but come out. You can't hide it. They may even perceive it before you perceive it. This part of — back to 1 Timothy 4. Watch over yourselves. Watch over your soul. Watch over this subtle thing in ministry that can begin to creep in.
Let me just say for those of you that preach, keep in mind that when you preach you're expending more than just intellectual energy, if you will, or physical energy. You're expending more than emotional energy.
You're expending something of your soul. And whether you're preaching in a counseling office — when I'm intensely involved in counseling with someone and I'm seeking to bring them to God's truth and talk about what God is calling them and sharing with them how to live, that takes huge amounts of energy, from me anyway, just huge amounts.
The thing is we sometimes don't realize how much is expended until we start to go dry. Paul talks about it, doesn't he? What is it? — In Galatians 6 about being weary and what? Do you remember? — Weary and well-doing. There's a weariness that can subtly move to a certain form of Acedia, where you wake up one morning and just go I don't care and can't explain what that is.
And you find you're working with this passage, let's say, but you don't care. Or you're ministering to someone in a counseling context and you find that way, way down deep you're thinking "I don't care. I really don't care about this person and their — I'm tired of hearing people's problems."
It can manifest itself in a lot of ways. Now there is a kind of laziness that is more obvious. And yet it also is very subtle. It's consuming time and nothingness. I'm still talking about Acedia here, consuming time and nothingness and chalking it up as study — anyone know what that means?
That would be a very good one. I had a friend who was an associate pastor who used to tell me that his pastor he worked under spent most of his week in the study reading novels. That's what he did — most of the week spent in his study reading novels and chalking it up as study.
It's when we start to become a dabbler in literature, dabbler in blog sites, indulging in too much light reading... We begin to become a social lounger. And we neglect the deeper study. What is this Acedia? It can be evenings obliterated by TV, neither of entertainment nor education.
This is how Newhouse puts it, "but of narcoticized defense against time and duty." This is not to say we all don't need that. Sometimes in the midst of a really hard week and it's late at night and I come home and I'm not ready to go to sleep, I might just turn on something that I don't have to think.
But what I'm talking about is something that's more subtle. And that's when that becomes a routine. You find yourself beginning to refuse to engage in the pathos of life. And you start to move to a certain apathos or apathy. And you find yourself beginning to fail to redeem the time, Ephesians 5:16.
Eugene Peterson, he's written a lot about this. And he puts it this way. He says, "Sloth — Acedia here works as well — is not about doing nothing. It is about doing nothing of what we were created or called to do." Now think about that statement. Sloth is not about doing nothing.
It's about doing nothing of what we were created or called in ministry to do. Beware of a lot of activism that amounts to a whole lot of nothing. So one requirement of ministry here in this diligence is beware of Acedia. Here's the other danger that's obviously of the other extreme.
It's on the next page too. And that's a certain workaholism. Here's the danger. Here's the subtlety of ministry. We throw ourselves into a work whose demands are never met. People's expectations are never satisfied. And our own sense of spiritual adequacy is never met.
We can throw ourselves into a work whose demands are never met, people's expectations that are never satisfied. And worst of all our own sense of spiritual adequacy for the task that's never met. This is one of the great dangers of ministry. When are you done?
You're never done. It's like I've said before. When people ask me, "So John, how long does it take to do a sermon? When are you finished?" I go "I'm finished when I start preaching." I'm never finished. And that's the nature of ministry.
When I was a kid, my dad worked for Fritos Lay. And I used to write the routes with him. That's one of the great times in my life with my dad. There were some times where I thought it would really be great to work for Fritos Lay, you know.
You go in. You take the rack. You replace what needs to be there. You take any bad products out. You get done on Friday. You look back. It's done, at least for the weekend it's done. You never really have that feeling in ministry.
I don't drive home going "It's done." I drive home always with "It's ongoing." This is how the subtleties of workaholism can come in and mess up this whole thing called diligence. And what happens is the sacred duty starts to feel like a joyless marathon that has no end point.
And we forget this, that just as Jesus knew his points of exhaustion, so must we. We know when in this unceasing activity and this unceasing expectation we put on ourselves and others put on us. We need to know when to retreat and say, like Jesus, "Okay, that's unfortunate.
Lazarus is sick. But I'm not going today," if only it were that easy. I mean I don't know what my congregation would do if I said that and then came back 3 days later and Lazarus died. But Jesus did, didn’t he?
And I like how Ray Anderson and his practical theology — [crosstalk] Yes, excuse me.
Audience Member: [inaudible], right? It's not going to [inaudible].
Well, yeah, yeah. But —
Audience Member: Wasn't that the point? — Not that Jesus —
Well, I think — Yeah, I think that's the point. But I think there's also a point that you can build off of other things Jesus did in his ministry — that he didn't always respond immediately in the situation. He responds to God's, to the Father's mission for his life.
And the point is we — if we're not careful in this workaholism, we can be dictated by the crisis, the emergencies. To a certain extent, that's unavoidable. But the point is that — well, let me just read you what Anderson says. And I think it's a fair statement.
He says it's bad theology. Now you have to think about what he's saying. But I think it's a fair statement. It's bad theology to love the world more than God, to interpret our calling in terms of the needs of the world rather than the will of god.
Audience Member: [inaudible]
Yeah, I mean Jesus didn't come and take care of every situation. And he didn't fit it necessarily into the time demands and schedules of people’s expectations. But what he did do is he came and in effect said at the end, "It's finished."
I've completed what God called me to do. It's just that you and I are in this profession, if I can put it that way, this calling, in which we will face the same kind of issues and the same kinds of temptations to try to meet all of the demands. And we just have to tell ourselves we can't and it's okay.
Because we're not actually working for them, we're trying to follow him and fulfill what he's calling us to do.
Audience Member: [inaudible]
Audience Member: [inaudible]warning against the compulsively co-dependent and [inaudible]. They take it as pleasure to be weighed down [inaudible]and disregard those interior matters which they [inaudible].
[inaudible]congregation equally calling the pastor [inaudible] when [inaudible] thus driven by the wings of temptation [inaudible].
Yeah, well said — page 71? Yeah, Anderson goes on to say that a theology that allows no rest is not a theology of the cross but a theology of the curse. Peterson in fact puts it this way in one of his articles. He says, "Ironically, it is its own form of laziness."
He puts it this way: "Sloth is laziness at the center." Y'all want a good conviction, sentence? — Convicts me. Sloth is laziness as the center, while the periphery is a dazzle with the thorn of activity and talk. Sloth is laziness at the center, while the periphery is a dazzle with the thorn of activity and talk.
It is a refusal to do our real work. And I just think maybe it's real important that you all hear this. And you think about this because in this hyper-culture we live in, it's only going to be more hyper tomorrow. I have a feeling you're going to need to go back to these kinds of words a lot, because otherwise you're just going to run dry.
Here's the interesting thing too. And I think it's something we really need to think about and goes back to this requirement of moral purity. And I go back to a guy like Gordon McDonald. And when you read really his pilgrimage, here was a guy that at the time that he entered into his impurity he was —
He was head of intervarsity. I mean he was on the fast track. He was writing great books. And basically what you get a sense of is that it happened. Why did it happen? It made no sense. He had a wonderful marriage. He often talks in his books about his relationship with Gayle.
How does that happen? It doesn't make any sense, except for this. He basically says "Here's how it happened. I got so active in ministry. I just kind of got to a point where..." And here's how it works, something like this — You get to a point where you're running so hard trying to meet everybody's expectations.
You're doing so many things that you start to feel like you deserve something for all of this. And then you go over the boundaries. Sometimes when you read about stories of people in ministry, they start doing some bizarre things. Oftentimes, those things happen when they get so busy.
What really convicts me about that is when I go back to somebody like Peterson who says, "Well, you think it's because you're so busy and important." He says "Not really. It's because you're so lazy," which you just go "Wait a minute, No, it's anything but that."
Peterson goes "Actually, it's all about that because you're lazy at the thing you should be doing the most. And that is focusing on the center, keeping your life in order..." — Important stuff, huh? Think about it.
He has a wonderful chapter in his book "Contemplative Pasture" entitled "The Unbusy Pasture," in which he says " anything that I get in the mail that says 'to the busy pastor," I throw in the trash can because they are only reinforcing what I'm trying not to be but what the world wants me to be because it gives the sense of importance."
And we all [sneeze] understand that. I think we do. It's a subtle thing. When people come up to me and say "You know, John, I know you're so busy." There's a part of me that likes to hear that because it somehow suggests that I'm important.
Peterson actually really takes me to task for that — says that's not about importance. That's about misplaced living — yeah?
Audience Member: Do you think that it's an issue of [inaudible]or is it management of how you view your time?
Well, it's not an either or. If you're managing your time, there will be that aspect to it. But here's the thing. And this is what we have to come to grips with in the ministry. It's that most of us, just about all of us, will not punch a time clock.
And so we will have to be the managers of our times. Now it works both ways. We won't have to punch a time clock so we can get away with not putting in the time that ministry demands. But on the other side of the coin, we don't have to punch a time clock means that we could put way too much time in that God never demanded.
We can structure the day as we please. And we can get away with doing very little or doing very much. And a great deal of our success will depend upon how we manage this thing. And in that bill, part of that management is rest. Put it another way.
Ministry is not — and maybe some of you need to hear this. I don't know. I don't know your personal life and habits. But ministry is not for those that need external structures. It's just not. If you can't handle life without external structures then maybe ministry shouldn't be what you get into, because there won't be.
There will be the ones you set up. But I don't have an elder board that says "So John, can you give us your time sheet?" So those are two things. Somewhere we've got to figure out what it means to be diligent and fulfill that requirement.
That means that I give myself and I give myself wholeheartedly and passionately. And I know when I've gone too far and when I've not gone far enough. And here's the deal, it's that it's really kind of different for all of us. Some people look at my life and think "You're crazy."
But I know my own gauges. And I know my own life. And I know my own pockets where I find my rest. And it works for me. And you have to find what that is for you. And in a certain sense, not again fall prey to people judging what that should be. You need to figure that out, within reasonable standards.
If you say "Well, I figured that out for my life. I just work two days a week." No, that's not going to fly. But it's not going to fly either to work, you know, 10 days a week either — questions on this one?
Okay, here's the fourth one. And this is another subtle one. But it's a requirement is reverence. And let me just describe this a little bit. It’s respect for the things of God. That's obvious. But here's what I mean by it.
When you're in ministry, over time you can start to lose that sense of reverence. And this is what it looks like. You've just seen one too many behind the scene things that start to make you cynical. Eugene Peterson says when someone asks him about the ministry, he says the mess.
In a certain sense, I love the mess. But there's a certain part of me that hates the mess. And the mess that I'm talking about is the mess of people's lives. Part of what drives us — I take it you — Why are you feel called to ministry?
I would guess in part you feel called because — kind of like Nehemiah. You want to go rebuild the wall. You want to go rebuild the brokenness. You want to go and care for people. What you may not realize you've signed up for is that because of your role you're going to discover a lot more of the mess than you ever intended.
Almost every week I discover things I wish I never knew, about people, about their marriage, things behind closed doors. What can happen if we're not careful is we can begin to take on a certain form of cynicism. Or here's another way we can lose the sense of reference is we begin to treat the holy as common.
This is really subtle. And I hope you make sure you write this down — to treat the holy as common. You know, leading worship begins to become mundane. Preaching is just another "get the sermon done." — Handling the sacred so often, it becomes banal, making light of the work of God.
Or treating it as business, as reports, graphs, number of baptisms, conversions, people to become products, consumers, customers — this kind of language can get in and infect us. And we could lose the sense of reference in ministry. What's one of our core requirements?
We have to guard the reference — number five, a loving heart. That's, again, one of the more obvious ones. And yet sometimes we can hate the church. And we have to remember, "No, if I'm going to fulfill the requirement of a minister, I've got to love the church and I've got to love God's people."
First Thessalonians 2:8, 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 — Here's Paul with the Church that he could have really hated, the church at Corinth that treated him with contempt. And yet Paul just would refuse. He refused to no longer love them.
He was committed to love them. Dave Hanson's book — just write this name down, David Hanson. He's written a book on loving the church. I can't remember the exact title. It's well worth reading some time. I read this book about halfway into my first ministry.
And it was just one of those God things that came at the right moment, because I was starting to hate my church. And that book so convicted me of the important of loving people — because we will confront self-willed people and self-centered people and jealous people and stubborn people and bitter people.
We just will need a lot of love. The book of Jude where he is writing about very difficult men concludes by saying keep yourself in the love of God — interesting how he does that. He talks about, you know, these deceivers, all of these dangers.
And then he closes verse 21, "Keep yourself in the love of God," because he knows what bitterness can do. It can destroy our ministry and ruin our lives and ruin our families. Unhappy ministers, unloving ministers aren't worth much. They just aren't much help.
None of us intend to become that, but we can if we're not careful. I think I'd given a quote there by [phonetic] Paul Lee Carp that might be helpful. So how do we do this? Here are a couple things. Make sure you lay your resentment before God daily.
Pray for those who are really difficult. And you will have difficult people. Pray for them daily. Submit your soul to constant surgery, because hate is like little cancers that can grow in the heart. Okay, number 6: integrity.
And that's again an obvious one; but integrity with money, integrity with truth. Integrity can be lost a thousand ways. But it — it's gained in only one way: a rigorous devotion to truth. So what does that mean? That means make your stories true.
Make your illustrations true. Try to avoid putting yourself in situations where people will try to compromise your truth. It means keeping what's shared being closed doors confidential. I think you know this. I hope you know this.
But when you sign up for ministry, you're going to have a lot of people say a lot of times to you, "You know, I can't say this to anybody else." Or they will say something like "I'm going to share with you something that I'm going to ask you to keep confidential."
I hear that lots. So just kind of make a pact with yourself, you know? I want to be one of the safest persons on Earth. I want people to know that they can tell me anything and it never seeps out. It's never shared with a spouse. It's never shared with anybody — Yeah?
Audience Member: [inaudible]
Yeah, but I think there's a way to do that without betraying confidences. There are times I do that, but I just realize there's a line I can't cross — so maybe saying I'm dealing with a difficult situation and I'm not sure how to handle this and I don't want to reveal confidences.
But here's where I need some help. And I think I'm on pretty safe ground. But there again I have to be careful that I don't give so much information that a person easily connects the dot. You know, we can kind of subtly betray confidence if we're not careful to.
Audience Member: When a person's health or their life is on the line and that confidence [inaudible]
Yeah, and you know it's maybe in that is where you then, again with integrity, say "I can't keep this confidence, because it will destroy you if I do." I mean, I think there's a way — a way around that.
And I realize there are some exceptional — somebody comes in and says, "You know, I have to be really honest with you. I'm abusing my daughter, or I killed someone." Well, obviously it would be going way too extreme to say "Well, okay, you can tell me and I'll tell no one."
But I think integrity may mean I may need to say "I can't retain that in confidence because this is more than just about you. Okay, we'll pick up, finish up a few more thoughts on this and bring [phonetic] Purvis back.