Living a life of full time Christian ministry has its quirks. There are those wonderfully fulfilling times, and those downright heartbreaking times. Matthew and I have lived through both extremes. Most days fall somewhere in the middle. In that regard, ministry is no different from any other life. Only it is. No other line of work has eternity at stake
Lately, I have listened to heartbreaking stories of young ministers who are making some unwise choices concerning the ministries they lead. These are young ministers who have garnered quite a bit of support and have enjoyed some early significant successes in ministry. They have skyrocketed to the top of their profession. Yay them. Only, it’s not supposed to be about them.
My husband has the distinct pleasure of teaching in the ministry school at our church. He is excited to teach the next generation of church leaders. These kids are eager and thrilled to change the world for the Kingdom of God. They look at these other young church leaders and they would love to have similar ministry opportunities. Who in ministry wouldn’t?
But these young pastors making poor choices are dangerously close to blowing it.
It’s mostly a matter of accountability. Success can change any person, and ministers are no exception. Success brings celebrity. Celebrity brings followers and fans. Adoring fans. Fans who desire proximity to celebrity. At some point the celebrity has to limit access to a precious few, and then the power struggles begin.
It happened to Jesus with the disciples. Remember when the disciples were arguing over who would have the better seat in heaven? (Luke 9) We scoff at them and think that was pretty ridiculous, but then, are we so different?
We are not. In a desire to gain access to these young successful pastors, followers and fans begin to stroke their egos, telling them how wonderful they are. They resist for a while, trying to hold onto humility, but pride is often the stronger attitude, and soon, it will win out. Rather than placing people close to them who will hold them accountable, they slowly bring in close those people who tell them how wonderful they are, and how jealous those naysayers are. In short, they begin to believe their own press. Jesus ceases to be the reason for their very lives. He stops being the focus. The Apostle Paul warns Timothy, a young pastor about this very thing. In 1Timothy, chapter 3 he tells him a pastor–
“not be a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (vs 6-7)
These young, vulnerable pastors have stopped listening to wise counsel altogether, and if something doesn’t change soon, they along with the ministry with which they have been entrusted, will fail.
The Bible teaches that we are to be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2), not even giving the impression that we are doing anything wrong. Should a pastor buy an expensive car or home, criticisms come quickly from outside and inside the church. I will never forget back when Matthew was pastoring churches, we had to choose carefully the cars we drove. It was true that other people cared more about what we drove than we did. It was frustrating, but we always chose to be conservative.
Defenders will say that a pastor has just as much right to drive an expensive car or live in a large home as the next person. In theory, that’s true. But in reality, ministers must always err on the side that protects the Bride of Christ from stains that can be flung at her because of the decisions made by church leaders.
If I had the ear of these young ministers, I would tell them that the best thing a minister can do is become transparent. They are to set an example. The Bible is clear that we are blessed to be a blessing, not to grow fat on our own good fortune. (2 Corinthians 9:8-11) If a minister earns a fortune through honest gain, he is more accountable regarding what he does with that gain than the average Joe. It may not seem fair, but it’s just the way it is. Ministers are called to a higher standard, a higher accountability.
Ministries must be transparent, too. The yearly budget, salaries and expenditures must not be held in secret. If there is nothing to hide, then there is nothing to hide. If a church or ministry cannot be proud of how they steward what they have, then it’s time to make some changes to how things are handled.
Ministers fail. It’s true. It happens. When ministers fail, they have their fifteen minutes of fame, and then they are forgotten. It is the church that suffers most when ministers fail. It is the Bride of Christ who will suffer from a tarnished reputation.
As I watch these stories unfold in the media, I am praying for these young men. I truly want them to succeed… correctly. At one point, they had a hunger for God. They had a desire to see His Kingdom here on earth expand. They preached truth with enthusiasm and the people responded… sometimes by the thousands. But they have begun to listen to unwise counsel. They have chosen bad counsel over wise, even when wise counsel was offered. Rather, they have had their ears tickled by followers and fans that must feed off of the celebrity that comes with success. It’s time for truth to prevail in the hearts and minds of these young ministers. Their lives are at stake, but it’s the church that will suffer the most if they fail. It is the Bride of Christ who will be left to repair her reputation.