Pastors and church leaders have no shortage of voices telling them what to do. I receive a few emails a week describing methods and products I could use to grow my church and rocket it to overnight success. Simultaneously, the voices in Christian Twitter, publications, and websites demand conformity to their latest hot take, outrage, or view on a church practice or theological position. Putting it mildly, there’s a lot of noise competing for a pastor’s attention.
Voices that Cajole and Confuse
Over the last decade of ministry, many famous celebrity pastors and preachers have fallen, not primarily through sexual or financial misconduct, although there has been some of that, but through domineering, abusive, and threatening behavior. In most cases, their justification was to build their ministry, brand, platform, and reach “for Jesus”. Their foolproof coaching tips and tricks had other pastors lining up at conferences and online training classes to get the recipe for church growth and ways to build their platform. Most of the methods and products peddled by these preachers would fit into the category of narcissism – self-serving, self-glorifying, and ultimately about making much of the person who does them.
Sadly, the platform and accolades of ministry open the door for this narcissistic personality to do whatever it takes – programs, schemes, manipulation, etc – to build themselves up under the banner of gospel ministry. A minister who listens too heavily to these voices becomes anchored to the pragmatics of ministry and acts more like a CEO than pastor, building a corporation rather than a church.
Another group with equally loud voices has recently entered the fray – the elites. Elites were once in ministry and probably ran with some of the narcissists back-in-the-day. In their minds they got wise and stepped far enough away to point and say, “I told you so” when the narcissistic pastors crashed and burned.
In most cases, the elitism of these voices moved out of local church ministry to influence the church from afar without having to “get dirty” in the work of church ministry. Like a “thinker in residence”, the opinions of this group stand in judgment above local pastors and ministry leaders searching out their flaws, faults, and failures to use as points in open letters, internet tirades, and Twitter threads. A pastor overly influenced by this group is a distracted one. Focusing on the critique of those outside his context, without proper discernment, he finds himself forcing a square peg into a round hole and hurting his church in the process.
Ignore the Gimmick and the Think Tank
The Am I Called website is for pastors and local church ministers and is not flashy, fast, or fancy. It’s meant to be helpful for pastors in the trenches of local church ministry. So, it shouldn’t be shocking that I’m calling you to reject the voices, influences, and actions of the narcissist and elites in equal measure and instead consider the pastors who went the distance and faithfully finished the race. In them I see a few common threads in their lives and ministries.
1. They Listen to the Flock not the Frass
The voices that matter are the ones in their care and trusted, faithful friends who point them back to their calling and church. When it comes down to it, the ministry of shepherding the flock of God amongst them (1 Peter 5:2-3) takes ultimate precedence over either the pragmatism of building a brand or finding ways they aren’t living up to standards set by thought-leaders of the day.
2. God’s Word is Ultimate
They are committed to being Bible teachers, and Bible-shaped pastors — the voice of God through his Word is louder, more influential, and the ultimate authority in their lives. If a scheme could grow attendance or giving in their church, it is rejected outright if it is in contradiction to Scripture.
3. Their Time is Invested in Their People
They are present in hospital rooms, living rooms, and around kitchen tables. Their tools are open ears, a loving heart, and prayer for the specific needs of their individual congregants. With them there’s no foothold for the absentee voices that proclaim they are doing ministry wrong or that they’re not socially aware enough. Presence with a saint in their trial is a better teacher than all the Twitter threads in the world.
The common theme throughout the life of the pastor who finishes well is a focus on being faithful to the people in front of him.
Ministers, fight for faithfulness. Hear the people God placed in your care over the rabble. Hear God’s voice over the temptations of corporate Christianity. Hear the needs of your friends and be present with them in the flesh. Ignore the noise of hot takes and open letters. You will be a better man and pastor for it.