Skeletons in the closet of our motivations

If we honestly face the skeletons in our motivational closet, we may have to admit that the hand that holds the hook is our own.

John A. Lyons is pastor of the New Minas Seventh-day Adventist church in New Minas, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Pastor John Average stands before his congregation, expounding the virtues of a new program that he claims will bring fresh vitality to the church's soul-winning efforts. If Pastor Average does not believe that the pro gram is indeed of God, if he has not prayed and prepared his own heart so that he is convinced this plan is God's will for the specific situation in his church, be assured that his new program will be a tremendous failure from its very inception.

External methods create suspicion of our motives. So it is for the well-being of ourselves and our congregations that we prayerfully examine our motives before presenting any program. Otherwise we are merely playing a game with the audience—"I'll hide the hook and bet you can't find it." Even fish are extremely hard to hook the second time. What can we expect of intelligent people except a skeptical smile when they see the same old hook so often? The bait may change, but the shape remains the same.

External pressures in the Lord's work are at times all too evident as a means of motivating to greater service. These pressures appear in various forms—a slick psychology barren of Christian principle, a manipulator using gimmicks to appeal to a human desire to be the greatest, required reports that create the suspicion that one is under surveillance.

As pastors, let us not be too hasty to point the accusing finger at higher ad ministration. We, too, have goals for money and souls. A few skeletons might be found dangling in the secret closet of our own thoughts, and perhaps we are quick to slam shut the door lest the specter in the inner recesses convict us that we have used a few externals our selves in motivating the saints to reach our goals.

Naturally any true-hearted pastor wants to succeed in his work. He wants to see souls won to Christ and established in God's great family. He wants to see his church alive and excited about its God-given mission. If he has failed his Lord by stooping to illegitimate, external methods to attain an appearance of personal success, God will forgive him if he confesses his sin.

We need to be ever conscious that the internal pressure of the Holy Spirit is still God's method to motivate. This being the case, we must first bring our plans to the throne of grace for approval. There will be deletions, improvements, and reorganization, but the last state will be better than the first because they are now God's plans as well as ours. And when the final draft is brought before the congregation, they will forget about hooks, and sense that their pastor has been in consultation with the divine Administrator.

As pastors we need to remember that the flock of God deserves to be dealt with sympathetically and fairly, just as we feel administration should treat us. Our role as pastor includes leading and making suggestions, but to try to control every member by clever maneuvering is an offense. A church member recounting a request one pastor made of him re called that before he could make a decision and reply, the pastor said, "Thank you," as if the member's consent had been obtained, then quickly walked away, no doubt feeling quite pleased with his accomplishment. The parishioner, however, viewed the disappearing pastor as a conniving tactician. The same church member later said, "One minister tries to make me a colporteur, another an evangelist, yet another a lay activities man."

Ellen White wrote, "God does not expect that with their different temperaments His people will each be prepared for any and every place. Let all re member that there are varied trusts. It is not the work of any man to prescribe the work of any other man contrary to his own convictions of duty. It is right to give counsel and suggest plans; but every man should be left free to seek direction from God, whose he is and whom he serves." —Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 334. "It is selfishness which leads persons to think that the particular part of the work in which they are engaged is the most important of all. It is selfishness also that prompts the feeling, on the part of the workers, that their judgment must be the most reliable and their methods of labor the best or that it is their privilege in any way to bind the conscience of another. . . . Let the minds of the people be directed to God. Leave Him a chance to work for those who love Him. Do not impose upon the people rules and regulations, which, if followed, would leave them as destitute of the Spirit of God as were the hills of Gilboa of dew or rain."—Ibid., vol. 5, p. 727.

Do we not often develop carefully thought-out plans for the saints to follow in detail? Plans are needful. But we must be careful that we are not trying to foist a system upon a given personality that will bind his liberty of action with too many details. Many times our plans are simply an adapted analysis of successful methods used by another individual in some particular field of endeavor. We may learn a great deal from such an analysis, but we need not think that merely injecting the analysis into an other personality will produce the same good results its originator had.

Pastors not only can generate external pressure on others, they are also on the receiving end of such pressures at times. "Go ye" is the command of Christ, and every pastor ought to feel the Spirit-inspired motivation to fulfill that command. Like brother Paul, we should feel an internal woe upon us if we preach not the gospel. God has given us our marching orders. Yet, strange to say, there is no other area where the pastor is liable to feel more external pressure, either from his congregation or from higher administration, than in the field of soul winning.

Obviously, not all external pressure is totally bad. If we are not heeding our Lord's commission, administration is conscience-bound to inquire, "What is clogging the wheels in the army of salvation?" Like the law, which has no saving power whatever, yet serves a useful function by reminding us of our duty, those who carry the oversight of God's work may find it necessary to nudge us once in a while.

But even the highest administrative bodies in our ranks cannot be expected to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. They, too, are in the ongoing process of sanctification. Consequently, we might as well expect that a few unsanctified pressures will filter down upon us as we await the perfect day. Yet these unsanctified pressures can damage. They can become a temptation to the pastor to start operating on the external code, to fill his church with potential dropouts who are convinced but not converted wet sinners who have been merely put under the water rather than baptized in heart. The minister's heart fills with misgivings as he discovers through self-examination that administrative pressure was the catalyst that brought to view the skeleton in his own closet—success at any cost.

In our outreach for souls there is sometimes a pressure to make every pastor an evangelist. We are called "pastor-evangelists." To some extent that title is a misnomer, for Ephesians 4:11 lists evangelism as a separate gift: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers."

Nonetheless, every pastor should be able to sound the clarion gospel call to sinners in at least some of the various avenues that are open to us—Bible studies, seminars, the written word, radio, TV, preaching, et cetera. But let us not assume that all are evangelists in the strict sense of the gift. Many capable and efficient ministers can deliver excellent discourses filled with spiritual food, but are simply not evangelistic in style and appeal. An evangelist must have a pronounced ability to couch profound truths in such clear language and with such sincere appeal that spiritual babes may understand and accept them. Babes must be gently led until they can partake of stronger meat without a digestive upset. But whether we are evangelists or not in the strict sense, whether we are under external pressure or not, we are still called to sound the trumpet to the best of our ability both in Zion and without the gates.

Administration is Heaven-bound to counsel, urge, instruct, and inspire to larger activities in the proclamation of the gospel commission—"Go ye." And pastors, along with administrators, are counseled by straight testimony to weed out of our lives all externals that offend. We must remain vigilant against an inordinate desire to be the highest man on the statistical totem pole.

At times the pastor may feel as if he is being pressed into a mold by external forces. Likewise the church member may feel the same way because of pres sure from us. Perhaps the massive number of working methods and Bible courses produced by the church speak of a desire for individuality. We want to operate as freely as possible. Without opposing essential guidelines and suggestions, we do not want to be hide bound by details that are not of local choosing. We want to be able to choose from the suggested methods, Bible courses, and various details without feeling that we might arouse the antagonism of authority. And we want the liberty to decide locally whether a particular church within our district is in a state of readiness for a suggested program. What we desire for ourselves we must be willing to grant freely to our church members.

Inspired counsel has said, "But let none become shadows of some other man. Let them not become mere ma chines, to grind out certain subjects by human dictation. No sermon is to be planned out for them to preach where they go. Let them seek to be taught by God through the Holy Spirit. Let them seek help through prayer and the diligent study of God's word. If they do this, He who calls them to labor in the gospel will make it evident that they are chosen vessels. He will give them words to speak to the people." —Ibid., vol. 6, p. 415.

Perhaps at times the pastor feels caught in the crush at the bottom of the administrative pile. Yet we must settle the matter in our hearts that God has given us our commission. We must not brood over the presence of external pressures or be mastered by the ill feelings that such tactics might engender. We must be ever sure that by the grace of God our methods of motivation are Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, and sincere. We must be about our Father's business. The King is coming!

Our work is not destined to fizzle out in a whimper because of un-Christlike methods of working. It will close in glorious triumph through the internal work of the Holy Spirit. The hallelujah chorus of victory can even now be heard in creasing in volume.

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John A. Lyons is pastor of the New Minas Seventh-day Adventist church in New Minas, Nova Scotia, Canada.

March 1979

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