Pounding nails into the pastor's new house was not the main thought in the young ministerial student's mind. Here, he thought, is a rare opportunity to see a pastor as he really is. For this reason he did not reveal his own aspirations or background. Because this pastor was in the conference office, the student felt his opportunity for learning was even greater. One day when the pastor was inspecting the progress of his home, the student engaged him in some casual conversation.
"What kind of work do you do?" the student asked. After a long pause the pastor replied that he was an "executive in a large corporation." That young student is now a pastor. Often when he thinks of the "men in the office" he remembers that experience. He told the story to me one day when we were discussing the mission of the pastor. He told it with regret and disgust.
Many ministers who serve the Lord in the conference office certainly do not deserve to be accused of using the church as a vehicle for personal prestige. They serve with humility, distinction, and earnestness.
However, this story does point out that the temptation for abuse is there. The desire for personal glory and the willingness to use the church to get it is as old as Christianity. Bickering by the disciples over who was going to be the greatest marred the Last Supper. One does not have to go to the conference office to exercise the carnal nature in grandstanding. The smallest pastorate has enough church structure to give some an excuse. How many small churches have been smothered because the pastor wouldn't delegate leadership? The problem does not lie in church organization, but in the human heart.
One of the coveted expressions used in the ministry today is professional. Certainly we applaud the term if it is used to mean that we strive to be effective and successful. Education that contributes to the success of a man in the gospel ministry not only is to be desired but is necessary. Unfortunately, the phrase "I'm a professional minister" is too often used as a boast of one's worldly claim to glory.
One pastor I know, who considers himself very "professional," has been known to rudely remind people who call him at home that he has office hours. Some, but not all, pastors who have earned a doctoral degree have intentionally dropped the Biblical title of elder or pastor for the secular title of doctor. Why? Do physicians, lawyers, politicians, Ph.D.s, and business executives have a higher calling than the gospel ministry? Should the ministry be put in the same category as other professions? Has the Spirit of God so left us that we must substitute common fire in order to be recognized as His ambassadors? Do we feel that our scholastic achievements cannot be recognized properly without such titles? If the success of the gospel is dependent on ministers being recognized by secular titles, the Lord may have to recruit some more fishermen.
Another temptation could be called the executive trap. This temptation can be especially strong as one moves from the pastorate to the conference office. Here a pastor is surrounded by a switch board, secretaries, fine offices, commit tees, and high finance. The pastor has been removed, for the most part, from the immediate needs of his sheep and therefore loses some of the checks and balances existing in the pastorate.
Unfortunately, there also seem to be some subtle changes taking place in the minds of many church members. Too many view the switch from the pastorate into the conference office as a switch from something that is very common to a position of high honor. Could it be that we are projecting the trappings of worldly business so strongly that people somehow perceive that conference leadership is more political than holy? Increasingly this is reflected in conference constituency meetings. My heart has been pained to see ministers of the gospel treated at times with something far less than even common courtesy. Scripture says, "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17, N.I.V.). It is interesting to note that in the early church the leaders had the most spiritual responsibilities. Today many of us are going in the opposite direction from the apostolic church. We make administration the high priority. They made teaching and preaching the Word the most important. The authority for the church rested not in administrators, but in its most spiritual leaders. The apostles, intending to guard their spiritual priority, addressed the early Christian church in these words: "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:2-4, N.I.V.).
Why is there so little honor for the men who bear holy responsibilities? While certainly other factors such as modem cynicism contribute, there is lying at our door one factor that we can control. It is the unholy way in which we often handle our sacred trusts. Ancient church elders tried copying the ways of the imperial courts of Rome. Modem ministers try copying many practices of modern business executives and professionals—which is not wrong in and of itself. It is when we lose sight of the church's holy difference that we get sidetracked from our mission.
The Roman Church built great pal aces for residences and churches. In some places conference offices and churches have been built with such extravagance that they are a dishonor to the cause of God and a denial of the truths that we hold. Too many of us want to be known, in the circles of the church, as good administrators. I find a corresponding lack of desire to be known as holy. Here is the root of the problem. Scripture commands us to "be holy." The real question that faces us is, Do we desire holiness? The church will little note, nor long remember, the pastors who merely occupied administrative offices. But it will never forget the H.M.S. Richardses and the Ellen Whites.
This is not to belittle leadership. Moses both administered and ministered. That is the way I believe God meant it to be.
Unfortunately, selfishness and pride have driven many to desire the reputation of high-powered executives and professionals instead of humble gospel workers. The reform that the church needs should focus not so much on church structure, but on its spirit. E. M. Bounds says: "What the church needs today is not more machinery or better organizations . . . but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer." 1 As ministers we need to be converted to the fact that God never has and never will call us to high executive positions or common professions. Regardless of the responsibilities we are asked to bear, we will always be gospel ministers. We can be nothing more, nothing less, because there is no higher calling. Instead of being baptized with "professionalism," we need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit so we can truly administer like Moses, preach like Peter, write like Paul, and be holy like all three.
Here are some suggestions that might help change the picture:
1. There needs to be an earnest recognition, on the part of ministers, of our spiritual nakedness, and a pleading for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
2. We need to educate ourselves and our members in the servant model of leadership.
3. We need to insist that men who occupy pastoral and conference office positions be soul winners. Every minister, regardless of his position or responsibility, should be given time to hold meetings or to do something that results in souls for the kingdom each year.
It was Jonathan Edwards who said: "I went on with my eager pursuit after more holiness and conformity to Christ. The heaven I desired was a heaven of holiness." 2
God is looking for gospel servants who could be described like this: His highest joy is not where he serves, but that he serves. His job satisfaction is not how much responsibility he has but how responsible he is with what he has. His self-esteem comes not from what he is, but from who he is as God's child. He does not lust for personal glory, but lives to bring glory to God. He longs to hear not the applause of the saints, but Christ's words "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).
1 Power Through Prayer (London: Marshall
Brothers, Ltd., n.d.), p. 10.
2 Ibid., p. 12.