Another week, another message! I so look forward to sending out these gems I glean from my reading of Christian authors.
This week's "thought" has to do with the trend in the church to court or win the approval of the movers and shakers in the world by conforming Christian ministry to standards people in the world would find more acceptable. It addresses the attempt to make ministry more proper, legitimate, credible and well-received in the eyes of the world -- more professional. And to a degree the thought may seem good. But it must be approached with caution, lest the faith be made into something it was never intended to be - just one among a plethora of other legitimate admirable professions to pursue.
This thought comes to you from John Piper in one of his less-well-known books, "Brothers, We Are NOT Professionals." It's a good reminder in a world that often seeks to pressure the Church to conform to its standards. Though written primarily to pastors, it has a message for every Christian. Try to understand what he's saying and I believe you will see the validity of his points. And at the end, ask yourself: What do I look for in a pastor? Enjoy.
"We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1). But our first business IS to pant after God in prayer. Our business IS to weep over our sins (James 4:9). Is there professional weeping? Our business IS to strain forward to the holiness of Christ and the prize of the upward calling of God (Phil. 3:14); to pummel our bodies and subdue them lest we be castaways (I Cor. 9:27); to deny ourselves and take up the blood-spattered cross daily (Luke 9:23). How do you carry a cross professionally? We have been crucified with Christ; yet now we live by faith in the one who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Gal. 2:20). What is professional faith?
We are to be filled not with wine but with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). How can you be drunk with Christ professionally? Then, wonder of wonders, we were given the gospel treasure to carry around in clay pots to show that the transcendent power belongs to God (II Cor. 4:7). Is there a way to be a professional clay pot? We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus (professionally?) so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested (professionally?) in our bodies (II Cor. 4:9-11). I think God has exhibited us preachers as last of all in the world. We are fools for Christ's sake, but professionals are wise. We are weak, but professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor, we are held in disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slaughtered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the scum of the earth (I Cor. 4:9-13). Or have we?
Brothers, we are NOT professionals! We are outcasts. We are aliens and exiles in the world (I Pet. 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven and we wait in eager expectation for the Lord (Phil. 3:20). You cannot professionalize the love for His appearing without killing it. And it IS being killed. The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions. It is precisely by the failure to see this that we are dying. "The life-giving preacher," says Richard Cecil, "is a man of God, whose heart is ever athirst for God, whose soul is ever following hard after God, whose eye is single to God, and in whom, by the power of God's Spirit, the flesh and the world have been crucified and his ministry is like the generous flood of a life-giving river."
...The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the Gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work. I have seen it often: the love of professionalism (the desire for equality in status and pay with the world's professionals) kills a man's belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in this world. If the world sets the agenda for the professional man; God sets the agenda for the spiritual man. The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism. There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ -- the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others (II Cor. 2:15-16). God deliver us from the professionalizers!
God, give us tears for our sins. Forgive us for being so shallow in prayer, so thin in our grasp of holy truths, so content amid perishing neighbors, so empty of passion and earnestness in all our conversations. Restore to us the childlike joy of our salvation. Frighten us with the awesome holiness and power of Him who can cast both soul and body into hell (Matt. 10:28). Cause us to hold to the cross with fear and trembling as our hope-filled and offensive tree of life. Grant us nothing, absolutely nothing, the way the world views it. May Christ be all in all (Col. 3:11). Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord. Humble us, O God, under your mighty hand, and let us rise -- not as professionals, but as witnesses and partakers of the sufferings of Christ. In His awesome name. Amen."
Some of us (myself included) have lost elements of the passion we once had when we started out in the ministry. In some cases wisdom has thankfully tempered a lopsided zeal, a blatant omission of duty, or a pride-motivated (rather than Christ-motivated) passion for service. But in other cases the passion that drove us into the ministry can get driven out of us by the ministry -- sometimes by the expectations placed upon us that we need to be more like the successful worldly professionals around us.
Yet other times it may even be due to the pastors themselves adopting the subtle worldly idea that ministry is a "profession" rather than a "calling." One that is to be carried out even if there are no "competitive benefit packages." Yes, carried out even if it were to mean persecution, the loss of all our possessions, or even our life (Hebrews 11:32-40 / Rev. 2:8-10). Piper's point is well taken -- professionalization of the ministry can (and has) brought spiritual apathy to the church. Maybe it's time to consider afresh what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and remember that the call to follow Jesus is a call to serve Him for His sake, at whatever the cost, no matter what comes our way as a result -- something most of the professionals I know would not be inclined to do in their particular professions.
In His Service, Pastor Jeff