This morning, as I was praying and preparing to preach, I listened to a an incredibly rich and convicting sermon, “The Pastor’s Charge” by C.J. Mahaney delivered at the Gospel Coalition Conference in 2009. I love listening to a variety of messages from a diverse group of speakers, so recently I subscribed to the Gospel Coalition podcast.
CJ said something that is hitting me as a pastor. I’m paraphrasing, but he reminded pastors that even though they serve in a distinct, God-given role as shepherds of their flocks, they must remember that it is Jesus who is the chief shepherd, and not them. In fact, CJ said a human pastor is more sheep than he is shepherd and must remember that he must be shepherded by the Chief Shepherd, Jesus, more often than he is shepherding others. His sermon was taken from the great spiritual leadership passage in 1 Peter 5.
It called to mind a passage from John 3:22-28 and the story of John the Baptist. What’s happening is the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist are passing like two ships in the night. Jesus is increasing in popularity and John’s ministry is slowing down. This was by sovereign design of God before the word began. John was the forerunner, Jesus the Messiah.
Except the followers of John the Baptist were jealous. Over there Jesus is getting more people to follow and we’re getting less. They saw their movement shrinking and were scared. You’d think this wouldn’t happen in ministry, right?
Think again. It does.
The new church down the street does things a bit differently and suddenly people flock to them. You’ve been working hard “doing it right” (you tell yourself) and you’re not as popular. The human tendency for a pastor is to think that’s not fair.
Of course, we’re not as blunt as John’s disciples. We hide behind methodology that we’ve confused as doctrine and say things like, “Well, they’re not doing it biblically.” or “Well if I had music like them, I’d grow too. I won’t build my church that way.” or “Well, he doesn’t preach as strong as I do on sin.” (Though we don’t know that to be the case). We find someway to cut down that “more successful” man or woman of God. Because we can’t admit that maybe, just maybe, God is using them.
This attitude among pastors what my good friend and mentor, Pastor Bill calls “professional jealousy.”
I’m humbled by John’s response to the growth of Christ’s ministry. “I am not the Messiah.” Powerful words.Essentially, John was acknowledging the sovereignty of God in his ministry. John was not the Messiah. John was John, a man born to fulfill a special purpose for God in his time. But John was still a man.
Every pastor should look in the mirror and say, “I’m not the Messiah.” In other words, yes, God called you to a special ministry. But you are not the answer to the world’s problems. Jesus Christ is. We, like John, just point the way. Or do we? Do we sometimes point to ourselves as the way? Our methods, our unique take on Scripture, our wonderful (to us) example?
The thing is, if we’re not careful, we’ll surround ourselves with people who will constantly tell us we are the Messiah. Not in those terms, but they will flatter us. We’ll push away people who can speak truth into us. Who can tell us the reality of who we really are. And we begin to harbor jealousies and treat other ministries as if they are competition.
When we do this, we’re saying to people, “I am the Messiah?” Don’t go to the church down the street. You don’t find what we’ve got here. Don’t listen to that radio preacher with the golden voice. Listen to me. Please listen to me.
Pastors, let’s not get so full of ourselves that we can’t stand up and say, about other ministries and other churches, “Praise God. They are growing and God is working.” Let’s be like John the Baptist, who said, “Hey, I”m not the Messiah. I just point the way.”