Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity,
possible religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy......
The qualified leader is a man of the Book, using it not just
to prepare sermons and preaching notes, but, first and foremost,
to prepare himself.
James M. George
The Call to Pastoral Ministry
(How to Shepherd Biblically)
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you;
and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
How important it is for those of us who occupy a place of spiritual leadership to be men of character, character forged by the Holy Spirit and formed by the Word of God. A daunting responsibility, providing spiritual leadership, a responsibility that underscores the Lord's admonition in James 3:1 "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." This is why the Lord stresses Godly character in His requirements for those who occupy the post of pastor; and why Paul buffeted his flesh, so that after he had preached to others he would not be disqualified.
The landscape of the church is littered with the moral failures of those who failed to watch themselves. In fact, it has become much too common. And it is just not in the area of sexual immorality, as noted by the furor over a Christian college/seminary president whose personal testimony and spiritual resume are undergoing public scrutiny for hyperbole, embellishment, and poetic license (to say it nicely). There is also the issue of the SBC having been taken to task by those within its own ranks for inflated membership numbers and an evangelastical (intentional spelling) way of counting baptisms.
These are the obvious, the news grabbing and headline making, but what about the ones that don't make the news, the ones that cause damage just as great? I was reading an internet article about how Peacemaker ministries worked to reconcile a church's pastor and elders after temper, egos, and innuendos had split them and the church. What about the detrimental effects of pride, stubborness, selfishness, ambition, jealousy, unforgivness, greed, and gossip? What about those that fear man more than they fear God, those that are men-pleasers vs God-pleasers, and those who would compromise rather than confront? What about the small things that are done daily that add up over time?
I remember hearing Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, preach several years ago, and in his sermon he was stressing the need for moral integrity. He said that he had asked God to take him home before He let Bill commit adultery. Admirable, yes, but for most of us, we are on guard against the big A; but it is the perniciousness of the so called small sins that we ought to be on guard against as well. Is our prayer, "Lord, lead me away from temptation in the areas where I am weak and most easily tempted, and let not evil have any way with me. Please keep me from causing any of the brethren to stumble. Help me to adorn the doctrine I preach with the life that I live. Help me to do what is right, to love what is good, and to walk humbly with You. Let not anyone, saved or unsaved, look at me and cry hypocrite. Let me be at home what I am publicly."
Who is adequate for this? None of us outside of the power that God supplies. There is a greater burden, a greater responsibility, for those of us whom God has called into ministry; but there is a greater grace available as well. Let us be on our guard, empowered by the grace of God, so that sin will not have its way with us, not derail us, nor render us impotent in our efforts to advance the kingdom of God in our own lives, so that we will be effective in advancing His kingdom in the lives of those whom He appointed to our shepherding. Let not the sin in our own lives be an impediment, an excuse, for those in our flock in dealing with the sin in their own lives.
Father, guard our hearts and our minds. Work within us only that which is pleasing in Your sight. We are frail and weak in our own strength, so help us by the strength which You supply to live a life worthy of the gospel of Your Son, and a life worthy of the calling with which we have been called. Help us to be an example to the flock, living a life worthy of admiration and imitation. Guard us from our own selves, and give us a sensitivity to the sin which so easily entangles us. Help us to fight the good fight of faith and finish our course without disqualification. AMEN.
Recognition of sin is important. However, conviction of sin is not salvation, and neither does conviction of sin save anyone. Rather it is the turning from sin, and turning to God that saves. Repentance springs out of a heart that has been convicted of sin, but there are many who, after being convicted of their sin, never turn from their sin to God (Mark 10:17-22)
Repentance is that turning of mind, the changing of mind, the about face in the mind that causes one to turn his back on his sin, his anti-God attitude and lifestyle, and turn to God. And it is not a momentary turn, but a turn that lasts a lifetime. For once he has turned to God he continues to follow after God, and leaves his sinful lifestyle further and further behind, like watching the receding horizon in the rear view mirror as the car's path takes it further away from where it was before.
In this grand Psalm, the worship of God is contrasted with the worship of idols. The key thought is in verse 8 in italics above. There is a truth presented here that we are molded into the image of what we worship. As a result we take on the identity of what we worship. Those who worship idols made by the thought and hand of man will become just like them.
As the Psalm progresses, Israel is exhorted to trust the Lord and worship Him. Why? So they will become more like Him. So a good question to keep in mind as we structure our worship service is who is the object of that service, man or God?
Evangelism always requires preaching on the attributes of God. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (John 4), he taught her that God is a Spirit. When Paul addressed the heathen on Mars' Hill (Acts 17), he had to devote even more of his evangelistic message to the character of God, who was unknown to them. He began by speaking of God as the Creator, as the Sustainer of all life, as the Mighty One who raised Jesus from the dead. This element, of exalting God's character, is essential to bringing honour to God in our preaching.
Much of modern preaching is anemic, with the life-blood of God's nature absent from the message. Evangelists centre their message upon man. Man has sinned and missed a great blessing. If man wants to retrieve his immense loss he must act thus and so. But the gospel of Christ is very different. It begins with God and his glory. It tells men that they have offended a holy God, who will by no means pass by sin. It reminds sinners that the only hope of salvation is to be found in the grace and power of this same God. Christ's gospel sends men to beg pardon of the Holy One.
There is wide difference between these two messages. The one seeks to blaze a trail to heaven for man while ignoring the Lord of Glory. The other labours to magnify the God of all grace in the salvation of men. The first would give a technical answer to, 'What shall I do to inherit eternal life?', with an adequate foundation. The last says,
Wait a moment. The God with whom we have to do is
thrice holy, alone good, unapproachable in brilliant holiness!
We will return your question in its subordinate place. But
now take your eye from yourself and behold the holy God
of the Scriptures. Then you will see yourself as you truly
are--a creature in rebellion against an infinitely pure God.
You are not yet prepared to discuss yourself and eternity.
This does not mean that preaching about the character of God is isolated from seeking the salvation of a sinner. Preaching on the attributes is essential to the conversion of a man. Without a knowledge of God, a sinner does not know whom he has offended, who threatens him with destruction, or who is able to save him. Apart from some clear apprehensions of God, there can be no personal approach to God, and 'personal Savior' become s hollow phrase.
While out walking a little earlier, my wife and I were discussing an article we had read in which the author was reporting about a recent experience they had at a church. In this article the author recounts the main points of the sermon they heard which was about "God Moments," and how God works in the lives of people during these "moments."
Even though there was some truth in what the preacher was reported as saying, the emphasis was on the catchy, kitchy moniker, with the result being a sermon that was a mile wide and an inch deep with no mention of any Scripture reference or use of the Bible anywhere in the article. I have never read of God Moments anywhere in the Bible, and although I am sure the pastor was trying to come up with something catchy to be remembered, I am afraid the people will remember that he said the catchy, kitchy phrase and think he is cool for saying it, versus remembering the small amount of truth that was reportedly contained in the sermon; and although I didn't hear the sermon, my concern is what stuck with the author and was reported.
What my wife and I were talking about is how the use of phrases like this tends to trivialize the truth, and at the same time magnifies the speaker. I am all for titles and mnemonic devices that help people remember what the text is about, but as preachers, we should always want our people to remember what God has said and give God credit for saying it, instead of them remembering the words or phrases we invent. We want them to remember the truth of God, not our "pastorisms."
So after we came back from the walk I opened up this blog post by Kevin DeYoung and he expresses the very same sentiments.