Over the last couple of years as ministry has changed for many churches, I find myself occasionally talking to a friend or colleague who left pastoral ministry and has found himself looking for employment in the secular world. Job interviews inevitably get around to asking about employment history, experience, and skill sets. How does a man who has pastored for twenty years explain his experience and skill set? In secular terms, he has played the role of CEO, CFO, HR, Facility Supervisor, Complaint Department, Office Manager, and “Environmental Service Technician”. In other words, the pastor wears a lot of hats.
Apart from larger churches where roles are carefully defined, most pastors are comfortable being flexible in their responsibilities and responding to needs as they arise. Despite this necessity, wise pastors define themselves by their spiritual role in the church. They see themselves as shepherds of the flock, as heralds of the gospel, as teachers of the eternal truth of God, and as evangelists. While the pastor may every once in a while have to don his accountant visor, or his “van is broke down again” overalls, or his “time to get the plunger out” gloves, he knows these are secondary responsibilities.
The pastor’s perception of his role in the church is foundational to the execution of his responsibilities before the Lord. Some pastors get their priorities mixed up. Some pastors lose sight of their calling. But in twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have learned there are 2 hats that I must never don. There are two ways that I am tempted to view myself that are simply devastating to my effectiveness as a minister of God.
The Martyr’s Halo
The martyr’s halo is what I like to wear when I feel like no one loves God quite as much as I do, or no one sacrifices quite as much as I sacrifice, or no one appreciates sufficiently the level of service that they receive from my hand. Just writing those words is shameful because they are all thoughts that I have entertained over the years. Is there anything more self righteous than putting on the face of one who is bravely enduring the stripes of ministry simply for the sake of drawing more attention to one’s own deeds? Flow those phylacteries. Trumpet those tears. Drop the silver coins of your service from far above the offering plate so they might ring louder when they land.
There are certainly martyrs in Christianity, but legitimate martyrs are joyful. They gladly watch their property plundered and they sing praises in the prison cell and they count it a blessing to be able to suffer as their Lord suffered. But you, dear pastor, who labored hard over your message only to receive not one compliment, are not a martyr. Refuse to be one. Especially when the the devil whispers those delicious morsels in your ear, “If they only knew how much you did for the Lord…”
The Hero’s Hood
Conversely, the pastor must also never think that he is the hero of the story. Perhaps yours is not the ministry of martyrdom, but the ministry of a grateful and growing people who receive the Word with gladness and constantly express appreciation for the blessing you are. How tempting it is to see yourself as the hero of the story! The pastor is uniquely positioned to be present when God works wonders and is often the very instrument for good in God’s hand. Being an instrument is not to be confused with being the One who wields it.
Perhaps the tempting thought for this tendency sounds something like, “You could be the one to turn this around!” or “Think about the opportunities you’ll have when everyone sees what you did with this ministry!” Rushing back into my mind are all those introductions for speakers at Bible College that went like, “When Pastor Awesome first came to Lowly Baptist Church, they were meeting in a cardboard box on the fire escape of a condemned building, but after fifteen years they are now running six hundred, have a 12-acre facility built on top of a gold mine, and have changed the name to Synergy!” I joke, of course. But from Bible Colleges to book publishing to tweet counting to conference speakers, it’s easy for our hearts to get caught up in becoming a hero instead of pointing to the Hero.
Hang Up Your Hat
The solution for both false identities is to make sure that our service for the Lord never exceeds our gratitude to the Lord. The sobriquet of hero or martyr quickly fades when we live in awe of the grace that we have received. When your evaluation of what you do for the Lord exceeds your understanding of what God has done for you in Christ, you are nearing the tempter’s snare. So the next time you find yourself marching with plunger in hand to the rescue of the plumbing pipes, sigh not for the tragedy of your life. The next time a thankful believer testifies of how your sermon changed her life, puff not up with pride but instead, remind yourself that God once used an ass to speak, a rock to water a nation, birds to feed a prophet, and blood to wash away the sins of even the proudest sinner.