You’ve heard it a hundred times. Some pastors became more obsessed with the church and the ministry than they did God. It happened to me. It’s the whole basis of that question that the Holy Spirit burned in my mind, “When will Jesus be enough?” I built my whole first book, Transformation, around that question and the discovery of the Kingdom of God.
It’s rare for a pastor to begin the ministry polluted. I don’t mean they don’t have sin or issues in their lives that they struggle with. But, for the most part, the motives are honorable, the enthusiasm is high, to make a difference for God is all young pastors dream of. Seduction takes time, battle scars, failures, and successes to have its way with a pastor. I like what John Maxwell once said, “You’re not as good as they say you are, and you’re not as bad as they say you are.” Self-awareness is the number one thing in people that make a difference or helps them be successful in some area of life. They know who they are, what they’re good at, and what they’re not good at.
Here are some huge seductions that pastors face and that have to be confronted. They are not listed in order of difficulty because each person is different. This is what I’ve seen growing up in a pastor’s home and having started Northwood 27 years ago.
The seduction of relevance over obedience: We all want to be up to date, doing the latest things and being on the cutting edge. NO ONE, not even “traditional” churches today want to be known purely as “traditional” so many of them have “blended” services. There is a transition going on in culture and the world and people are trying to catch up with it. I don’t think that’s bad – but when we compromise what we know as truth for the sake of relevance – we’ve been seduced. People are often stunned that I’m such good friends with Muslims and yet don’t keep secret what I believe. You don’t have to – any relationship you try to establish outside of transparency isn’t real. You have to always ask the question, am I compromising style or substance? Am I obeying the truth and following it and all that God says, or have I turned God into a cafeteria?
The seduction of image over holiness: I believe with all my being there is a relationship between prayer and holiness. Holiness, not legalism, is not an option for a pastor. You can take 360s, have evaluations, even have accountability groups, BUT if you are not on your knees dealing with the sin in your life – you will become seduced. We are so careful with our image, so many jokes and videos have been made about what a church planter looks like, how they dress, etc. We only laugh because we recognize that image. Some guys have to be called certain titles, certain logistics before they will speak – do all you can to glorify God – but never lose the question “Am I seen more as a great Preacher/Planter/etc. or a great Man of God?” They aren’t necessarily the same thing.
The seduction of action over intimacy: We think God is blessing us because we are so busy. We make visits. We lead people to the Lord. We have all these ministry programs. We manage a staff. We speak at places. The list goes on and on and on and on – that doesn’t mean we are close to God. I read lots of biographies, and I’ve yet to see anyone God used that wasn’t busy. However, they didn’t cheat on their prayer life, spiritual disciplines, and depth of walk with God.
The seduction of entitlement over servanthood: If a church is under a thousand, they often want you to be a pauper. If a church is over a thousand, some guys are headed for being millionaires in the ministry. There seem to be two extremes today. There is nothing wrong with money – Abraham had it and lots of people in the Bible. There is nothing wrong with a church paying its pastor well. There is lots wrong with that pastor being the richest, best paid person in the community. Billy Graham should be the standard for all of us. I fly a lot, so often I get upgraded – I love it. I think we have to be careful of the upgrades that come our way. Sometimes we need to refuse them.
The seduction of methodology over the Holy Spirit: If we just become “seeker” or “worship” or “missional” or “WHATEVER” then God will bless us. So we go to that conference, we implement what we learn in hopes of becoming a fast growing church. Once again I remember having lunch with John Maxwell and I said to him, “You know it’s like you don’t even need God to grow a church anymore.” I expected him to argue, he didn’t. He said “I know Bob, it’s true, and that’s the challenge to fruit that remains and do it in God’s way.” The only way we get fruit that remains beyond being the latest fad in church in our area – is through the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit released in our lives and in our churches.
The seduction of control over release: One of the things that I had to do early on in order for our church to engage the city and the world and plant churches and do all that we do, was to release pastors and our people. Don’t hear me saying, you release without inspecting. Don’t hear me saying you release everyone in every area. You will have some people wanting to be released over an area they have no competence or background with, but it’s about them and their desires instead of truly serving God. But for release to be more of a discussion than an action speaks volumes. We get seduced sadly by holding on to people for fear that if we let them go they won’t give as much money, do as much, or be able to help “us” with our stuff. That’s not true. It is the seduction of a little kid with a toy yelling, “Mine, mine, mine!”
The seduction of “my church” over the KINGDOM: I’m grateful for a lady named Carol Davis. She said, “It is the global that defines the local.” She was challenging us to engage the world and let that define our church. We did. We still do – it’s not always easy – but it’s what we believe. In terms of the world, the poor, the suffering, and the unjust – we think we will get our church strong and then do all that. A strong church is strong, because it does do all that. Jesus did all that with 12 guys – you don’t have to wait for 100 or 1000 or 10,000. We must fight this seduction the most – because we can have metrics that justify our activities here and now – but are they eternal?