July 13, 2016

Young Pastors & Fighting From Falling

by Eric Davis
pulpit

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It happened again. Another pastor has fallen. From Mark Driscoll, to Darrin Patrick, Bob Coy, Tullian Tchividjian, and now Perry Noble; the past few years have witnessed more pastoral disqualifications than any of us would like to see.

As a young man with eight mere years of senior pastor experience, I have been attempting to learn and re-learn a few basic-but-essential lessons from these tragedies. A few thoughts for some of us young men in positions of church leadership:

  1. None of us are above a fall.

As young men, we ought not move past this too quickly. We may not be currently battling a sin from which another fell. However, external circumstances can change quickly, subjecting us to unprecedented weakness and temptation. If caught off guard, compromise becomes a short step away. We are no better than any of the fallen.

It’s good for me to a bit afraid of myself and my remaining sin. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

  1. We ought to be content being obscure, nobodies in pastoral ministry.

We have tumbled into dangerous territory when those secret motivations of, “I need to keep this popularity going” creeps in. We usually will disguise it as, “I need to be faithful to God by blessing all of these people,” and, “I just want to be impactful for Jesus in my ministry sphere.” If we’re not careful, our ministry sphere can become our own ego.

Obscurity is not a danger to faithfulness. On the contrary, obscurity may be essential to a faithful ministry. We ought to beware of wanting to matter.

  1. Before stepping into a pastoral position, we need to do everything possible to have currently-qualified and recognized elders affirm our qualifications.

We test people in things like practicing medicine, law, and dentistry. Where I live, backcountry ski guides have to prove themselves in a long, drawn-out, technical process before they are considered for the job. And rightfully so: lives are at stake.

Laying-on-of-Hands-Ordination

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So it must be and more in pastoral ministry. Do we understand what is at stake here? Passages like 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9, and James 3:1 are good reminders. Men are to be tested, taking more time than less (1 Tim. 3:10). “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others” (1 Tim. 5:22). This is why lengthy, drawn-out ordination processes are wise for testing men in the local church. Too often, we hear, “My church/Bible study grew from [small number] to [big number] in [short amount of time]. Therefore, God must be affirming me.” Nowhere does Scripture indicate such criteria for pastoral qualification.

  1. Much of our ministry focus should be on personal holiness and sound teaching.

True ministry impact is not a function of filled pews, but teaching and character (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16). As young men, we ensure the safety of God’s reputation and other’s souls as we give ourselves to sound character and teaching.

As young men, we need to be slow about assuming we can present a full, theological understanding of a doctrine. Sometimes, upon beginning to grasp a new doctrine, our untamed excitement gets ahead of us, and we present that doctrine in an unbalanced way. We jump the gun. We have not taken that doctrine and marinated our minds in an unrushed way in all of Scripture, so as to mature in understanding its connectedness to the whole counsel of God.

Further, we will stay the course with a sound, biblical understanding of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. It would be best for us young men to veer away from charismatic teaching. What does this have to do with faithfulness as pastors? This is not to say that the embracing of charismatic teaching inevitably leads to moral failure, nor that cessationists do not experience pastoral disqualification. However, erroneous pneumatology has consequences in things like the doctrine of sanctification and pastoral calling. It lends towards an individualism and subjectivism. Oftentimes, pastoral calling is more rooted in, “I heard a voice/Jesus spoke to me/had a dream that I was called to the ministry.” But Scripture presents no such thing as evidence of pastoral qualifications (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9). Similarly, experience tends to supersede special revelation in ascertaining one’s qualification. “If there are so many people experiencing some spirituality here, then this must be from God.”

  1. A robust, sound theology of sanctification is central to ministry longevity.

A study of Paul is telling when it comes to ministry endurance. If there’s one thing we can say about the Apostle of grace, he took a rigorous approach to sanctification. Though a fairly godly guy, his approach was to fight himself in order to prevent disqualification (cf. 1 Cor. 9:26-27). Even as an old, seasoned, and jailed man, he saw himself of needing to avoid spiritual cruise-control (cf. Phil. 3:12-14).

whos-walking-who

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We err if we suppose that one’s anemic theology of sanctification is merely incidental to their moral failure. Sowing is not incidental to reaping. Recently, John MacArthur said, “The key to an enduring ministry is sanctification.”

  1. As younger men, we are safer erring on the side of more self-denial and more self-restraint than less.

The natural tendency of the fallen nature is to push its variegated lusts. Especially as young men, simply by virtue of not being old, our passions are stronger. They have not suffered as many moments of denial and starvation. Our unrestrained flesh will never ask for less gratification, but more. Similarly, our unrestrained flesh will never take less opportunities, but more. So, we do well to take a more restrained approach to our desires, including matters of conscience. As John Frame writes, “Godliness always involves some sacrifice of personal freedom.” Our generation calls it legalism. God calls it honorable (2 Tim. 2:21-22).

  1. Effort should be put towards inviting input from proven, seasoned men.

It’s scary how we young men often stiff-arm this means of grace. You would think after the trail of pastoral carnage we’ve witnessed that we would be clawing at the doors of older, proven pastors. But, like Rehoboam, too many of us forsake the aged and consult with the young men with whom we grew up (1 Kings 12:8). We are looking for affirmation rather than sanctification.

“Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days” (Prov. 19:20).

  1. Suffering is God’s loving safeguard for young men and pastors.

How greatly most of us need our loving God to drop us on the mat now and then. For young men, and especially young pastors, suffering is intended to be God’s guardrail of grace. God-sent affliction blesses us with by the purging and preventing of pride (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7). For the young pastor, suffering is safer.

Puritan George Swinnock wrote, “A sanctified person, like a silver bell, the harder he is smitten, the better he sounds.”

  1. Growing fearful of God lends to spiritual health.

My generation has been big on propagating the “Jesus loves me” mantra. And he does. And praise him that he does. Without God’s self-initiating love towards me, I would be lost in hell forever. The love of God is our sacred doctrine.

proverbs-1-7But it is possible to abuse it. There is more to God than “God loves me.” There is more to my relationship with God than “God loves me.” Not every sin in our lives is exclusively due to a failure to sufficiently ponder how much God loves us. Perhaps some of our sins are attributed to thinking “God loves me” too much.

I wonder if my generation sometimes cries “God loves me” to distract ourselves. Perhaps other attributes of God are not fashionable enough in our day. Like the embarrassing uncle at a family reunion for whom we have to apologize, perhaps we are embarrassed to give necessary attention to God’s other attributes. Perhaps we cloak a repulsion for giving biblical effort to sanctification with “God loves me.”

Young men need to be scared of God. God made a universe (which astronomers currently estimate to be 91-billion light years in diameter) by speaking a few words. God controls the what, where, when, and how of everything at all times, simultaneously. God knows every leaf in every tree in every forest. God has wiped out a full planet with a flood, during which time he was seated. God executed 185,000 stout Assyrian warriors for bragging. God’s just wrath will result, in part, in a 200-mile long, 4-foot deep river of blood (Rev. 14:20). God must punish one sin against him eternally. God became a man.

Young Christian men need to be scared of God. Not scared in an Arminian way, but Calvinistic. The God of the Bible is a God of unspeakable majesty; so much so, that he rerouted his righteous wrath from his elect Bride to his impeccable Son. By election, redemption, and regeneration, sinners are sealed. A previous people were broken off to give way for our election-inclusion. The ethical imperative of God’s love is man’s fear. “Do not become proud, but fear” (Rom. 11:20).

Young pastors need to be scared of God. We might ask Nadab and Abihu their thoughts on young men approaching the ministry with a cocksure, cavalier style (Lev. 10:1-3). The ministry is a place of sobriety, not silliness; of holiness, not hip-ness. The position and pressure are too great for anything less.

When we witness pride in the pastorate, we should shudder. Especially our own. Thoughts of sin and abuse of liberties should invoke our trembling. And, trembling before God is a safe, holy place to be (Isa. 66:2). Getting to know the God of the Bible, then, will be our best accountability. May God help us.

More could be said regarding us young men and the ministry. I want to persevere in ministry, but I know it’s not a guarantee. Though the world, the flesh, and the devil are unceasingly against us, God is for us. By his grace, we can persevere so that at the end of our lives, we may say with seasoned Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). I really hope that I can say that.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • dave

    Sobering read my friend. Welcome reminders of our necessary place before Almighty God. I’m only @3yrs into pastoring and preaching and shepherding each week and the fear of man vs the fear of God is a constant tension, though the latter should be my only healthy tension.
    I listened to Perry Noble’s “resignation” letter from the July 10th message, and none of us are exempt from these temptations as you’ve said. I’d be interested to hear more about #8 from you sometime brother…that one continues to work on me.

  • LeeRaleigh

    #10: Don’t play AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” in your church.

  • Jason

    In the past, when I’d heard about another pastor falling, I mostly was happy to see another “bad” pastor removed from leadership.

    This time, I just started praying for my own congregation’s elders. It is rightly devastating to realize that an elder whom we held as mature fails to live up to the Biblical qualifications, but if those qualifications were leveled against the rest of the body how would we do?

    Honestly, it’s a mighty work of God that any man be prepared for such a ministry. I certainly would appreciate prayers for my continued growth even now, how much more necessary it is for those who’s life serves as the daily example for the body under their care?

  • Johnny

    This serves as a good reminder for layfolk of why we should encourage and pray for the men who shepherd us

    • Eric Davis

      Please do, Johnny. And tell others to do the same.

  • Frank

    “the past few years have witnessed more pastoral disqualifications” … or maybe they were unqualified to begin with and this is just the revelation of their true colors and nature?

    • Eric Davis

      Agreed, Frank. In some instances, it was simply the crashing of a wave that had been building for a while.

  • Karl Heitman

    Brother, I’m so thankful for your ministry. These are all necessary reminders. In the fight, as you well know, it’s too easy to surrender.

    I remember one TMS prof said something like, “Past successes do not guarantee future successes in ministry” (a paraphrase). The point he was making was that old men are not immune to moral or theological demise just because they’re old (e.g., David). Many old men, I’ve seen and heard, do not remember Phil. 3:12-14. In fact, the church where I was converted had a pastor, an old man, who had lengthy on-going affair with a congregant. As a new believer, it devastated me to learn that. So, my point is that old age and decades of pastoral experience does not necessarily equal wisdom and godliness.

  • blueshift

    “I just want to be impactful for Jesus in my ministry sphere.” Jargon? There’s a huge problem right there.

    • Jason

      It doesn’t necessarily even have to be jargon. People use scripture to put a “God’s Kingdom” sign out front of the kingdom they’re building for themselves often.

      We need to be careful because many claim the name of Christ with ulterior motives. Even more important is the point Eric is making, that we be careful not to do so ourselves!

  • Andrew Morrow

    Lots of nuggets of sound biblical wisdom here. Thanks for your writing & example to me, brother.

  • JonPrigge

    #2 – We ought to be content being obscure, nobodies in pastoral ministry… A Great reminder! I am sitting in the library looking at a good quote on the wall by John MacArthur, which says, “What kind of people does God use? Ordinary people – with all the struggles, all the strengths, and all the weaknesses of people like us. It’s not what you are that’s important; the issue is what you are willing to become.”

  • Kermos

    It is sad what happened to Perry Noble, and I was unaware of the list of names at in the article’s first paragraph. There is much that I desire to write, but I feel led by God to only ask a single question. Have you prayed, made supplication to the King of kings, for Perry and his family?

    • ZZona

      Dear Kermos, what does feeling “led by God” feel like. . ? And how do you know?

      • Kermos

        Wonderful, as in I am full of wonder at the works of God! Joyful, as in rejoice in the Lord! Love, for God is love!

        As to the second question, the leading of the Lord is in line with the Word, as in mourn with those who mourn.

        The Lord Jesus bless you and keep you, ZZona.

    • Eric Davis

      Hi Kermos, thanks for the comment. As soon as I heard about it, I prayed for him and his family. A member at our church here is actually a former member of New Spring and has been sharing a bit with us. I have been encouraged, as it seems that the leadership of NS brought Matthew 18 and 1 Timothy 3 to bear on the situation.

      • Kermos

        It is Amazing Grace that concerns are cast and heard by the Grand Creator of all that has been made!

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  • David Anderson

    Excellent comments (#9) on the fear of God and a sobriety of ministry. An apt word.

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  • “A sanctified person, like a silver bell, the harder he is smitten, the better he sounds.” “Young Christian men need to be scared of God. Not scared in an Arminian way, but Calvinistic. “

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  • Gregory Fisher

    When you say, “Oftentimes, pastoral calling is more rooted in, “I heard a voice/Jesus spoke to me/had a dream that I was called to the ministry.” But Scripture presents no such thing as evidence of pastoral qualifications …” You are correct in your observations and in your application of scriptural qualifications for elders. HOWEVER, just before we throw the baby out with the bath water, it would be good to remember that a dream…hearing the Holy Spirit’s call…realizing you are called to the ministry can be, and many times are, significant occurances along the road to pastoral ministry. I had that experience at the age of 16. I had an ecounter with the Lord that caused me to know He was inviting me into a life-long relationship that included dedicating myself to the ministry. It was a significant turning point in my life.

    None of that QUALIFIED me for ministry–as you rightly point out. What qualified me–and, still qualifies me–are the 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. But, without that certainty of God’s call on my life, I would not have survived in the ministry. I would have given up long ago and I would not have been aware of God’s presence in my life during times of hardship and disappointment. After 44 years of ordained Christian ministry, I am still on that pathway.

    For any young pastor I would recommend Francis Shaeffer’s book No Little People. Especially the chapter No Little People, No Little Places.

  • Roy Agustin

    Thank you brother! This hits home for me, an even much younger pastor, very new to the pastorate. This would be a great topic for our next Shepherds Fraternal Zoom Meeting! Just sayin..

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