Let the Teachers in the Church be Few

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” 

~James 3:1

Let the servants in the church be many; let the teachers in the church be few. 

With regards to the mass percentage of formal Bible teachers in the church, the Bible is not silent. James 3:1 is explicit: “Let not many of you be teachers.” For the record, there is a degree to which all Christians are called to teach in an informal sense (Colossians 3:15-16). The commission of discipleship is given to all believers (Matthew 28:18-20). I believe that, in this epistle, James is referring to formal teachers in the church body. The culturally Jewish community of believers he was addressing most certainly understood the concept of recognized teachers of the Scriptures within the community of God’s people. In the Old Testament, teachers of the Law had to be appointed, vetted, and trained. Never were they the majority; never were they self-appointed. While the twenty-first-century church doesn’t have scribes and priests, formal teachers do exist in the form of preachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and biblical counselors to name a few. Such positions tend to be highly coveted. Over the years, I’ve seen countless individuals approach the pastoral staff of the church claiming that God has placed it in their heart to be formal Bible teachers. I’ve heard a number of them say that they’re “bored” at church…mainly because the capacity in which they serve doesn’t involve formal teaching. The problem is not that they feel this way. The problem is that there are too many of them that feel this way – because there isn’t room for all of them. By God’s design, the formal teaching ministry in the local church was meant to rest on the shoulders of a select few. The saint who claims, then, to be gifted at teaching and desires to serve formally in that capacity in the church ought to doubly examine himself, lest he be self-deceived about his perception of his giftedness or qualification (cf.1 Timothy 1:7).

The call for teachers to be few in the church may seem impractical and even unfair, but it is not without reason. James gives the reason in the second part of verse 1: “…knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Again, James’ culturally Jewish audience would have understood this. The Old Testament Scriptures are filled with denunciations by God toward false and careless shepherds, prophets, priests, and scribes. Christ Himself reserved His harshest diatribes toward the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes during His earthly ministry. James’ audience knew that God’s strictest judgments were reserved toward those who promoted themselves as the formal teachers of Scripture. From my own observations, most overly-eager beavers see formal teaching as a means for personal ministry satisfaction, in the same way many of today’s millennials talk about job satisfaction. Butt they are often unaware of the gravity of the commission. Teaching God’s Word is task of great gravity because of the gravity of the Word of God itself. James refers to the Scriptures as one that is able to save the souls of people (1:21). Whether a person rightly understands, receives, and responds to the Word impacts his eternal condition. Those who are self-absorbed in their pursuit of personal ministry satisfaction are not fully aware of the severity of the judgment that would befall them had they put it upon themselves to formally teach the Scriptures on a regular basis. A church whose body rightly understands this would only have a handful of its people desiring to take up the task. And even those who were willing, able, and gifted would do so with great fear and trembling (1 Corinthians 2:2-4).  

So, then, let the servants be many; let the teachers be few. 

Mentoring Young Men 101 (Part 3)

The main premise of this series is that biblical discipleship and mentoring of young men is primarily about training them to think. I left off saying that the hope for those who seek to engage in such a ministry is that we are products not ultimately of our natural tendencies or historical upbringing, but rather new creation continually transformed into the image of Christ both in who we are and what we do. That includes Christian discipleship and mentoring. The goal of this third leg of the series is to show how the method of mentoring young men explicated in the first two entries was the very method employed by Christ Himself. 

For the record, Jesus did a lot of explicit commanding. He gave a lot of direct prescriptions. As the Lord of the universe, He did indeed tell people what to do, sometimes with a pointedness and bluntness that would cause a collective squirming in our uber-politically correct society. But when browse through the interactions with His twelve disciples and the manner, and observe how He trained them by pressing upon them a mindset. 

The following examples are mere snapshots of His discipleship method:

When the disciples initially didn’t permit the children to approach Jesus, He rebuked them, told them otherwise, and said, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” He trained them to think differently about children than the rest of the world did (Luke 18:16)

When the disciples began to argue with one another as to whom was the greatest, Christ explained, “the one who is greatest among you must become like he youngest, and the leader like the servant.” He trained them to think differently about greatness than the Gentile world did. (Luke 22:25-26)

When the disciples panicked when trapped in the middle of the storm in the Sea of Galilee, Christ asked them after calming the winds and the waves, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” He was training them to think differently about Him in light of jeopardizing life circumstances. (Mark 4:40)

When the disciples urged Him to eat after a long journey and a conversation with the Samaritan woman, Christ replied, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” He was training them to think differently about true nourishment and priorities in life. (John 4:31-34)

When one of the disciples cut off the ear of the slave who tried to arrest Him, He replied, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take up the sword by perish to the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” He was training them to think differently about meekness, suffering, and submission. (Matthew 26:51-53)

When the disciples questioned Him with regards to His exhortation to the rich young ruler regarding how one can be saved, He responded, “With people, it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” He was training them to think differently about the way to salvation and the nature of discipleship. (Mark 10:23-27)

When the disciples asked him about the way to the Father, He responded: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” He was training them to think accurately about who His identity. (John 14:1-6)

Christ did more than prescribe His disciples the right actions. He first helped them arrive at the right conclusions. 

For three years, the twelve walked with Christ, during which He passed down a lens through which they would interpret life, and it was when they learned to think differently that they were ready to minister mightily. He didn’t just tell them what to do; He trained them how to think. Is it not for this reason that our Lord Himself said, 

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22)

The world and the church alike are thirsting for godly young men. The world, to delay its inevitable decay; the church, to catalyze its promised edification. These godly young men are here, and thirsting for mentoring. Let the church then do its duty and mentor these men by training them up to think as Christ did. 

Mentoring Young Men 101 (Part 2)

As mentioned in the previous entry, the discipleship of men is about training men how to think, rather than telling them what to do. Over the last decade or so, I’ve communicated this very thesis to men who have a heart to disciple others in both private meetings and corporate leadership training sessions. And, for the most part, the message was received well. I’ve rarely had a well-meaning Christian genuinely seeking to grow in the effectiveness of his ministry fight me on this issue.
Yet for so many of these men, when the rubber meets the road, they still don’t biblically disciple. So what causes so many well-meaning men to short-circuit in the discipleship process? (I’m assuming that the subjects addressed are indeed well-meaning; Ill-motivated men who seek to disciple others are an entirely different story). I believe that the answer has to do with our history as well as our anthropological tendencies as X-Y chromosomal creatures. When we’re not empowered by the Spirit to engage skillfully and deftly in the Christian ministry of life-on-life discipleship, historical bad habits and tendencies of the flesh take over.      

The following is not a comprehensive list, but rather simply four observations I’ve gleaned over the years. Four (of several) common causes that effect men tend to struggle with the implementing the biblically intended design of discipleship in their mentoring of other men are:

1)The lack of training or marred training regarding discipleship
2)The impatience that so often characterizes men 

3)The ego-oriented nature that so often characterizes men

4)The tendency of men to immediately trouble-shoot 


Cause #1: The lack of or marred training regarding discipleship 

I’m aware of the plethora of printed material that is circulated amongst various Christian circles regarding formal methods of mentoring and discipleship – church and para-alike. Para-church campus fellowships such as InterVarsity, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Navigators all circulate their own have their formal systems of discipleship amongst their affiliates. Several local churches that I’m aware of have their unique systems to which their leadership and members subscribe and teach. I’ve seen and read the materials used, and much of the content is good. The problem is when the men who are produced from these discipleship systems try to implement the exact same system when discipling others. Soon, discipleship in the church becomes a cookie-cutter ministry. It’s a problem, because a cookie-cutter ministry is meant for cookies, not people. Not every Christian man should be required to keep Scripture memory flashcards or weekly journals. Not every Christian man will benefit equally from the same set of Christian literature. While formalized discipleship materials can be helpful as compasses, discipleship in the church was never intended by Christ to be standardized to a man-made curriculum. The only authoritative book on Christian discipleship is – you guessed it! – the Bible. And when it comes to one-on-one mentoring, biblical truth was meant to be transported through the vehicle of your own life (1 Thessalonians 2:6, 2 Timothy 3:13ff), not through a written curriculum.  

Cause #2: The impatience that often characterizes men

I remember speaking to a godly man in our church once who told me that when his wife found out that he was scheduled to teach a Sunday school class on the topic of patience, she laughed at him. Upon hearing this, I thought to myself, “Wow, I guess all men really are the same!” Men are, by nature, impatient. We’re interested in final products more than growth processes. When I was a school-teacher, I realized that boys generally are lazier about “showing work” than girls because it “took up time.” I’ve found that men generally have more difficulty than women when it comes to the virtue of waiting. Thus, when it comes to mentoring younger bucks, it’s easier for us to say rather than to shape. And the fact of the matter is that it takes a whole lot less hours to tell a guy what to do than to train him how to think. To be a trainer of men, rather than duplicator of self means that a man must refrain from attempting to trouble-shoot every wrong conclusion at once. For a creature given to impatience, this is no easy task.  

Cause #3: The ego-oriented nature that so often characterizes men

Women complain that men have big egos. I can’t disagree. Men are indeed ego-oriented. Better yet, we’re imprint-oriented. We like to duplicate ourselves, generally much more strongly than women do. A lot of mothers wanted children because they want to nurture children; a lot of fathers want children because they themselves want to be imprinted after, for their genes to be passed down. Back in the day, it was expected for sons to take up their father’s trade. Fathers thus trained their sons to – you guessed it – become like them. And while it may have been a cultural or historical-sociological construct (most men today in the Western world don’t go into their profession of choice that their dads did), there’s an underlying anthropological reality. Generally speaking, men care much more about being imprinted after than do women. The negative aspects of such sometimes carry over to discipleship relationships.
Cause #4: The tendency of men to immediately trouble-shoot

Men are, by nature, wired to problem-solve. We would rather problem-solve than data-gather. We’d rather solve problems than discern profiles. We’d rather fix what’s on the outside rather than understand what’s on the inside. Men are wired to modify behavior in a formulaic manner. While there are strengths to this, it can also add viscosity to the discipleship process. Desiring to always solve problems can leave a man stranded when mentoring another man because of the sheer fact that people are not problems to be solved by other people. We’re human beings made in the image of God with our own volition and set of emotions, and not robots under the control of human engineers. When discipling a younger man by training him to think, a man must restrain himself from trying to trouble-shoot everything, and embrace the reality that he isn’t going to have all problems solved by the end of the hour. It is God who brings change upon a person’s life, and He does so at His own timing. A man learn that those under his care are under his shepherding care, not his engineering care.  

Thankfully, we as ministers are ultimately not products of our own history or natural tendencies, but rather new creation continually transformed into the image of Christ by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Godly mentoring was a ministry of Christ Himself. And that’s Part 3 of this series…

Mentoring Young Men 101 (Part 1)

“Likewise, urge the young men to be sensible”

~Titus 2:6

Men must mentor men. The Master mandates it.

Before the church is called to prop up pretty programs, it must prioritize the training and building up of its men – particularly the younger men. Alongside the preaching of the Word, it is the church’s primary duty. Christ Himself was a preacher and a mentor (hence, He had disciples). Thankfully, just about every church I’ve attended or been a part of has – or is in the process of developing – some kind of a men’s discipleship ministry. Rightly so.  

Yet, to say that the majority of America’s churches engage in the endeavor of discipling its men doesn’t equate to saying that men are being discipled biblically in America’s churches. The current state of Christianity in our country isn’t exactly one to rejoice over. Weak Christianity results from weak local churches. And weak local churches result from weak preaching and weak mentoring of men. I’ll discuss the current state of preaching in another entry; in this one, I’m intent on addressing where we’ve gone wayward ministry of discipling men.

So what exactly is wrong with the way men are spiritually mentored today? Over the years, I’ve gained insight from the honest feedback of friends and colleagues – God-loving, scripturally-committed, and ministry-minded men who have expressed their frustrations with regards to discipleship relationships in which they were involved. Sparing the ipsissima verba, several of them have shared the following:

“I would get paired up with a discipler or spiritual mentor from our church. Then, during our meetings, he would ask me about my week and my current struggles. Upon my sharing, he would immediately say, ‘Oh, you need to do this,’ or ‘Oh, you need to do that.’ But he wouldn’t actually help me think through the struggle or even really show me what the Bible had to say about it.”

Think and Bible. Two words mentioned worth munching. So why are mentoring relationships and the overall discipleship of men of America’s churches ineffective? Each generation has its quirks, but my most recent observations with regards to the generation in which I live is that the problem lies in those two words stated above: younger men are simply being told what to do pragmatically more than they are being trained how to think biblically.

For the record, pragmatic counsel is not sinful. There’s a place and time for it, and it can do much good when given appropriately. It just isn’t the priority of the biblical paradigm of discipling young men. Before the scowl gets scowlier, listen to exhortation given by the apostle Paul himself to Titus with regards to his dealings with the younger XY’s of the Cretian church:

“Likewise, urge the young men to be sensible.” (NASB, emphasis added)

Urge, Paul commands. Titus, parakalei! Come alongside them. Encourage them. Exhort them. Disciple them. Train them. Your duty, Titus, is not only to preach the Word, but to disciple the saints.

Urge the young men, Paul specifies. The neoterous – the youthful men, the younger sector, the men in the church full of strength and vigor but perhaps in need of wisdom and guidance. Address all of the affinity groups, Titus, but you are particularly called to disciple the young men.

Urge the young men to be sensible, Paul instructs. Sophronein – to think soundly, soberly, seriously, scriptural.

Titus, disciple the young men of the church by training them how to think!

In discipleship, training trumps telling. Hence, it’s called discipleship, and not dictatorship. Mentoring a young man is primarily the endeavor of training him how to think soundly according to the principles of Scripture. Sound living stems from sound thinking, does it not? According to Hebrews 5:14, the mature are distinguished from the babes in that they have their “senses trained to discern good and evil.” Young men need for their spiritual senses to be trained to discern what is good from evil – or what is fitting from what is not fitting – when it comes to circumstances and life decisions. For the mentors, the ministry is less about passing down a series of pragmatic practices and more about equipping a younger man interpret himself, his life, and everything around him through the lens of Scripture and in light of the glory of Christ and His gospel, then to respond accordingly.

The application flows from the obvious – but often overlooked – principle of individual distinctiveness. God has woven together each individual with his distinct personality (Psalm 139:14), a distinct set of personal convictions (Romans 14:5) and distinct spiritual giftedness (1 Corinthians 12:4). On top of this, individual young men will struggle with a unique set of temptations, setbacks, and sins (Matthew 5:29-30). Thus, the same principal truths to which all God-fearing men will submit will result in a variety of particular courses of action depending on an man’s unique makeup. Mentoring young men involves focusing not primarily on the particular courses of action (though this is important), but first on the principal perspective in which a man learns to encase his modus operandi.

So to get a bit more practical…

  • It’s less about telling a student on the brink of graduation, “You need to get a job” and more about showing him Scripture’s perspective on the dignity, purpose, mandate, and design of work – teaching him how to see all of life’s labors in relation to glory of God.
  • It’s less about telling a young husband, “You and your wife need to go on a date night once a week,” and more about showing him the necessary consistency between how he nourishes and cherishes his wife and Christ’s love and care for His church, helping him see his marriage in light of the glory of Christ’s sacrificial and sanctifying love for His church.
  • It’s less about telling a man, “You need to join the morning set-up team on Sundays” and more about helping him learn the importance of prioritizing the needs of others before one’s personal ambitions as Christ demonstrated, helping him see his ministry and service in light of the humble servanthood of Christ.
  • It’s less about telling a man that he should or shouldn’t go to graduate school, and more about training him to think proverbially about acquiring knowledge and sharpening his skills while at the same time refraining from loving the boastful pride of life, thus helping him see his choice in light of the wisdom of God.

It’s less about giving a man a fish so as to feed him for a day, and more about feeing a man to fish so as to feed him for a lifetime!

Professionalism, Progress, People, and the Pastor

“…I know that I will remain and continue wit you all for your progress and joy in the faith.”
~Philippians 1:25

Brothers, we are not professionals.

These were the words of John Piper, employed to title his classic book written to exhort pastors and ministers to exhibit a biblical philosophy of their vocation. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed with the work when I first read it during my early years in seminary. It wasn’t that I disagreed with Piper’s premise; it was that the premise seemed too obvious. That pastors ought to view their vocation before the Lord with a perspective free of the “professionalism” as understood in the secular sense of the word was, to me, equivalent to a cross-country coach telling his athletes to run their meets free of jeans and hoodies.  

My sentiment at the time I read the book resulted from, I believe, my internal thought process that drove me to pastoral ministry in the first place. Previous to my conversion, I was obsessed with professional success. It wasn’t money or popularity that I idolized, but rather to be an accomplished and distinguished figure in my field. I went to college intending to pursue a triple major in Physiology, Biophysics, and Environmental Science with sights set on getting a doctorate and doing ground-breaking research in a field of biology that was only sparsely researched up to that point (whether or not I would’ve been able to accomplish it – that’s another story!). And so when the Lord first ignited the desire in my hear to switch routes and travel the road of vocational pastoral ministry, I struggled mightily with the prospect of relinquishing my professional ambitions. Perhaps it was because the pastorate as an occupation wasn’t highly esteemed amongst my non-Christian extended family and the high school culture from which I was educated, but I understood even before I went to seminary that being a pastoral minister and building a professional resume were mutually exclusive. Thus, the internal wrestling match of my soul resulted because I was so holy, but precisely the opposite. The chance to boast of myself in a professional sense would have to go should I remain on this route.  

It’s why I’m still perplexed as to why people love asking me the questions, “So what are your personal pastoral or ministry goals? What position do you ultimately see yourself having? Do you see yourself as a senior pastor or an associate?” I honestly don’t really care; I stopped thinking about career ambitions (in the secular sense) the minute I left the prospect of doing biological research. To be professionally credentialed was something of the past. Thus, I was surprised to see it present in the western pastoral community to the level that it is.

After being in pastoral ministry for a decade now, I’ve realized the profoundness of Piper’s book. His exhortation strikes at the growing trend of professionalism amongst the western pastoral community. The more I interact with pastors in the west, where meritocracy drives our occupational philosophy, the more I hear the words “I” and “me” in their descriptions of their ministry aspirations. An increasing number of men are going into seminary for the sake of becoming distinguished scholars and professionals in the realm of theological professions. Attaining degrees, authoring books, and ascending up the “ministry ladder” are aspirations in and of themselves. More and more young men are choosing to serve in churches where they believe there will be the “most room for growth” – and not necessarily in the Christ-likeness. Pastors and seminarians are sounding more and more like Google employees than disciple-makers.  

For the record, professional growth and development in pastoral ministry is not sinful in and of itself. In fact, the Scriptures do speak of ministerial progress for the man of God (cf 1 Timothy 4:15). But confuse not the means with the end. Ministry practices must be distinguished from ministry ambitions. If a pastor’s ultimate ambition is to become an accomplished pastor, in the same way that Pete Sampras’ goal was to become an accomplished tennis player, then he has fallen into making a priority of the peripheral.  

To put it bluntly, the Bible is silent when it comes to earning accredited master’s and doctoral degrees in theology. It’s also silent about publishing Christian literature. More importantly, it’s silent with regards to the plethora of titles extensively used for church ministers to distinguish their functions (show me, for instance, the verse where the title for “executive pastor” or “associate pastor” or “professor” appear, and I’ll recant my ). Descriptive ministry titles are not sinful; they’re just not the priority. The only vocational titles I see in the Bible are “man of God,” “minister,” and “bondservant.” The only functional titles are “preacher” and “teacher.” For a man to go into ministry and be ambitious for anything beyond these things is an indication that he has professionalized the pastorate.

What then should comprise the minister’s aspirations? Philippians 1:23-25 delineates the answer:

But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better, yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue wit you all for your progress and joy in the faith.” 

Simply put, the aspiration modeled by Scripture is one that aims for the progress and joy of God’s people. The minister of God was commissioned to labor not for his own personal career development, but rather for the growth of the people of God toward Christ-likeness. He is to agonize not for personal self-esteem or self-fulfillment, but rather so that God’s people may attain the true spiritual joy that Christ desires to dwell in all who have placed their faith in Him. Godly pastors, then, aren’t consumed with professional growth and career development; they’re consumed the exaltation of Christ and the growth of the people, driven by the ambition to see the saints attain the holiness apart from which they cannot see God. The godly pastor is the man who lives his life as a sacrificial offering for the faith of others – not attempting to gather the world’s goods, but seeking to give himself up that God’s people may experience the spiritual and heavenly blessings from their heavenly father. He is a man consumed with a desire to see the gospel of Christ – revealed by the word of Christ – transform the people of Christ who were justified by the work of Christ to be transformed into the image of Christ for the glory of Christ.  

The globe needs such kind of men, who can say with the apostle Paul, “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself.” Let the professionalism that has seeped into the western pastoral community be totally done away with!

The Error of Self-Appointed Leadership

There is a passive element to biblical leadership.  
I understand, Mr. Reformed Theologian and Proponent of Biblical Masculinity, if you’re squirming. To be honest, writing this statement is making me double-check for lightning in the sky. For the record, I affirm that, 99.99% of the time, spiritual leadership necessarily implies taking the initiative. That is, after all, the very definition of leadership.  I myself have taught that one of the great disservices to the church, the community, the country, and society in general is the presence of passive men. This is emphatic particularly when it comes to the realm of spiritual growth, the shepherding and raising up of his family, the building up of God’s church, the global ministry of the gospel, and the preparation for His kingdom. To “gird up one’s loins like a man” implies being active, and not passive. Yes, yes, and amen yes – let a man who desires to bring glory to his Creator get off of his cheeks and actively fight the good fight of faith for the sake of his personal sanctity, his family, and his church.

That said, there is a particular element of spiritual leadership in which I truly believe that the man of God must remain passive. And it has to do with not his activity as a leader, but rather his appointment as a leader.

What I mean by “passive”

I am not using the word “passive” in the connotative and cultural sense, in which it is sometimes implies to cowardice, laziness, and refusal to take responsibility. I mean “passive” in the denotative grammatical sense. For all the hyper-masculine folks out there (bless your souls, by the way), passive is not always negative. For instance, Ephesians 5:18 and 6:10 calls the Christian to “be filled with the Spirit” and “be strong in the Lord” – both of which are imperatives in the passive voice. Now with regards to the appointment of the man of God to leadership, the passivity of the man of God means that he is positioned as the recipient of the appointing rather than the active agent of the appointing.  

To put it more simply, church leaders – whatever the capacity – must not appoint themselves, but must wait to be appointed.

And to put it more pointedly, self-appointing leadership can be very, very dangerous.

My personal convictions and philosophy over the years

1 Timothy 1:12-16 is my autobiography as well as Paul’s. It’s been a true honor to be able to preach and teach in several venues, train up ministers for the work of the gospel, disciple and mentor men, and counsel those in need. Yet, since the beginning of my ministry, I had a personal conviction that it was not in my right to request for or demand the opportunity to preach or teach (except when a particular seminary assignment required me to do so). And, when it came to discipleship and counseling, I was convicted that I was to wait to be asked by a person to be discipled/counseled individually, rather than going up to a person and asking them if I could disciple or counsel them.  I’ve held to these commitments till this day.  There’s personal aspect to it. A person of my background, who made the kind of mistakes in life that I did, would never in his right appoint himself a leader or even request for such in the church in which he serves. There’s also a practical aspect to it, in that I desire to submit to God’s leading rather than my own personal desires when it comes to the direction and endeavors of ministry. But I do believe that there’s a philosophical aspect to it.   I’m a big proponent of letting your character and competency speak for themselves, rather than imposing them on others. I’ve shared this with our ministry staff at my church, and thus, have no problem sharing it here. Waiting for the opportunities to minister in the capacities above has never resulted in a lack of opportunities. If anything, there has been a glorious (and logistically problematic) over-abundance opportunities.  

The problem of growing self-appointed leadership

Thus, in those instances when I do have the opportunity to mentor the eager beaver, I do strongly encourage him to patiently wait on the Lord for opportunities to lead rather than actively requesting for the from the churches in which they serve. For there has been a growing problem of self-appointing leadership in the church. Let me explain with a few examples:

More than once, I’ve had a young Christian approach me to tell me that he’s being discipled by a believer but a few years older than him. I would proceed to ask how such a discipleship relationship was formed, and to my horror, he would say something to the line of, “So and so approached me and said, ‘You look like you are in need of discipleship. How would you like it if I discipled you?” Out of respect for the “older” saint, the younger man would oblige, and would find himself unhappily stuck in a “discipleship” relationship from which he wasn’t truly benefitting.  

  • I’ve worked in the past with younger ministers and colleagues who would complain about not having enough teaching opportunities in church.  
  • I’ve heard reports of younger men, be it out of over-eagerness or pride or a combination of both, join a church and immediately try to coerce themselves into leadership positions.  
  • I’ve witnessed older men (with seminary training and previous pastoral experience) hold grudges against their existing church leadership because they weren’t extended a ministry position though they had been “faithfully serving as best as possible.”  
  • I’ve seen younger men in their mid to late twenties – either unqualified, untested, or simply inexperienced – simply plant churches and install themselves as the pastors and elders of those churches.  

And in every case, you have a man who has a misguided understanding of the worthiness of his person of the glory of the ministry for which he strives. And in many of these cases, such men had an inaccurate estimation of their own giftedness. 

The biblical philosophy of spiritual leadership appointment 

I realized that the Scriptures not only discuss what a spiritual leader for God’s people should be doing, but also how he should be appointed. For one, Paul entrusts both Titus and Timothy with the responsibility to appoint elders and faithful teachers respectively (2 Tim 2:2, Tit 1:5). But a passage that is largely ignored that does indeed speak directly of the issue at hand is Hebrews 5:1-4. Here, the author says:

“For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God…” (5:1)

“And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.” (5:4)

While these verses may specifically address the office of the high priest in Old Testament Israel before the coming of Christ, the principle of leadership appointment is indeed in view. In the Law of Moses, there was no such thing as a self-appointed high priest. All of those who served in such a capacity were specifically called by God and ordained by the current Levitical priests. Following the same pattern, none of the twelve apostles of Christ were self-appointed, but rather were chosen by Christ specifically for the task. And while there are no longer high priests and apostles in the present-day church, there are pastors and teachers and leaders who Christ has commissioned to shepherd His flock until He comes again. And just as God never designed for high priests or apostles to be self-appointed, it can be induced that he doesn’t expect – or desire – for spiritual leaders to be self-appointed today. For, as Hebrews 5:4 states, “no one takes the honor to himself.” No one, in their right state of mind before God and in full awareness of their own wretchedness and weaknesses and limitations, would ever assume upon himself such a position of honor as that of a spiritual leader for the flock for which Christ purchased with His own blood. 

Erred estimations of the self-appointing

Many self-appointed leaders have simply erred into thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to (Romans 12:3). Their estimation of themselves and their own spiritual maturity out-peaks Everest, blinding them to the gaping holes in their character and even lack of giftedness. Other self-appointed leaders simply have a too low an estimation of the weightiness of the ministry. The Scriptures calls for everyone to be servants, but only few to be teachers, for on the latter will incur a stricter judgment. Self-appointed leaders sometimes so over-eager to be in positions of authority or esteem that they fail to realize the the very value of the message that they bear and the preciousness of the souls to whom they lead. Thus, some perspective has to change.

The model of Christ Himself 

And perhaps, there are those self-appointed leaders who appointed themselves simply because they didn’t know better. After all, secular leadership is many times attained through self-appointment. But formal spiritual leadership is different. And no one modeled this better than Christ Himself. Christ, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and Lord over all, was one who – when it came to the appointment to lead God’s people – waited to be appointed. Listen to the words of Hebrews 5:5:

“So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.'”

Christ, the radiance of the glory of Father and exact representation of the Father’s nature, did not glorify Himself, but instead waited upon the Father to glorify Him and usher Him into His public ministry (though He was always worthy of such an honor). It is because of this that Jesus did not start publicly preaching and teaching until after His baptism at the age of thirty. And so if Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a spiritual leader, how much more should we refrain from such a temptation.  

Even Christ demonstrated that, there is indeed a passive element to spiritual leadership!  

He Uses Fire, Not Yard-Sticks

Prioritizing Quality over Quantity in Pastoral Ministry

“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

~1 Corinthians 3:13-15

I have to remind myself that God uses fire, not yard-sticks.

When it comes to evaluating a house, yard-sticks measure the quantity of its square footage. Fire measures the quality of its building material. And when it comes to that final judgment and evaluation of my life’s work and ministry by Jesus Christ Himself – when I’m finally ushered from earth to heaven – He will use fire. He won’t be using yard-sticks.

Hear me, fellow minister. When the time comes for the Lord to evaluate your life’s work, it will be its quality – not quantity – that will matter most.

It’s for this reason that pastoral ministry (or any brand of ministry, for that matter) was never meant to be about promotions, titles, and numbers. God never intended for the premium to be on quantity. And yet, that’s what is valued most for many young, Western-world ministers. I can’t say that it always starts out this way. But what I have observed is that, for all of the purity and sincerity of his initial motivation, many men quickly gets baited into the futile race for quantity. Thus, the pondering questions that consume his brain space become the following:

  • How many sermons have I preached?  
  • How many people have I led to Christ?  
  • How many young men have I mentored and discipled?  
  • How high was my seminary GPA?  
  • How many books have I personally authored?  
  • How many followers does my personal ministry blog have?  
  • How many children have I raised?  
  • How many people have I formally counseled?  
  • How many academic ministry titles do I have to his name, and what is the highest level of education that I’ve reached?  
  • How many countries have I been able to preach at?  
  • How high up the church leadership have I been able to climb?  
  • How many years have I served at my local congregation?  

All of a sudden, the evaluation of life’s work is reduced to a resume.

Truth is, there’s always the temptation for a young pastor to count the marbles in his bag. Of course, this is absurd, for by what standards do you use to measure the quantity of your ministry? The Scriptures certainly don’t have one, for Scripture emphasizes quality over quantity.

It can’t be emphasized enough because of our culture’s current obsession with quantity. This is true for American Christians, for American churches, and for American ministers. More and more, young men seem to be focusing on building up and boasting about their ministry resume. More and more, the premium is being placed on career development over character growth.

It’s what happens when we become short-sighted. The focus on the quantifiable aspects of ministry is a direct result of a lack of pondering about God’s final evaluation and compensation of a man’s ministry. Read 1 Corinthians 3, and notice how it is that God will test what a man has built. When a man presents to Christ what his house – the analogous equivalent to his life’s work – Christ won’t pull out a yard-stick to measure square footage. He isn’t interested in quantity. Rather, Christ throws the house into the fire to test the material used to build the house. Straw? Hay? Gold? Think about it for a second. The man who presents, as his work, a mansion made of straw will have ten times the quantity of the man who presents a townhouse made of gold. But throw both men’s work into the fire; the straw mansion will be burnt up, while the gold townhouse will remain.

In other words, fellow minister…

  • The content of what you preach matters more than how many times you’ve preached.
  • Demeanor, character, and truthfulness are more valuable than degrees, certificates, and titles.
  • Your manner of leadership in the church matters more than your level of leadership in the church.
  • How people are changed by your ministry matters more than how many people recognize you as a minister.
  • Staying faithful to the Book is more important than writing many books.

Perhaps I feel a bit of perplexity. For when I decided to submit to the Lord and pursue a path of vocational ministry, it was with the understanding that He had also called me to subsequently leave behind all of my desires to make a name for myself from a career. To enter into pastoral ministry, I believed, was the equivalent of entering into a career path that promised absolute self-denial and a total forsaking of the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). That was why I left my previous career path. To seek to boast about the quantity of one’s pastoral ministry is an oxymoron. To focus on the quality of your ministry, rather than the quantity of it, is biblical wisdom.

For when the time comes to evaluate your ministry, God will use fire – not a yard-stick. Trust me – you’d better trade your straw mansion of hay for a gold townhouse. Quality versus quantity – you take your pick, and choose wisely.