While reading The Pastor's Guide to Effective Preaching (Beacon Hill Press), a collection of essays by a number of notable preachers (including Billy Graham, Eugene Peterson, Elizabeth Achtemeier), I came across the chapter on "The Personal Holiness of the Messenger," by Maxie Dunnam. I'm not a pastor in the vocational sense, but I am married to one. Also, much of what I do with my Sunday School class qualifies as shepherding. (We can get into the differences between spiritual gifts and offices later.) Nonetheless, this chapter contains some thoughts worthy of your consideration (whether you are a pastor or not).
What is the greatest need of your congregation?
More visitation for the sick, the troubled, and the widowed? Relevant, contemporary preaching? Systematic theology for all? Flashier ad campaigns and renewed emphasis upon giving? Higher attendance and increased voluntarism? A vibrant children's ministry? An edgy singles ministry? An increased outreach to the neighborhood through charity and evangelism? Deeper, more intense Bible study? Nope. None of the above.
Your congregation's greatest need is your personal holiness. Why don't you say that again to yourself? "My congregation's greatest need is my personal holiness." And, the truth of the matter is, you are as holy as you want to be. Do you want to be holy? No really. Think about it. Do you really want to be holy?
As people who spend almost all of their time in public, receiving either flattering admiration or withering criticism (or both at once), pastors learn quickly how to conceal themselves from their people. Every single person has an "outer life" and an "inner life," but if they are not careful, pastors can become those who constantly live in their "outer life." A glass house can make actors and actresses out of those who live within it.
I understand the fears of being "real," believe me. Pastors and their spouses know very well that if the church members could look deep within their hearts, most of them would spit in their faces. For this reason, "Hypocrisy is the greatest temptation of religious professionals." When you're a professional holy person, "faking it" often seems like the right thing to do so as to protect yourself from attack. We must resist this temptation and embrace the consequences of being real as we pursue holiness.
Dunnam offers the following five questions as tools by which we may constantly evaluate the attention we are giving to our personal holiness. I encourage you, whether you are a pastor or a lay minister, to give some thought to the answers:
1. Am I resisting image-building by living as transparently as possible?
2. Am I dealing with the self-deceit that comes from the applause of others?
3. Am I keeping my calling clear, resisting both the temptation for security and a competitive spirit?
4. Am I defensive when asked questions about the use of my time and the consistency of my spiritual disciplines?
5. Am I blaming others for things that are my own fault and the result of my own choices?
Dunnam goes on to say, "All the permanent fruit and progress that results from our leadership is based on strong character." And, its not enough just to recognize this truth. We must live the kinds of lives, practice the kind of disciplines, that build character and form us into the ministers God calls us to be.
So, I ask you: Are you growing in your walk with Christ? Do you want to change? How deep is your desire for holiness? "I know of no Christian in all the ages that we turn to for teaching and inspiration who did not give himself or herself consistently to discipline and devotion. Disciplines for the spiritual life are at the heart of living out the gospel. The purpose of discipline is to enhance our relationship with Christ, to cultivate a vivid companionship with Him. Through spiritual discipline, we learn to be like Him and live as He lived."