As I mentor and coach leaders in North American churches, I find a common theme among many pastors: They live and lead in such a way so as to disqualify themselves as an elder in their own church.
Living “Among” the Flock
First of all, they are not living and leading “among.” First Peter 5:2–4 exhorts the elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you . . . being an example to the flock.” When meeting with a leader, I will often ask, “Are you living in such a way that people can see your life and follow your example?” In other words, is your daily life visible, accessible, and reproducible? Not visible and accessible to everyone, of course — your life and home are just not that big, and hopefully you are not the only leader. But is your life visible and accessible to everyday people? Can people see your marriage, your parenting, your interaction with neighbors and others? From watching your life, can they see what their life would look like if they loved Jesus and lived for him daily?
Jesus lived among his disciples, and they could say that they saw, touched, and heard the Word in flesh. Paul reminded the church in Ephesus that they knew how he lived because he lived among them in the everyday stuff of life. Do those who have open access to your life and see who you really are in everyday life, regularly say to you, “We don’t understand what’s the big deal about you. Why would anyone ask you to come speak? You’re just a regular guy like everyone else!”
Living Visibly and Accessibly
Do they see you struggle as a parent, work through tension with your wife, repent from your idolatry and regularly share how in need of grace you are?
This visibility and accessibility helps to keep us grounded — less prone to become overly impressed with ourselves. It also keeps us in the know of what people, including ourselves, need from our teaching. We know the struggles. We see the challenges. We fail. So, when we teach, we are able to speak from both a real awareness of what we all are going through and a credibility that we are struggling in community with the same things.
Unfortunately, many pastors find that the majority of their life is in an office, seeing people at church gatherings, meeting with their staff and primarily just hanging out with their own family. How will people know what it looks like to live out gospel convictions in everyday life if they never see the leaders of the church live it out in front of them?
Living the Way We Call Our People to Live
Second, far too many pastors are not living the life they call everyone else in their congregation to live. They have given themselves permission to be the exception to the norm. What does your church expect of its members? Are you setting an example to the flock by doing what you expect others to do?
I have had countless conversations with pastors who expect the people in their congregation to be in a small group or a missional community, while they excuse themselves from the same expectation. Or, they conclude that the staff meeting together or the elders regularly meeting together is the equivalent of a small group. Really? If you are going to come to that conclusion, please give your people the freedom to count their regular business meeting with their staff at work as their small group. Or free up your members to only meet with the people they like doing life with. Forget calling them to reach the unlovable, the broken, the “much-grace-necessary” people. Unfortunately, that is much of what takes place in the church because they are following the example of their leaders.
Leaders, whatever you ask the church to do as normative, set the example by doing it yourself.
Living the Biblical Requirements
Third, often I find that elders fail to live out the biblical requirements for overseers that we find in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:7–9. Not all of the requirements, of course, but I do see a pattern around some of them today. And this pattern, I believe, is connected to seeing the elders primarily as the professional teachers.
Most leaders I meet with take seriously the requirement of being able to teach sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. What they don’t tend to take as seriously are the requirements of being hospitable, not being a lover of money, and having a good reputation with outsiders.
Hospitality means making space for the stranger in your world. Too often Christians think hospitality is just a group of Christians meeting over a meal. That is not the biblical meaning of the concept.
A better picture is what God has done in Christ Jesus for us. He has made a place for his enemies to become part of his family by Jesus being treated like an enemy on the cross. He brought us into his home, treated us like family and gave us access to all that he owns, making us co-heirs with Christ. When leaders open their homes and lives to the stranger — the outsider — we show the world and the church how the gospel reshapes our view of our homes.
I have found too often that pastors have given themselves a pass on this one. They often say that their home is their refuge, and fail to remember that Jesus is our refuge, not our homes. Our homes are one of the primary places of ministry according to the Scriptures. Our churches need to see pastors lead by example in this area so their example will lead to every Christian home becoming a place of ministry for those outside of the family of God.
Living for More Than a Paycheck
Not being a lover of money could be restated as not doing ministry primarily for a paycheck. Jesus referred to this kind of shepherd as a hired hand whom he would not entrust with the care of his sheep.
I often ask pastors, “Would you do what you’re doing, even if you weren’t paid for it?” Many would not. They see the pastorate as a career, not a calling. Please do not forget the grace of God that has enabled you to serve Jesus and his sheep with the best of your time. We are not paid to do ministry, we are freed up financially for ministry.
If you or your church believes you do ministry because you are being paid, the example you are setting is that the only ones who do ministry are paid workers. This leads to further professionalization of the ministry — where only a few do ministry, while the many just watch the paid professionals.
This can also lead to a pastor seeing his 40–50 hours of work each week as “ministry” and the rest of his time being primarily family or personal time. The problem with this is that most church leaders ask their members to give extra time outside of their 40–50-hour workweek to the work of the church. There is hypocrisy here: Leaders you are asking your church to do something you are not willing to do.
Living Among Non-Christians
Lastly, having a good reputation with outsiders means you have non-Christians in your life that would call you their friend. They invite you to their parties and events, call you when they are in need, and regularly bring you into their world. They not only call you friend, but they also respect you — you have a good reputation with them. It doesn’t mean they always agree with you or are never offended by the gospel, but regardless, they believe you love them and in turn entrust themselves to you.
A few years ago, during a party at my neighbor’s home, I had a very direct and heated conversation with my neighbor and some of her friends about the reality of coming judgment. I pleaded with her to put her hope in Jesus as the only means by which she would stand in the day of judgment.
The next day I knocked on her door and asked if everything was okay. She said, “What do you mean?” I then recounted the conversation of the previous night and my concern that it might have hurt our relationship. To which she replied, “You’re my friend, Jeff. I know you love me. I expect you to tell me about Jesus. That’s what you believe. It doesn’t change our friendship at all.” I have a good reputation with her. As a result, she sends people who are asking spiritual questions to my wife and me. One of the lines she says when introducing me is, “This is Jeff. The guy I told you about — you know, the pastor that is not like most pastors . . .”
I’m always glad and sad to hear her say that. Glad because she sees me as her friend who is a regular guy who loves Jesus. Sad because she doesn’t see most pastors this way. I hope this will change.
"Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals: Reclaiming the Centrality of the Supernatural in Ministry" is the theme of the Desiring God 2013 Conference for Pastors (February 4–6 in Minneapolis).
The forthcoming revised and expanded edition of John Piper's book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is now available for pre-order.
Other posts in this series:
- Brothers, Praise Somebody Other Than God, Sam Crabtree
- Brothers, Supernatural Does Not Mean Stupid, John Piper
- Brothers, the Ministry Is Supernatural, John Piper
- Brothers, We Are Not Sisters, Doug Wilson
- Brothers, Build a Gospel Culture, Ray Ortlund
- Brothers, Train Up the Next Generation, Mike Bullmore
- Brothers, We Should Stink, Thabiti Anyabwile
- Brothers, We Are Not Superstars, Danny Akin
- Brothers, We Are Not Professors, R. C. Sproul, Jr.