The more I walk with Jesus, the more I’m intrigued with the apostle Paul.
Beyond the great demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s power and the vast territories influenced by his evangelistic voice, I find myself drawn to his humanity. He is one of the most revolutionary people noted in Scripture, yet he is also one of the most accessibly transparent.
His conversion displays one of the most fascinating contrasts of a before/after transformation, but many of his character traits remain intact. In his letters, Paul does not mince words in sharing his insecurities, his frustrations, and his sufferings. He virtually shames the church in Corinth regarding his right to receive financial support from the churches although he doesn’t ask for it (1 Corinthians 9). He later points to his own deficiencies while also doubling down in a classic tirade about his rightful place as an apostle, making a robust argument full of shallow comparisons and thick sarcasm (1 Corinthians 10–12). He puts Peter on full blast for his hypocrisy in a way that would make most Western ministers blush due to the “lack of love” in his delivery (Galatians 2:11–14).
His humanity is also observable in his interactions with the churches he planted and served with. Luke accounts Paul’s final address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17–38) as an emotional scene where Paul pours out his affection for the church in word and deed, firmly declaring his actions as observable by those in his company. In stating “my hands ministered to my necessities,” he gives us a picture of the leader who works a separate job to provide for his own needs, releasing the burden from the church. He seems so human.
In processing this over the years, I’m often left with disillusionment when considering my previous perspective of Christian leaders.
The Hero Pastor
Growing up in church, I used to think of pastors as heroic, super-powered leaders who were almost like enhanced human beings. For me, they were moral superiors operating beyond the scope of failure and “common” struggle. They always seemed to have the right and revelatory answer for any problem. Their advice was sage wisdom, their character was pristine, and their intellect was unattainable. Little did I know, I’d been conditioned to never question their actions, while taking in subtle cues that told me I was beneath them. Regardless of the motive, this had a weighty impact on my concept of the pastor’s makeup.
The majority of us carry baggage into this topic. As humans, we have an innate tendency to exalt perceived power and sheepishly be carried along by popular influence. Many of us have been led by leaders who develop a pope-like mystique and subject those under their charge to a man-centered standard of obedience. There are also those of us who, regardless of the leader’s intent, have to admit that we’ve allowed our view of them to give way to idolatry. Whether you have been carried along by false teaching or subtly deified the latest theology expert, Scripture again provides the answer. In observing Paul’s humanity, we find hope, as we see that the “apostle of apostles” is ultimately no different than anyone else.
The Perfect Pastor
The book Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp has been an incredibly helpful resource in navigating the humanity of pastors. Tripp asks the following questions:
- Why would we be surprised that pastors struggle with sin?
- Why would we think that pastors do not need to be lovingly confronted and rebuked?
- Why would it surprise us to know that pastors too fall into identity amnesia and begin to seek horizontally what they have already been given in Christ?
- Why would we conclude that pastors are protected from self-righteousness and defensiveness just because they are in full-time ministry?
These questions are necessary because they help us rightly see pastors as the human beings they truly are. I even feel safe admitting my own humanity serving as a pastor myself. Paul doesn’t just seem human; he is human. After his seemingly arrogant and self-glorifying treatise, he is still brought to the deafening discovery that only God’s grace is sufficient for his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). We also begin to discover anew his regular pleas for the churches to earnestly pray for him. Often the pastor is doing the praying, but Paul invites intercession for himself.
If Paul, being a pastor of pastors, can document his weaknesses for all to see in Scripture, how much more should the modern pastor articulate our dependency on Jesus. How refreshing the gospel becomes when it becomes good news for the preacher as well. The pastor needs rescue just as much as the community he is part of.
Only Jesus, the chief Shepherd, the righteous High Priest, could wear humanity flawlessly. Only he could bear our failures in perfect submission to the righteousness of God and conquer the grave with all glory and honor due his name.