What is the Character of a Gospel-Driven Leader? Part Nine

Sunday, May 09, 2010

9. The Local Church Leader Ought to be a Model of Discipline for the Mission

Martin Luther once wrote and preached what is a disturbing message for 21st century pastors in America and other parts of the Western world.

“Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture… The call is: watch, study, attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scriptures; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well… the devil… the world…and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent… This evil, shameful time is not the season for being lazy, for sleeping and snoring [Quoted in John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, p. 101].

A friend once told me he thought the ministry was one of the greatest places in the world for a lazy person to hide. Because of the modern, institutional context and structure of local church ministry today, it’s quite easy for someone to slip into a position of leadership and do nothing of serious consequence in the kingdom of God…and go largely unnoticed.

And yet we’re amazed that so many ministers have the following problems as revealed in various studies and surveys.

· A 2000 Christianity Today survey found that 37% of the pastors who responded said that pornography is a “current struggle” for them.

· A 2005 Baptist Press survey and study showed that the pastors who responded spend an average of 30 minutes a day in prayer, with about eight minutes of that being quiet time, twelve minutes in prayer requests, seven minutes in praise, and five minutes of confessing sin.

· A 2008 Salary.com survey revealed that 73% of the people who responded spent part of their work day on activities that are not work-related. 48% of their time was spent on the internet, 33% socializing with friends or co-workers, 30% conducting personal business, 19% on phone calls, and 15% on lunches or breaks. Although the report does not mention any pastors who were interviewed, I can say from personal experience and interaction that these numbers would be somewhat reflective of pastors as well.

In his book entitled Why Churches Die, author David Padfield wrote that,

"Lazy preachers can get by with just a few hours work a week — they reach into their file cabinet on Saturday night to find out what they will preach in Sunday morning and can spend the rest of the week playing golf or reading USA Today. They never write an article, class book or prepare any original material. Some of these men are great at having tea parties, but they usually do not know the epistles from the apostles."

On the website “Forgotten Word Ministries” I recently read an article entitled “Are Preacher’s Lazy? The author, Robert Wise, made the following harrowing recounting of his personal research into the problem.

“One of the things I recognized when studying the different preachers and churches was that there are a lot of preachers who are pastors of a church and put in approximately five to ten hours of actual work each week and yet complain about not having any free time or are so busy they just cannot seem to get everything done…I personally know of many of this type of preachers and am amazed that they can sleep at night without having nightmares. I cannot imagine what their talks with God must be like. Imagine talking to God about your Church and congregation and all the time feeling like you were justified in all that you do, without realizing that God knows every jot and tittle about you and your performance within and without the Church. How can a Minister justify to God their feelings of being so busy they cannot keep up when they spend more time at home doing virtually nothing and spending only five to ten hours per week doing God's work? Now I know sometimes some weeks are busier than others and during these weeks I suppose the hourly output goes up to something like fifteen to twenty for the Lord's work. Preachers today and I know this from an actual conversation I had where a Minister emailed a Minister friend of the same denomination and ask him to email a copy of his Sermon for Sunday to them because they did not have the time to prepare one themselves.”

I could go on and on about this root problem and its associated branches. They’re almost too numerous to recount here. The bottom line is that many pastors and church leaders are lazy and they know, and their people know it. But this has become so widely accepted that church members have just come to believe that this status quo of half- or no-hearted ministry is just the way things are. But not in the church of Jesus Christ.

In 1 Timothy 3:2 Paul begins a second set of qualifications for the local church leader that could all be summarized under the subheading, “The Pastor’s Discipline.” There Paul writes to Timothy,

“The overseer must be above reproach…temperate, self-controlled, respectable…” (The NET Bible).

We could summarize this short list this way: Watchful & Vigilant (temperate), Self-disciplined (prudent), and Orderly (respectable). I believe that laziness is the summary antonym for these qualifications. If a local church leader is not being watchful and vigilant, it’s because he’s succumbed to laziness. If he’s not prudent or self-disciplined, then he’s lazy. If he’s not an orderly person or doesn’t have a very disciplined lifestyle, then he’s lazy. Laziness is taking the easy way out of every moment and opportunity and challenge. The leader of Christ’s local church, however, should have a lifestyle that is the very opposite of laziness.

a. Let’s start with the word “temperate.” It comes from the Greek, nephalios, which means alert, watchful, vigilant, or clear-headed. In other words, the local church leader has to be a clear thinker. He “keeps his powder dry” to use an old idiom. That means, he acts cautiously so as not to damage his chances (Source: Keep Your Power Dry English Idiom). John MacArthur describes it as possessing “the inner strength to refrain from any excess that would dull his alertness” (1 Timothy, p. 106).

So we get the picture of a man who’s acutely tuned in to what’s going on around him, all the time. He’s the model of a couple of texts that come to mind with regard to vigilance and watchfulness. The first is again by Paul, and it is to the Ephesian church, whom Timothy is shepherding. He says that believers should,

“With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).

Vigilance, watchfulness, and clear-headedness all apply then to the local church leader’s prayer life. His antennae are up all the time, the radar dish of his mind and heart constantly listening and watching and interpreting what’s going on around him so that he knows what to do, what to say, how to respond, when to respond, etc. Then there’s the description Peter gives to the churches he’s leading.

“Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:7).

The local church leader guards himself and those under his care from sin of any kind. (Barnes). He’s attentive t what he eats and drinks, how long he sleeps, what he says, when he says it, where he goes, etc. He’s clear-headed about his decisions. This means he’s also cool-headed and unimpassioned (Vincent’s Word Studies). He’s not a hothead. He doesn’t rashly respond to what’s going on, but rather he takes a keen interest in what’s going on especially behind the scenes, realizing we don’t wrestle with flesh and blood to begin with. This leads him to be able to offer wise, sound advice on what to do, as well as in how he actually offers that advice.

b. Next, Paul writes to Timothy about the need to be “prudent.” He intends this word to reflect the local church leader’s inner life, or the life of his heart and mind. The word here is the Greek, sophron, which basically means self-controlled or self-disciplined. The qualification is repeated in Titus 1:8 and is likewise a necessity for older men in the local church, according to Titus 2:2.

The word seems to be pregnant with the concept of sexual decency. But it can’t be limited to that. Overall, the concept of a man who’s well-disciplined is in view here. He’s serious about spiritual things, his mind set on heaven above where Christ is seated in the heavenlies (Col. 3:1). But that doesn’t mean he’s stale, dry, cold, and without any sense of humor. It’s just that the weightiness of spiritual realities weigh so heavy on his heart and mind that moments of frivolity are few for him.

Included in this word is the fact that because he’s disciplined in mind, he’s not so quick to give in to the false teachings around him, as some were doing in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3, 4, 6, 7). He’s sensible, not prone to quick or rash or hasty conclusions about anything. He doesn’t let any sense of immediacy about such things cloud his mind so that the tail is wagging the dog. Also, any sudden impulses he may experience in his own bodily appetites are also brought into check so that he learns how to master his own body and its appetites and desires.

c. Finally, the local church leader is to be respectable. Paul intends to use this word to reflect the local church leader’s outward life, or his behavior and conduct. The Greek word here is kosmios, which is a reference to how they carry themselves and behave in public. This is the third in a series of three qualifications, all of which build upon one another. He’s a clear-headed thinker, which makes him a self-disciplined man, which makes him an orderly person.

Just as the cosmos has an order and priority to its operations, so also is the local church leader a man of kosmios, rather than a man of chaos. This is tending to become so very difficult for young men in particular whose lives have been severely impacted by the “I want it now” mindset wired into our DNA through our technological culture. Video games, internet, and entertainment seem to have exponentially exploded since I was a kid, and these areas in particular have created disorder in their minds.

Understanding how to prioritize tasks, create and maintain and execute a schedule, and keep a flow of multiple responsibilities seems almost impossible for some. Yet these are the very qualities required by those who would lead a local church, and especially those wanting to plant a local church. There are so many demands on your time and life, that if you do not know what an orderly life looks like or how to get your own life on track in that way, you will never be able to lead a church. I wholeheartedly concur with one pastor and commentator who spoke with precision on this subject.

“The ministry is no place for the man whose life is a continual confusion of unaccomplished plans and unorganized activities” (Homer Kent, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 127).

I trust you can see now why laziness is such an accurate summarization of the opposite of the local church leader. Undisciplined minds and lifestyles do not give people something to follow. We’re not saying you’ve got to be some Franklin-Covey expert, DayTimer geek, or time management freak. But we are saying there’s no place for a fat pastor who doesn’t know how to control his life including what he eats and drinks, his time, his schedule, his lifestyle, his sleep, his exercise, his internet usage, his television watching, his video game playing, his entertainment, his eating out, his spending habits, etc.

I realize this sounds harsh. But it’s the truth, and sometimes it hurts, but we need to hear it. This is coming from a convicted pastor like me who needs to lose about twenty pounds, and I confess I’ve been rather lazy in my attitude towards that. This doesn’t mean we don’t like fat pastors. We love them the same as we love everybody else. We’re just challenging ourselves and others to be a reflection of what you want people to follow. BTW, one survey found that 73% of pastors are overweight, and 50% of those were 30lbs or more overweight…so I didn’t make this up. (Source: Fat Pastors: Do As I Say, Not As I Do and Pastor Stats: Overweight and Unhealthy).

If you have a hard time organizing and scheduling your life, your people will have the same problem, more than likely. What kind of church, then, can a church be when they can’t accomplish things, or plan and start and finish projects, and stuff like that? We’re on a mission together here, and that requires moving outward strategically, which requires a discipline mind. We also are moving outward prophetically, which requires a disciplined eye and ear. And we’re moving outward spiritually, which requires a disciplined heart.

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