A couple weeks ago I wrote a post on how a ministry environment can play a role in a pastor’s pursuit of holiness. In this post, I want to sketch out four things churches and pastors can do together to help cultivate an environment conducive to holiness, rather than burnout or disqualification (whether sexual, financial, leaving the faith altogether, etc.).
Practice a Plurality of Elders
You might read this and, at first, say, “Well, most churches whose pastors have had to resign have multiple elders!” Yes, they may have the elder tag assigned to others. They may have multiple people around the board table once a month. But often what happens is that churches only hold to this doctrine theoretically, but they do not biblically practice it. When happens all too often is that the paid pastor becomes the professional minister and/or the face of the church. However, throughout the New Testament, whenever elders are mentioned, it’s always plural and there is never a sense that there is one dominant person. To be sure, some elders may have different emphases or primary areas of oversight. Some may have understandably less time to give because of other employment outside the church. Yet, all elders/pastors/overseers are called to teach, disciple, and keep watch over the entire congregation in some fashio (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).
Churches, are you surrounding your senior pastor with other called and qualified men who also do the work of a pastor?
The old apostle Paul, writing to the young Timothy said, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This is what Paul himself did with Timothy (1 Tim. 1:18). This means pastors should be working to both raise up new leaders and equip everyone in the church to do the work of ministry. When pastors are in the business of entrusting the gospel to others they 1) remind themselves that this is not a one-man show; 2) display to the congregation that their desire is to do what pastors are called to do, that is, equip the saints (Eph. 4:11-12); 3) put into practice the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (everyone is a minister, not just the paid pastor); and 4) must step out of the limelight from time to time to give others the space and opportunity to lead. In the gospel, Jesus gives up himself and his glory to make his people look great—spotless and blameless—before the Father. Pastors should be doing the same for up-and-coming leaders and others in the church.
Pastors, are you willing to replace yourself and equip others to do the work of ministry so that you are not doing everything all the time?
You will not find a single verse in the Bible that commands church planting. There isn’t a how-to chapter written in any New Testament book either. But after Jesus gave the command to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) and after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, how did the apostles respond? The book of Acts tells us they went around the Roman Empire planting churches. And the rest of the New Testament corpus reveals that their work was dedicated to 1) advancing the gospel to new areas, and 2) building existing churches up in the gospel. The response of the apostles helps us see that the goal of Jesus’ church was to plant Jesus-worshiping communities of salt and light everywhere. When we are doing the work of church planting, we are forced in a position to have multiple leaders (#1 above) and replace ourselves (#2 above). Church planting reminds us that our churches are not about one man who is so dynamic or visionary or available or talented, but about the God-Man, Jesus Christ and the power of his gospel.
Churches and pastors, do you plan to spread the gospel, raise up new leaders, and take the focus off human personality and giftedness by planting new congregations?
Treasure the Gospel
This is, of course, something that supersedes and undergirds everything else. Without treasuring the gospel, everything else just becomes a pragmatic method. Paul said, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that i received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). How would Paul finish well? Testify to the gospel of the grace of God. This means pastors will be held accountable not mainly to ministry results and performance, but to growing in Christ and the grace of the gospel.
Churches and pastors, do you treasure the gospel more than anything else? Is your goal to build a great brand for the church or name for the pastor or testify to the grace of God in the gospel?
Fight the Good Fight
There’s no cure-all for pastors winning the fight for holiness. We can’t manufacture results and I don’t mean to imply that at all. However, if churches and pastors ban together to do these things, by God’s grace, I think we’ll see more pastors finish the fight of faith and not flake out early. These are three things I want to see become staples in my pastoral service. Without them, the possibility for loneliness and vulnerability is too great.
What do you think? What other things would you add to help pastors fight for holiness?