Last week I led a session on the importance of guarding our lives and our teaching with our Mariners Church pastors at our annual pastor retreat. Together we walked through a section of the apostle Paul’s challenge to Timothy (I Timothy 4:11-16). As Paul reminded Timothy of Timothy’s past, the moment when he became a pastor, we spent time in groups looking back at the journey God took each of us on to pull us into pastoral ministry. Each story was unique yet God’s grace was a consistent theme. Paul also challenged Timothy to continue growing so that his progress would be evident to all and to pay close attention to his life and teaching.
Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all. Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. (I Timothy 4:15-16)
I challenged our pastors, as they watch their lives, to not confuse or equate three actions that often lead to drift in one’s life.
1. Don’t confuse or equate competence development with character development.
The story continues to repeat itself; when a ministry leader’s competence outpaces his or her character, disaster ensues. The way to combat the trend is to take character development more seriously than we do competence development. We must lament the possibility of getting more skilled without being more sanctified. Notice the order in the famous II Timothy 2:2 passage: When Paul told Timothy to hand ministry over to others, he instructed Timothy to find “the faithful who will be able” not “the able who may become faithful.” Paul starts with faithfulness and believes ability can be developed. He does not begin with ability, but character. Drops in our competence may cause us ministry leaders to lose responsibilities, or even lose our jobs. That would be painful, but we can recover from that. We can learn from that and grow and adjust. But drops in our character can cause us to lose our ministries.
2. Don’t confuse growth in one’s ministry with growth in one’s maturity.
It is a mystery and I have wished it were not true, but leaders with bad character can build things. God can and does work through leaders despite their bad character. He works because of the power of His Word, not the power of the person. For example, God used the Babylonians and the Assyrians to fulfill His warnings to Israel. This does not mean He was pleased with Babylon and Assyria. If we want to be leaders who live lives that are pleasing to God, we must watch our lives carefully. We must care more about growth in our holiness and our tenderness before God than we care about growth in our ministries. We must abhor the idea of growing in ministry while growing cold to God and other people.
3. Don’t confuse a critical spirit with a critical mind.
Do not confuse a critical spirit with a critical mind; the former damages you and others while the latter blesses you and others. A critical mind helps us make wise choices. A critical spirit devours us and others from the inside. As we watch our lives, we must pay close attention that bitterness and grumbling don’t ruin us and the people we are called to serve.