Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Minister and his Idols (1)

The human heart, wrote Calvin, is a perpetual forge of idols. By definition idols replace the true God as the new, and unfitting, object of our worship. Whilst this is true of all idols, and all human hearts, there is also a diversity of expression, a grotesque plurality of forms, that idols possess. I want to ask what forms idols take as they are forged in the hearts of pastors.

An illustration that I often use to portray a lack of self-awareness concerning our own sins is that of the blind spot. Every driver knows that there is an area of road that cannot be seen by looking into the rear view or side mirrors. That area is large enough to fit a car into. You have to turn your head and deliberately check the blind spot.

It is like that with our sin. There are sins that we are aware of, and some that other people need to point out. Have you ever wondered why some Christians seem blissfully unaware of attitudes and actions that are wrong? You can see them and you wonder why they do not. Are we free such blemishes? What idols lurk in that blind spot for us? What idols are being forged, masked by our own self-deception, as we are busy carrying out our roles as unashamed workmen?

I have often thought of Augustine's description of inordinate desires. Things that are themselves acceptable, or good, if received with thanksgiving and viewed in light of our love to God and his Word, become corrupted by our grubby self serving lusts. So it is with leadership. To aspire to the office of an overseer is a noble desire (1 Timothy 3:1). But it becomes an inordinate desire when we pursue it out of ungodly motives. Do we love being out the front? Do we want to be the one in control? What really is motivating us? Peter has some counsel for elders on these matters (1 Peter 5:1-3).

Of course there is a true and proper godly ambition, just as there is a true and proper exercise of leadership. Ministers who are passive in the direction and welfare of their churches will not fulfill their ordained responsibilities. God gives gifts to be used for the building up of his church and the extension of his kingdom. There are prominent ministries that God had blessed which are for the benefit of the churches. It is in this context that right concerns and desires can become inordinate desires. And this is why ministers must be self-aware and ruthless with the particular idols that they are prone to forge.

If we fail to be self-aware then we will meet our idols head on in a car crash. There will be times when we are overlooked, times when something we wanted is given to another, times when the church down the road succeeds and our own patch is like a garden in the Winter. At those points our desires are exposed for what they are. We begin to see that we have held on tightly to the wrong things. Our hearts have become wrapped around our dreams so much that we do not want to let them go. We realise that in serving God we have secretly been serving ourselves. As we have been feeding God's flock we have also been feeding our own lusts.

Disappointments like these are God's timely reminders of our indwelling sin. How we handle disappointment in the ministry is a real indicator of own own hearts. The weeds of pride, self-love, bitterness, envy, rivalry, and conceit grow in the dark. Once exposed they must be destroyed again and again.

Ministers, like all believers, are men who face temptations. They face the same temptations as other believers, and they face some peculiar to the calling and office that they have received. Temptations and idols general to the Christian life, are twisted into particular forms because of the nature of the minister's life and work.

What then are the idols that ministers forge? We will look at them in part two. But for now you can note them down in the comments if you so wish.

1 comment:

Phil Walker said...

An interesting concept: ministerial idols. I'd say that "control" can be a real idol for ministers. Even a low-level sort of control-freakery can be disheartening to people who end up feeling distrusted.

Another difficult one is the minister who idolises a particular aspect of the ministry. For instance: the minister who sets "being a preacher" above shepherding Christ's flock, or the man who sets "pastoral work" above Christ's injunction to "feed his sheep", and so on.