Brothers, We Are Still Not Superstars: We Are Servants

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Between the Times on October 30, 2012.]

Jesus summarizes the purpose of his incarnation in Mark 10:45 when he says, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  This profound and crucial statement, which weds the “Son of Man” title of Daniel 7:13–14 to the “suffering Servant” of Isaiah 52–53, and redefines what kind of Messiah-Savior our Lord would be, comes on the heels of James’s and John’s request that Jesus would give them seats on his right and left in Glory (verse 37). James and John are crystal clear in their intentions and goal: they want status, not service. They want the position of a king, not the calling of a slave.  They want to be looked up to, honored, and revered. They wanted to be superstars, not servants.

Tragically, today, when it comes to the ministry, the standards and criteria for success are too often culled from the world, and not from the Word of God. To deny this is to play the ostrich, stick our head in the sand, and simply ignore the massive evidence that swirls around us. Allow me to share what I see.

Evangelicals have their cult-heroes and cult followings. This is true both inside and outside the local church. We have our groupies who pine after their “Christian rock stars.” Such stars are given almost infallible status, at least by their devoted fans, and if they are not careful, they may begin to believe what blogs, fans, and fellow superstars say.

Suddenly, the green monster of pride sneaks into their lives and an attitude of entitlement begins to transform a once gracious and humble servant into a hulk-like prima donna who less and less resembles the simple carpenter from Galilee. Subtly, over time, I convince myself that I deserve a six-figure salary. I deserve to live in a big home and drive an expensive car. I deserve to have people wait on me hand and foot and respond immediately to my every request. Furthermore, they can expect to receive a quick and painful tongue-lashing if they move too slowly or fail to meet my exalted expectations. Why, I may even fire them for not measuring up to my personal expectations.

I become too important and my time is too valuable to meet with common people, people who cannot help me further my agenda. I am too busy in “my ministry” to respond to letters, answer emails, return phone calls or schedule appointments. And amazingly, I become almost self-righteous in defending my lifestyle, all my perks, and my prideful behavior because what I do is valuable to the kingdom and I’ve earned the right to be treated as one of its kings.

I wish what I have written to this point was theoretical or at least hyperbolic. Sadly, it isn’t. As someone who has been in the Christian ministry for 35 years, and who battles daily the green monster of pride, I have seen and continue to see this superstar mentality and lifestyle far too often among a number of current day pastors. You see, I am now a seminary president who, if not careful, can get caught up in all of this “malarkey.” I am easily seduced by the sirens who feed a superstar mentality that knows nothing of the way of Jesus.

So, what biblical counsel and wisdom can help keep our heads out of the clouds and our feet on the ground where “real people” live? Let me offer one avenue of Scriptural exhortation that may help.

Keep continually before you the biblical model of leadership. We are not CEOs. We are not professionals. Brothers, we are shepherds — and under-shepherds at that. We are servant-leaders. First Peter 5:2 instructs us to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” The word “shepherd” is an imperative receiving the force of a command. Shepherds who follow in the footsteps of the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11), the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), the “Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20), will love and lead their sheep. They will not drive them and use them and make ungodly carnal demands of them. They will continually remind themselves that they tend over “the flock of God” and not their own.

They also understand it is the “flock of God among you.” That means they live with their sheep, they spend time with their sheep, they know their sheep, they care for their sheep. I once heard a famous and well-known pastor brag about the fact he had never had a single meal in the home of one of his members nor had he ever invited any of his members into his home for one. When I asked him why, he simply responded, “I never wanted to get that close to any of my people.” Words cannot express how this broke my heart. It still grieves me to this day.

Brothers, we never have been and never will be superstars. We are lowly shepherds, servants of the “Great Shepherd of the sheep.” One day we will give him an account for the souls we are keeping watch over (Hebrews 13:17). May we by his grace and for his glory do so with joy and a clear conscience, serving him and his sheep “honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18).

(This was first published yesterday at the Desiring God blog.)

Heart to Heart: Octavius Winslow’s Experimental Preaching

Turley BookOctavius Winslow (1808–1878) was one of the most influential evangelical preachers in the English-speaking world during the Victorian era. Like his more famous contemporary, Charles Spurgeon, Winslow was famous for his experiential Calvinism that in many ways embodied the older puritan spiritual tradition. Winslow also had one of the more interesting spiritual pilgrimages of his era. After pastoring several prominent Baptist churches, including a congregation he established in the English city of Bath, Winslow left the Baptist tradition and became an Anglican priest. You might say he evolved from a Spurgeon sort of Baptist into a J. C. Ryle sort of Anglican.

Tanner Turley has recently published a fine study of Winslow’s preaching titled Heart to Heart: Octavius Winslow’s Experimental Preaching (Reformation Heritage, 2014). Tanner is a two-time Southeastern Seminary graduate who planted and now serves as lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church in Medford, Massachusetts. Heart to Heart is a revised version of Tanner’s excellent dissertation under preaching professors Danny Akin and Greg Heisler. I had the opportunity to read most of this material in dissertation form and am grateful that Tanner’s work—and Winslow’s life and thought—will gain a wider reading thanks to this book.

You can check out the table of contents below. You can also download the table of contents and introduction from the Reformation Heritage website. Thanks to Reformation Heritage for publishing this important book. We trust it will be a valuable resource for contemporary pastor-theologians who want to learn at the feet of an important historical role model.

Turley TOC



Pastoral Wisdom from Abraham Booth

boothAbraham Booth (1734-1806) was a longtime London pastor and leader among the British Particular Baptists in the 18th century. Among his most famous books were The Reign of GraceThe Death of Legal Hope, and An Apology for the Baptists. You can find these works (and most of Booth’s writings) in the three-volume Select Works of Abraham Booth, which can be purchased at a very affordable price through Reformation Heritage Books. (Unfortunately, this edition is published as flimsy paperbacks.) Particular Baptist Press is issuing a new hardback multi-volume collection of Booth’s works, which is edited by Michael Haykin. Volume I has already been published.

In 1784, Booth preached an ordination sermon for a young pastor named Thomas Hopkins. The title was “Pastoral Cautions” and the text was 1 Timothy 4:16: “Take heed to thyself.” The sermon was soon printed and circulated among Baptists all over England. Among the pastors who were positively influenced by the printed sermon were Andrew Fuller, William Carey, John Sutcliff, and John Ryland Jr. These men were the key leaders in the evangelical renewal of Particular Baptists and the launching of the modern mission movement in the English-speaking world.

In the sermon, Booth outlined ten pastoral cautions that are just as applicable to our contemporary context as they were 200 years ago.

  1. “Take heed to yourself, then, with regard to the reality of true godliness, and the state of religion in your own soul”
  2. “Take heed to yourself, lest you mistake an increase of gifts for a growth in grace”
  3. “Take heed that your pastoral office prove not a snare to your soul, lifting you up with pride and self-importance”
  4. “Take heed to yourself, respecting your temper and conduct in general”
  5. “I will now adopt the words of our Lord, and say, Take heed and beware of covetousness”
  6. “Take heed, I will venture to ask, take heed to your Second-Self in the person of your wife”
  7. “Take heed to yourself, with regard to the diligent improvement of your talents and opportunities, in the whole course of your ministry”
  8. “Take heed to yourself, respecting the motives by which you are influenced in all your endeavours to obtain useful knowledge”
  9. “Take heed of yourself, with regard to that success, and those discouragements, which may attend your ministry”
  10. “Once more: Take heed that you pay an habitual regard to divine influence; as that without which you cannot either enjoy a holy liberty in your work, or have any reason to expect success”

I would heartily recommend that every pastor, seminarian, and missionary read the full text of this sermon, which is available in Michael & Alison Haykin, eds., The Works of Abraham Booth, Volume 1: Confession of Faith & Sermons (Particular Baptist Press, 2006), pp. 57-84.

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