Popularity or success. This leads to a third mark of maturity: knowing the difference between popularity and success. Barabbas was popular but hardly a success. Popularity is a passing thing; success is permanent. (Of course sin can transform a successful pastor into a failure; but the work of an obedient man continues to help others.) The man who courts popularity with men may find himself a stranger to God and His blessing
“If I take care of my character,” said Moody, “my reputation will take care of itself.” The mature man knows that the most important part of his life is the part that only God sees. What he is in the closet is much more important than what he is in the pulpit. The man who fails in the secret place will ultimately fail in the public place. The mature man majors on building Christian character: he saturates himself with the Word; he spends time in prayer; he battles sin. He lets patience have her perfect work so that he can become still more mature in Christ (James 1:4). He is not quick to jump into the spotlight; like Joseph he knows that God has His purposes and His times.
The immature man covets praise and success in the eyes of men. He revels in statistics and in comparing his work with the work of others. He forgets the warning of Paul about those who, “measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (II Cor. 10:12). He belongs to a “mutual admiration society” and is very unhappy if someone is not praising him and his work. He is unmindful of the counsel in II Corinthians: “Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth” (10:18).
When God wants to build a ministry, He first builds a man, a man of character and faithfulness. He tests him with a few things; if he proves faithful, He promotes him to many things (Matt. 25:21). But if He sees that popularity is the governing force of a man’s life, God abandons him as He abandoned King Saul and Demas. The mature pastor majors on being a success in the eyes of God, no matter what others say.
Opinion or conviction. The maturing pastor can also distinguish between opinion and conviction. Actually there are three concepts that must not be confused: prejudice, opinion, and conviction. Prejudice is an unthinking thing, buried in a man’s upbringing; it is blind and dangerous. The man who says “I feel” is probably operating on the basis of prejudice. Opinion is better educated; it is usually based on experience and reveals itself when a man says “I think.” But for a man to say “I know!” demands conviction. If I refuse to fly to Denver because “I just don’t like airplanes,” then that is prejudice. If I say, “The last three times I was up, I became very ill,” then that is opinion. But if I say, “My doctor examined me and discovered I have inner-ear trouble and must stay off planes,” then I am speaking from conviction. The tragedy is that many pastors think they are showing conviction when others see only stubbornness based on prejudice and opinions!
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day claimed to have convictions, and because of their convictions they crucified the Son of God. Nobody, not even Jesus, could convince them that their so-called convictions were merely traditional opinions that they had never examined critically and honestly. Perhaps the orthodox today need to take this to heart. A man’s maturity is tested by the way he acts toward those who disagree with him. A mature man can disagree without becoming disagreeable; he can love the truth without hating his critic. The man who refuses to examine the other side of the question is announcing his immaturity and writing his own ticket to failure. The mature man is open to truth, because he knows that all truth comes from God. He is kind to pastors of different beliefs because he realizes that “we know in part” (I Cor. 13:9) and that seeking truth is a lifelong challenge.
The immature man thinks he always has to be right. He forgets that we have our treasure in earthen vessels and that even Joshua and Peter occasionally made mistakes. As the winds of change blow across the world, the immature man runs into his private storm shelter and curses the wind; or worse yet, he mounts his trusty steed and becomes an evangelical Don Quixote who tilts windmills and prides himself at being a “fool for Christ’s sake.” A fool, perhaps; for Christ’s sake-that remains to be seen. The mature man is not afraid of change because he has built on the Rock and belongs to a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:25-29). If God’s winds blow away some of the rigging, he does not scuttle the ship, knowing that God will never destroy anything that His people need. The mature man will abandon his prejudices, examine his opinions, test his convictions. He wants to be sure he is basing his ministry on true convictions, not secondhand opinions. He may discover he is actually hiding behind his opinions because deep inside he fears they may be wrong! If so, he will face this honestly and ask God for guidance.
In short, the mature man will remember the counsel of Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in doubtful questions, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Acting or reacting. In connection with this, consider a fifth mark of maturity: knowing the difference between acting and reacting. Men act; children and animals react. This difference is subtle; but as Mark Twain said, so is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.
Some reactions are good for us: jumping back when we touch something hot, or turning away when we confront something dirty.
But life is more than a series of conditioned reflexes; problems must be faced, decisions must be made, people must be helped. The pastor whose life and ministry are controlled by specific purposes does not have to react; he can simply act because he knows what must be done. The man who constantly reacts is always the victim of circumstances, the puppet of people who know how to pull strings. He lives in constant fear; he “explodes” when his ideas are rejected. He is not in control of the situation because he is not in control of himself!
The man who acts is the man who walks with God and is sure of his calling. He knows himself-weaknesses as well as strengths-and he knows the work God wants him to finish. He knows how to listen without arguing and interrupting. “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him,” says Proverbs 18:13, and good advice this is. The mature man thinks with his mind, not with his glands. He is governed by a divine purpose, so he never complains about the circumstances. After all, God is bigger than circumstances! The immature man can never accomplish much because the situation is never right. As the old Roman proverb puts it, “When the pilot does not know which port he is heading for, no wind is the right wind.” Immaturity thrives on excuses, maturity on challenges.
The maturing pastor knows where he is going, and his church knows that he does. “But none of these things move me,” he says with Paul, “neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). He has in his private notebook a list of goals-some long-range, some immediate. He has a set of priorities; he knows what must be done first. He permits nothing to turn him from the task; he does not neglect his own vineyard while trying to help everyone else with their work. “My life-my course-my ministry!”
Excerpted from Listening To the Giants by Warren W. Wiersbe, pp. 348-35
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).