Dictatorship or leadership. A sixth mark of maturity is this: distinguishing between dictatorship and leadership. Churches rise or fall on leadership. Certainly it is true that all believers are one in Christ; but it is also true that God has set some believers over the local church as spiritual leaders. The church is an organism; but if an organism is not organized, it will die. When I accepted my first church, a saintly pastor counseled me: “Remember, there can be only one leader in a church; and if that leader is not the pastor, it will be somebody else-and you’ll have trouble!”
How can we tell a leader from a dictator? Sometimes it is not easy, but perhaps a few suggestions will help. A leader shows the church what to do by example; the dictator tells the church what to do. A leader depends on humility, prayer, and love; a dictator depends on pressure, force, and fear. The true leader goes before and encourages; the dictator stands behind and drives. The leader leads by serving; the dictator expects others to serve him. The leader rejoices when God gets the glory and others get the credit; the dictator takes both the credit and the glory for himself. The leader builds people; the dictator uses people and then drops them when he is through exploiting them.
One test of leadership is this: What kind of people does one’s ministry attract? Usually the dictator attracts “small people” who desperately need the security and popularity of a great man, and who must lose their own identities as they inflate the ego of their hero. A true leader attracts people who believe in his cause and who are willing to work with him to extend it. They do not lose their identities in the leader; rather they grow under his leadership. A dictator manufactures cookie-cutter followers who imitate him; a leader grows other leaders who themselves mature under his guidance. Unfortunately even a dedicated leader attracts some weak people who need to bask in the light of his greatness. Where the light shines the brightest, the bugs fly in. But a true leader will not be deceived by this shallow idol worship.
A leader is always harder on himself than he is on others. “The chief is servant of them all.” A dictator may take risks, but he will not pay the price he asks his followers to pay. There is always a convenient scapegoat around who will gladly pay the price and think himself fortunate to have the privilege of dying. The Pharisees were spiritual dictators; they laid burdens on the backs of the people, yet did nothing to help the people carry them. This is why Jesus warned His disciples, “Call no man on earth your father!” The mature man is no man’s disciple, nor does he want any other man to be his disciple. He is happy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Sermons or messages. There are certainly other marks of the mature pastor, but I will close with this one: he knows the difference between a sermon and a message. From the chef’s point of view, it is the difference between the recipe and the meal. Or from the builder’s point of view, it is the difference between the blueprints and the final structure.
A young pastor just out of seminary said to me: “I feel my main job is to preach the Word. I don’t go for this business of calling on my people.” When I asked him whether he planned to preach sermons or messages, he was not quite sure what I meant. I tried to explain that we preach to real people, not to nameless crowds, and that the Word of God must be made meaningful to our people in a practical way. Unless the preacher is a pastor, unless he knows his people, he cannot bring them messages. He can only prepare outlines and preach sermons-and then wonder why the people do not grow.
A faithful shepherd will lead the flock into the pastures it needs. There are seasons to the soul, and there are seasons to the ministry of a church. The pastor is a spiritual steward; his task is to feed the household “their portion of meat in due season” (Luke 12:42). He had better know the appetites and needs of the family, or his diet may make them sick instead of strong! The ivory-tower preacher who descends twice a week with a divine oracle may attract a host of people who prefer to be anonymous and left alone; but he will probably not bind up the brokenhearted or dry many tears. People with honest spiritual needs can tell when the pastor really cares.
A sermon need not cost us very much: a bit of reading, some main points (preferably alliterated), a few stories…and that’s it! But a message is costly. “Preaching that costs nothing accomplishes nothing,” said John Henry Jowett, and he is right. But David said it first: “Neither will I offer…unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing” (II Sam. 24:24). Unless the Word of God smashes through our own lives, burning and cutting, tearing down and building up, we have no right to give it to others. The man who can “whip out” a sermon in a few hours on Saturday evening, after wasting a whole week of opportunity for meditation, may see what men call “results,” but he will never see what God calls lasting fruit. A real message flows out of a broken heart, a heart open to God and to God’s people. The man with a message steps into the pulpit saying: “My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer” (Ps. 45:1).
A sermon is “put together” like a tossed salad; a message is “beaten oil for the sanctuary.” The man with a sermon speaks from authorities; the man with a message speaks from authority. He has felt the fire in his bones, and nothing can silence his lips. He has walked with Christ in the way, and therefore the Word is burning in his heart. In him the Word becomes flesh.
The writing of a sermon comes from learning; the preparing of a message comes from living. The ideal is a combination of both. The man of God must meet the Lord on the mountain top, hearing His voice and seeing His glory. But he must also come into the valley to share the battles and burdens of God’s people. The mature man is not elated when he hears, “Wasn’t that a great sermon!” But he quietly thanks God when he hears someone say, “Pastor, your message spoke to my heart today. I needed it.”
In this day when the key word seems to be bigger-and we thank God for every increase in His vineyard-it might be wise for us to add another word: better. God wants numerical increase; but He also wants spiritual maturity. The one is not the enemy of the other. If maturity were the enemy of evangelism, God would never have used Paul. His great desire was to “present every man perfect [mature] in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28). But an immature pastor will never develop mature people.
How does God mature us? Through the Word of God and prayer. Through problems and suffering and misunderstanding. Through sacrifice and service. In fact the very problems that discourage us today may be the tools God is using to make us grow in grace. Maturity does not come overnight unless you are a mushroom. Maturity demands time, deep roots, weathering storms. “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water…” The process of maturing is a lifetime challenge because the standard of achievement is not our favorite preacher but “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Our world is a gigantic playpen in which grown-up children fight over their expensive toys. The need of the hour is maturity, and the man of the hour is the preacher of the Word. We pastors dare not be little children at a time when God is looking for mature men to build His church.
Excerpted from Listening To the Giants by Warren W. Wiersbe, pp. 351-354.
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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).