Back in the old days, the men of God put a great value on the ministry. Men like Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Finney, Moody, Spurgeon, Truett, and others had great respect for other preachers, even if they disagreed with them. There was respect among peers, or at least that’s the way it seems to me.
I remember Lehman Strauss telling me about a time when he was in a meeting and Billy Graham was there. He said someone at the table was talking about a minister who had just fallen into sin. Most of the people at the table began to comment on the man and his fall. Lehman said they all asked Dr. Graham what he thought. He responded, “That man preached one of the finest messages on the Second Coming I’ve ever heard.” The room was a little stunned. They couldn’t believe he would compliment a man who had fallen in the ministry. He said again, “All I’m saying is, I heard him preach on the Second Coming and it was one of the finest sermons on the subject I’ve ever heard.” Get the point? Billy Graham wasn’t going to lower himself to criticize a brother, even a fallen one.
I have friends in the ministry who have fallen. It hurts to see that happen to your peers. You pray it doesn’t happen to you. The higher the climb, the bigger the fall. It is my prayer that I not look on their failures as a sign that I’m more spiritual than they are. There but for the grace of God go I. The Bible says the spiritual are to seek to restore. I don’t believe it says we are to kick them and grind them in the dirt. Who knows, one day that brother may come to his senses and he’ll need a friend.
It grieves me to see the number of men leaving the ministry. Some had such promise, but they’ve been crushed. Others have been their own worst enemy. John Bisagno said that when he was in college, he wrote the names of around 25 of the hot shot preachers at Oklahoma Baptist University where he was studying for the ministry. Thirty years later, only three of them were still in the ministry.
What happens to a man that causes him to quit? Jealousy, bitterness, mean-spirited churches, lack of dependence on the Holy Spirit, just to name a few reasons. Some are burned out because they never learned to pace themselves. Others have never died to self and they fall to that besetting sin. Satan knows where and when to get us. We must not be ignorant of his devices. The bottom line is another ministerial casualty.
I’m not saying we should condone the sin, but we should love the sinner. If some of the folks I know had been there when Peter was sifted like wheat and when he denied Christ, they would have voted he never get a shot at preaching at Pentecost. He was damaged goods.
How can you protect yourself from failure and sin that can destroy all you’ve tried to do?
1) Love Jesus. If we don’t love Jesus with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, we won’t be capable of loving others. Love for God must be greater than our love for preaching or ministry.
2) Be sure of your calling. God calls and He doesn’t stutter. It’s a holy calling and a tough job. It’s not easy being “on” 24/7 and having to be preacher, counselor, janitor, teacher, funeral director, and wedding coordinator. At the same time, it’s a great life.
3) It’s a thrill to be involved in that which is eternal. Some men are born human beings and they die wholesale grocers. Nothing wrong with being a wholesale grocer but do you realize that your calling has eternal ramifications? We get to proclaim the promises of God to those who are looking for answers.
4) Keep your perspective. Someone said, “The church is like Noah’s ark – if it weren’t for the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the stink on the inside.” The church isn’t perfect. You aren’t perfect. I have a sign in my study, it reads, “No Mess – No Ministry.” The ministry is tough and dirty and you’re in a war. The devil will see to it that there are people who get under your skin. Learn to have the heart of a lamb and the hide of a rhinoceros. Don’t get the two confused.
5) Act like a leader. No matter what size the church, be the leader. If they don’t want you to lead, lead anyway. The worse they can do is fire you. The worse thing you can do is not be the overseer of the church. You can shake the dust off if you’re in a bad situation. You can’t shake your responsibility off just because someone bucks you.
In my cabin in the Tennessee mountains I have a picture of this impressive eagle taken by my friend Ken Jenkins. The title under the picture is, “Eagles Know They Are Eagles.” In other words, they don’t have to be counseled, propped up, or convinced they need to be an eagle. They know instinctively who they are and why they are here. With their eyes they can get perspective on the whole landscape. With their talons they can deal with anything that comes their way. They have the look of confidence, that’s why they rule the skies.
By the way, don’t be afraid to be a ministry maverick. The party line isn’t always the straight and narrow. The fear of man is a snare. Don’t live your life worrying about what others think. Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines. If Jim Cymbala had just done church as usual, none of us would have heard of The Brooklyn Tabernacle. Think about it. Moody was a maverick. Spurgeon bucked the system. Luther was a reformer. Get it? Those God uses aren’t afraid to act on their God given abilities.
6) Stand on the Word. Your opinion doesn’t matter. Stand up and preach the Word. Paul lost his head for it. You might lose your benefits, but you’ll probably keep your head (just make sure you don’t lose your mind). Make sure your “Thus says the Lord” is from the Lord, not your attempt to prove you are right. While you’re at it, make sure you don’t preach using question marks where God put exclamation points.
7) Praise God for where you are. A wise layman was talking to a pastor who seemed to always be looking for another church. The layman listened as the pastor talked about how he believed God wanted him at a larger church. The layman said, “Son, when you start pastoring the church you’re at, maybe he’ll let you pastor another church.” Good words. Wherever you are, be all there.
8) Pick your battles wisely. A bulldog can whip a skunk, but it’s not worth it. Not every battle is worth fighting. Even if you win the battle, you could lose the war. Don’t fight over carpet, colors, or even worship preferences. Stick to the truth. Teach your people to think biblically. The wise will listen and learn. The fool has said in his heart, “My mind cannot be changed, and I shall not be moved.” Don’t lower yourself to fight losers. Don’t be caught waging a petty war when there’s a spiritual battle for the souls of your parishioners going on.
9) Be on fire for God. Don’t let the carnal minority put out your fire. Have a fervor and passion for God that attracts people to the Word and worship. John Wesley had a simple method for seeing God work. He wanted hard preaching, fervent singing, and an exemplary life in Christ. He took the gospel to the common man. He didn’t point to his degrees or debate with the leaders of the Age of Reason. He spoke with passion about the things of God and changed the course of a nation.
Wesley preached 30,000 sermons before he died. He rode two horses a year into the ground scouring the countryside preaching to whoever would listen. A sophisticated seminarian might call him a fanatic. I call him a man of God.
Vance Havner never had a college degree. He wrote 39 books and never lacked a place to preach. He was booked almost every week of the year. He never considered himself a great preacher, but he preached in some of the greatest pulpits in America. He wasn’t much to look at; he had a nasal drawl but his love for God dripped from his lips. He didn’t try to be cute, palatable, or pleasing to the denomination. He was a prophet and we are in desperate need of a prophet today.
Get your prophetic voice back. You say, “No one wants to hear that kind of preaching today.” All the more reason to do it. A man of God,= committed to the Word of God for the glory of God will never lack a place to preach.
10) Make God your partner. Better yet, make Him your manager and boss. When I think about it, I think the reason God has opened doors for me (doors I could have never opened) is very simple. One night in Pascagoula, Mississippi, at Calvary Baptist Church I was listening to Vance Havner preach. It was youth night. He called the young people to make commitments to Christ. He didn’t ask, he demanded that we decide once and for all who we would follow.
He called us down to sing a solo. He gave us a hymnal and said, “I want you to sing, ‘Though none go with me I still will follow, no turning back, no turning back.’” He didn’t ask for a duet or a quartet. He wanted us, one at a time, to take our stand for Jesus. I’ve never been more scared or more sure of anything in my life. That night I made a life altering decision. I did not know at the time where it would lead. I didn’t know it meant the ministry. I just knew I had to take my stand with Jesus and let the chips fall where they may.
That night I stood. Before the night was over there were eight solos – all singing, in various keys and some in unknown keys, but singing and standing. In front of peers, parents, and the preacher we each sang that verse.
I look back on that night as the only explanation as to why God has chosen to open the doors he has in my life. I’ve not deserved them. I’ve done nothing to merit such favor. There are thousands of others more talented, intellectual and gifted than I am. I can only say that the man who makes himself available to God, God will make Himself strong in his behalf. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
One other word. Because I’ve never sent out a resume or politicked for a position I don’t owe anyone except the Lord the credit and glory for my ministry. He’s the reason. He’s the power. He’s the one who made it all happen. All He’s ever asked of me is to be a willing vessel. That’s all He asks of any of us.
(copyright Michael Catt, All Rights Reserved)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.