Friday, April 27, 2007

Telling the Difference Between Good Ministers and Ministers in Name Only

When you pastor in the Washington, D.C. area or an area like Grand Cayman, you will see a lot of people come and go. Some places are really quite transient; they are destinations for people with specific short-term purposes but not necessarily a long-term plan for staying.

This creates a number of interesting benefits and challenges to living in such places. On the one hand, there is great diversity and exchange of peoples. But on the other hand, seeing your friends leave with such frequency can be hard. Such places make great export stations for the gospel. But, you have to work hard against the mentality of "short-timers" for whom spiritual growth is a low priority "because they won't be here long." So, it's a mixed bag.

But this is constant. As a pastor, you'll always be in the business of recommending churches and pastors in the next city or town your people are heading off to. "Do you know a good church there?" "Are there any good pastors there?" That's one of the constants in a transient location.

This morning I was helped to understand that part of what a pastor should be doing is helping his people discern between a good pastor and a "pastor" in name only. I can always answer those questions for them, but it's far superior that they should be able to answer it with discernment and skill themselves. It was a brief reading in A Consuming Fire that did this for me. Lest I put the entire book on-line and weaken sales, this will be my last quote of it. But, it's a good one and one we should pass on to our people in some form. Enjoy.

Knowing a Good Minister

Now, my brethren, two dangers, two simply terrible dangers, arise to every one of you out of all this matter of your ministers and their knowledge.

1. The first danger is, to be frank with you on this subject, that you are yourselves so ignorant on all the matters that a minister has to do with, that you do not know one minister from another, a good minister from one who really is no minister at all. Now, I will put it to you, on what principle and for what reason did you choose your present minister, if, indeed, you did choose him? Was it because you wee assured by people you could trus that he was a minister of knowledge and knew his own business? Or was it that when you went to worship with him for yourself you have not been able ever since to tear yourself away from him, nor has any one else been able to tear you away, though some have tried? When you first came to the city, did you give, can you remember, some real anxiety, rising sometimes in prayer, as to who your minister among so many ministers was to be? Or did you choose him and your present seat in his church because of some real or supposed worldly interest of yours you thought you could further by taking your letter of introduction to him? Had you heard while yet at home, had your father and mother talked of such things to you, that rich men, and men of place and power, political men and men high in society, sat in that church and took notice of who attended it and who did not? Do you, down to this day, know one church from another so far as spiritual and soul-saving knowledge is concerned? Do you know that two big buildings called churches may stand in the same street and have men called ministers carrying on certain services in them from week to week, and yet, for all the purposes for which Christ came and died and rose again and gave ministers to his church, these two churches and their ministers are farther asunder than the two poles?

Do you understand what I am saying? Do you understand what I have been saying all night, or are you one of those of whom the prophet speaks in blame and in pity as being destroyed for lack of knowledge? Well, that is your first danger, that you are so ignorant, and as a consequence, so careless, as not to know one minister from another.

2. And your second danger in conection with your minister is that you have, and may have long had, a good minister, but that you still remain yourself a bad man. My brethren, be you all sure of it, there is a special and a fearful danger in havnig a specially good minister. Think twice and make up your mind well before you call a specially good minister, or become a communicant or even an adherent, under a specially good minister. If two bad men go down together to the pit, and the one has had a good minster as sometimes happens, and the other has only had one who had thename of a minister, the evangelized reprobate will lie in a deeper bed in hell and will spend a more remorseful eternity on it than will the other. No man among you, minister or no minister, good minister or bad, will be able to sin with impunity. But he who sins on and on after good preaching will be beaten with many stripes.

"Thou that hast knowledge," says a powerful old preacher, "canst not sin so cheap as another that is ignorant. Places of much knowledge"--he was preching in the university pulpit of Oxford--"and plentiful in the means of grace are dear places for a man to sin in. To be drunken or unclean after a powerful sermon, and after the Holy Ghost has enlightened thee, is more than to have so sinned twenty times before. Thou mightest have sinned ten times more and been damned less. For does not Jesus Christ the Judge say to thee, 'This is thy condemnation, that so much light has come to thee'?" And, taking the then way of execution as a sufficiently awful illustration, the old Oxford Puritan goes on to say that to sin against light is the highest step of the ladder before turning off. And, again, tht if there ae worms in hell that die not, it is surely gospel light that breeds them.

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