So much of the modern church strikes me this way, like Pappy O’Daniel, who only wants to be a big shot, ignoring the “electorate” right in front of him in favor of the opportunity to “mass
communicate.” Big conferences, bestselling books, famous celebrities. Who’s got the biggest building, the biggest budget, the best show? We need to get the message out to as many people as possible. Filling arenas with fifty thousand people. Multi-site, seeker-sensitive, on and on it goes. What’s a little deception / “marketing” if it makes my book a bestseller? What matters is, we’re “mass communicatin’.” Question the theology, question the methods, ask whether it’s quite biblical, and what do you hear? “How many people did YOU preach to this week?” He’s reaching people for the Lord. Who cares if he’s cutting a few corners?
It’s driven by a theological focus, almost to the exclusion of everything else, of the “moment of decision.” Decisionism refers to the tendency to think that the only thing that matters in salvation is the moment when someone makes their “decision for Christ” and to focus all our efforts on that moment. But we are called to make disciples to Christ. Jesus warned us about the large numbers that would respond in some sense to the gospel but would fall away. We are called, as the church, to shepherd the flock, to care for God’s people, to protect them from lies, to rebuke sin, to comfort the brokenhearted. How can a pastor do that if he’s got four thousand people in his church? How can he shepherd someone at a conference?
Of course that’s the charitable interpretation. The uncharitable one is that pastors, just as much as anyone else, are susceptible to the world’s siren call of money, of fame, of the world’s approval. In the church that call is all the more seductive because it’s so easy to dress that call up in church clothes, to say that I only want to be famous so I can reach more people; I only want to be rich so I can more easily do the work of the ministry. I recently listened to a lecture by Alastair Begg in which he was warning the ministry against the sin of pride, and said that every single pastoral fall, every single disaster he’d seen in the ministry, was caused first and foremost by pride. I believe it.I’m not against conferences. I’m not against books or radio programs. But we should not mistake those things for the work of the ministry. They can be aids to the work of the ministry. But the work of the ministry is always “one-at-a-timing.” It is walking alongside people, loving them, getting to know them, laughing with them, crying with them, rebuking them, being rebuked by them. It’s preaching the word, ministering the sacraments, teaching publicly and from house to house. This is the only way the ministry works or has ever worked. These are the tools the Lord gave us to make disciples, and they’re the only ones that work.The preaching of a sermon is not the end of the pastor’s responsibility. He preaches the word as an expression of a pastoral relationship. That means that when you prepare a sermon, you do so with particular people in mind, the people in your congregation with all their needs and hopes and shortcomings in mind as best as you know them. I never feel like I’m really preaching when I preach at someone else’s church. And the preaching “publicly” must be combined with preaching “house to house” (Acts 20:20). The public proclamation of God’s word must be followed up with discipline, counseling, encouragement and exhortation which is tailored to the individual.
The work of the ministry, from the world’s perspective, will always be horribly inefficient. You pour your time into people who end up rejecting the church, who walk away from Christ. Or you spend your time shepherding people who continually fall back into sin over and over. You spend hours and hours, years and years, trying to get people to see things that maybe they never see. And if that’s your model of ministry, it’s just not scalable. It will not work once your church hits about 200. It takes too much time. As a result, you’re unlikely to
ever be famous, to ever have a name on the New York Times Bestseller list (or to ever have enough money to buy your way on). It’s inefficient. It requires spending a lot of time to train a man, educate a man, screen a man, just so he can spend his life probably in obscurity toiling among a small group of people. But it’s the only way to do the job.
This is not a “poor me, being a pastor is so terrible” kind of article. I love being a pastor and can’t imagine being anything else. The joy I get when I see people, over years, respond to the teaching of the Word and grow in grace and love toward God and their fellow man is a joy that is unmatched by anything I have experienced. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But it’s so easy to get our minds off God’s promises and on the allure of the world. To fully reap the benefits of the ministry, we must be realistic about what it is and what it isn’t, and be in submission to the One who called us to the work.Whose approval are we looking for? If your goal is to make disciples, then “one-at-a-timing” is the only way to do it. That’s the way the Lord has given us to do it. The faithful servant does not decide for himself what job or position he wants to do. He doesn’t neglect the work that the master gave him in order to do work that he will find more fun and exciting. The faithful servant will not ignore the master’s clear written instructions in favor of strong feelings within himself about what he would rather do. The faithful servant will obey his master, seeking only the master’s approval, and trusting the master with the results. The kingdom of God is and always has been built one heart at a time.
2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (2Ti
3 thoughts on “One-at-a-timing”
Amen, thanks Matt
Amen. I am reminded of a comment by one minister who while commenting on the list of names in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah said that almost all of those people are unknown to us and seemly insignificant, yet God regarded them as significant. How do we know? Their names are recording in His Holy Word. Matthew, keep up the good work and remember what Rev. Duckett used to say, "Keep on Preaching, Praying, and Plugging away."
Hi, Matt. Loved your post. Excellent.