I stumbled across a quote not too long along ago. The quote was from Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), an influential Scottish pastor of his time. “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” If you had asked me before I read this quote what I thought my people’s (the people of Hope Church) greatest need was, I probably would have supplied a different answer. However, the more I thought about it, the more I came to believe M’Cheyne’s words.
In much of the seminary training today, this is not the emphasis. Seminarians are taught systematic theology, biblical exegesis, church history, pastoral care, and preaching – things that are all very important. But in many cases, future pastors graduate with little understanding of the value of their own personal holiness. In other words, they don’t understand the importance of the example they set. They don’t see how important it is to “practice what you preach.”
Time and time again I find myself returning to the words of Paul to his young apprentice, Timothy. The pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) are a goldmine of rich instruction, especially for young ministers. Let me give you just one verse. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) When a pastor is committed to holiness, there is a much better chance his people will actually listen to him. On the other hand, when his lifestyle does not match his teaching, there is a good chance his people will tune him out.
Kevin DeYoung, himself a young pastor, writes “My congregation needs me to be humble before they need me to be smart. They need me to be honest more than they need me to be a dynamic leader. They need me to be teachable more than they need me to teach at conferences. If your walk matches your talk, if your faith costs you something, if being a Christian is more than a cultural garb, they will listen to you.”
No doubt pastors face a lot of pressure. There are a number of different expectations that keep pastors busy these days. My recommendation is place one expectation on yourself that trumps all others – a commitment to personal holiness. If you fail to keep your own walk with the Lord of first importance, you will soon lose your ability to minister to others. No pastor wants that, and no church wants that for the pastor. Thank you Robert Murray M’Cheyne for this important reminder!