You have probably heard the 10th commandment before. The short version reads: “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17). We all know what this means – be content with what you have and don’t envy your neighbor for what God has given him. We know this but I think we would all admit it can be hard to follow through on. My wife and I have four youngsters and we see envy up close and personal every day. One child has a toy and the other child wants it so he steals the toy. This doesn’t surprise us when it comes from a child, but how often do we “mature” Christians struggle with this same sin? Even pastors, if we were honest, would admit that we too struggle with envy at times. As we encounter fellow pastors with larger churches, the sin of envy is always lurking nearby.
I sometimes remind our congregation to pray for myself and our elders. We are, after all, fallen sinful men right in the middle of our own sanctification. Just because God has appointed us to lead and shepherd does not mean we don’t still struggle with sin, including envy. As John Brown (1830-1922) said to one of his ministerial pupils who was newly ordained: “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will be mortified that your congregation is very small in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.” (Cited from Mark Dever’s “The Church”)
Small church pastors (like myself) can be prone to this, but I have learned that large church pastors also struggle with envy and covetousness. There is always someone with a bigger, more fruitful church that we can compare ourselves to. Brown’s words are particularly helpful because they remind us that we will all give an account before the Lord. The writer of Hebrews tells us “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). One day, every pastor-shepherd will stand before God and give an account as to how he led, fed, cared for, and protected the flock God entrusted to him. Whether your church is 50, or 500, or 5000, the responsibility is monumental. This is why the “numbers” measuring stick is not always the best (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
The business of soul-care has eternal ramifications. This is what makes pastoral ministry so challenging but at the same time so rewarding. Rather than focusing on how big our friend’s church is (and how small your church is), may we commit ourselves to pray for our fellow brethren in the ministry. Rejoice in how God is blessing and working in your friend’s church and remember that he desperately needs your prayers and support, just as you need his. Along with that, renew your commitment to care for the flock of God entrusted to you. This is a stewardship like no other stewardship, and only the deepest commitment to God and His people will do.