“My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” So wrote Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), an influential Scottish pastor of his time. If you were to survey pastors today and ask them this simple question: “what do you think the greatest need of your congregation is?” I suspect you would get a whole host of different answers, and few would have anything to do with personal holiness.
Admittedly, it is tough to write on a subject such as personal holiness. I know my own sins better than anyone else. I often 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. The last verse of 1 Timothy 4 is one such example. “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) Another example is 2 Timothy 2:22, which says, “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart.”
Being a Dad, my kids are quick to point out when they see me teaching something or correcting them for something I don’t actually do myself. In all reality, I am going to be a much better Dad if my life actually aligns with my teaching. Maybe you have heard the saying, “do as I say but not as I do” before. We can chuckle at that, but if that is what we are advocating in our parenting or in our pastoring, then we have a serious problem. When a pastor is humble and striving for 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 is right when he says, “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.” 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. Before you can effectively “make disciples,” you must be a disciple. If you fail to walk closely with the Lord and “keep in step with the Spirit,” (Galatians 5:25) you will soon lose your ability to minister to others. No pastor wants that, and no church wants that for their pastor.
What a great reminder this is from Mr. M’Cheyne. As Pastors we ought to be committed to preaching the Word, loving the people, being men of prayer, and training and discipling new believers. But if we desire to have a fruitful and effective ministry, then it must start with our own personal holiness. Integrity, godliness, and holiness of life serve as the foundation for all spiritual leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-7). If we get sloppy and try to cut corners and neglect our own walk with the Lord, we are bound for trouble. We may even find ourselves disqualified from leadership. This has happened countless times and it often has a devasting effect on the pastor’s family and his church.
Pastoral ministry is a high calling – a very high calling! We must constantly pray for the grace of God while at the same time keep in mind that our aim is to please the one who enlisted us, the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3). If He has truly called you, He will give you the moral integrity and the grace you need to be about the care of souls. “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Glory be to God!