The Battle Against Envy in Ministry

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.

A Word to Pastors….Read Good Books!

Last week I had the privilege of leading a group of 20-25 pastors and their wives in a time of learning and fellowship. The topic I chose to speak on was that of Reading Good Books. Typically, most pastors have a reputation for reading a lot, as well we should. But more often than not, our busy schedules tend to crowd out time for reading. This should not be. No doubt ministry can be demanding and challenging, but pastors must find time to read good books.

Let me say up front that first and foremost, the pastor is a man of one book – the Bible. There is no substitute for immersing yourself in Scripture and drinking deeply from the fountain of God’s Word. As the Psalmist puts it, “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Day and night, night and day, the pastor feeds and nourishes his soul with the manna of God’s Word. He does so not simply for his own relationship with the Lord, but also that he might feed the flock of God (John 21:15-17, 1 Peter 5:2) and supply them with the nourishment they so desperately need. Just to reiterate, the pastor is a man of the Book – God’s Book.

Having said that, it is vital for the pastor to surround himself with other books that aid him in better understanding God’s word. I have in mind books like biblical commentaries and books on biblical theology and such. Obviously, those are not the only books you should read, but they should make up an important part of your reading diet. We are all going to gravitate towards different kinds of books, but strive to ensure that the books you read challenge you, point you to Christ and His glory, and broaden your understanding of Scripture.

Reading is perhaps not as difficult as we think. John Piper breaks it down this way: “Suppose you read slowly, say about 250 words a minute (as I do). This means that in twenty minutes you can read about five thousand words. An average book has about four hundred words to a page. So you could read about twelve-and-a-half pages in twenty minutes. Suppose you discipline yourself to read a certain author or topic twenty minutes a day, six days a week, for a year. That would be 312 times 12.5 pages for a total of 3,900 pages. Assume that an average book is 250 pages long. This means you could read fifteen books like that in one year.”Later on Piper quotes John Stott, who suggests a minimum of one hour per day. “Many will achieve more. But the minimum would amount to this: every day at least one hour; every week one morning, afternoon or evening; every month a full day; every year a week. Set out like this, it sounds very little. Indeed, it is too little. Yet everybody who tries it is surprised to discover how much reading can be done within such a disciplined framework. It tots up to nearly six hundred hours in the course of a year.” (both quotations from: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, 2002)

Let me also suggest that is not so much about the quantity that you read, as it is the quality of books that you read. As Piper and Stott tell us, read as much as you can, but strive to read the best of the best – what we would call “the classics.” Strive to read those books that have proven themselves to be of tremendous help to their readers. The logic goes something like this – if we are already short on time (which all pastors seem to be) then why not read what is going to be most edifying and beneficial to yourself and to your people. This approach is admittedly pragmatic, but Scripture calls us to “make the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

The other day I met a man by the name of Dave Lewis. Pastor Lewis has been a minister of the gospel for several decades now and he noted that he was a ‘friend’ of Tozer. A.W. Tozer died back in the 60’s so at first I was a little confused, but then I quickly realized what he meant. Having read so much of the writings of Tozer, he considered him a friend. As pastors, we should all have those trusted friends, whether dead or alive (often the dead friends are the best), that we often consult. There are a lot of great books out there and we must be disciplined enough to read some of them. Better yet, many of them. As the saying goes…leaders are readers. Truly, reading is an absolute must for the preacher of the gospel and therefore we must endeavor to set aside time every day for this important practice. Happy reading!

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

A Multiplying Ministry

A key element in the apostle Paul’s ministry strategy was to reproduce himself in others. Perhaps this strategy is most clearly seen in 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul writes, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This process started with Paul investing himself in Timothy, but it was not to stop there. As Timothy grew and matured, he was to commit himself to the training of other “faithful men.” This is where the multiplying effect really kicked into gear. These men were expected to “teach others also,” who would teach others also, and on an on it goes. This is nothing new – Paul simply followed the ministry strategy of Jesus in His training of the Twelve. What his Savior modeled and taught, Paul modeled and taught. This worked very effectively as the early church grew and flourished. The same is true over the past two thousand years – when this ministry strategy was followed, the church (in a particular context) experienced growth and health.

Today this standard still applies. If pastors and leaders are not working and planning with the aim of raising up other leaders for tomorrow’s church, they are falling short of our Lord’s commands. As Bill Hull explains in his book The Disciple-Making Church, “The communication and reproduction of the Gospel must become the criteria for leadership. A candidate (for leadership) must be spiritually motivated and propagating the Gospel must become his ultimate objective.” The goal for the pastor is not simply to build a big church with lots of attenders, but to build a healthy church that is filled with disciples. In Luke 6:40 Jesus explained that, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Faithful Bible teachers all look the same and sound the same. Of course, they all have their own unique personality, but down through the ages as disciples have been reproduced, they bear a striking similarity to their teacher, who is ultimately…Jesus.

As we recognize individuals who are in love with Jesus and who have the right character and giftedness for leadership, we must not fail to invest, train and mentor them, and raise them up so that they can do the same for others and lead the church into the future. To be sure, this process takes time. As Oswald Sanders reminds us in his classic book Spiritual Leadership, “Leadership training cannot be done on a mass scale. It requires patient, careful instruction and prayerful, personal guidance over a considerable time. Disciples are not manufactured wholesale. They are produced one by one, because someone has taken the pains to discipline, to instruct and enlighten, to nurture and train.”

In conclusion, pastors and leaders must be intentional about training up “faithful men” in their ministry strategy. It doesn’t just happen without careful planning, implementing and investing. This is going to take a lot of time and effort, but as the multiplying effect gains momentum, the fruit of this ministry strategy will be evident.

Is Male Leadership Simply a Result of the Fall?

Many people argue that male leadership (in the home and church) is simply a result of the fall of man and not as God originally intended things to be. John Piper disagrees and responds in this way.

Nine evidences in Genesis 1-5 that man’s leadership is an order of creation and not a result of the fall:

  1. The creation of man and woman equally in God’s image but with a representative leadership function implied for the man (Genesis 1:26-27).
  2. Man is created first, then the woman (Genesis 2:7, 18). Man goes ahead (leads) in creation and is given that same leadership function in life. Paul picks up on this in 1 Timothy 2:13.
  3. Man is given the moral teaching for governing the garden to pass on to the woman (Genesis 2:15-17). God gives these instructions to Adam with the assumption that he is to pass them on to Eve.
  4. Woman was created “from man” and presented as a helper “fit (suitable) for him” (Genesis 2:18-23). Woman is to come alongside man and partner with him in serving the Lord.
  5. Man names woman (Genesis 2:23). Naming is a significant leadership function. For example, parents name their children.
  6. The serpent undermines the roles ordained by God and draws Eve and Adam into a deadly role reversal with God and each other (Genesis 3:1-6). Satan targeted Eve in the deception. Adam was “with her” (verse 6) when she gave of the fruit of the tree but he did not stop her.
  7. God calls the man to account first, not the woman (Genesis 3:7-9). This is one of the clearest evidences. God did not go to Eve first even though she was originally deceived by Satan.
  8. The curse of “Desire” and “Rule” show the futility of role corruption (Genesis 3:16b).
  9. God named man and woman man (Genesis 5:1-3). This is why it’s good for married couples to have the husband’s last name.

Adapted from lesson four of What’s The Difference: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible. A DVD small group study by John Piper.

What is Spiritual Leadership?

According to Henry and Richard Blackaby, “Spiritual leadership is moving people on to God’s agenda.” Ok, what does that entail?

1. The spiritual leader’s task is to move people from where they are to where God wants them to be.

“This is influence. Once spiritual leaders understand God’s will, they make every effort to move their followers from following their own agendas to pursuing God’s purposes. People who fail to move people on to God’s agenda have not led. They may have exhorted, cajoled, pleaded, or bullied, but they will not have led unless their people have adjusted their lives to God’s will.”

2. Spiritual leaders depend on the Holy Spirit.

“Spiritual leaders work within a paradox, for God calls them to do something that, in fact, only God can do. Ultimately, spiritual leaders cannot produce spiritual change in people; only the Holy Spirit can accomplish this. Yet the Spirit often uses people to bring about spiritual growth in others.”

3. Spiritual leaders are accountable to God.

“Spiritual leadership necessitates an acute sense of accountability. Just as a teacher has not taught until students have learned, leaders don’t blame their followers when they don’t do what they should do. Leaders don’t make excuses. They assume their responsibility is to move people to do God’s will. Until they do this, they have not yet fulfilled their role as leaders.”

4. Spiritual leaders can influence all people, not just God’s people.

“An important reality that must not be overlooked is that spiritual leaders can influence all people, not just God’s people. God is on mission at the local factory as well as at the local church. His agenda applies in the marketplace as well as the meeting place. Although spiritual leaders will generally move God’s people to achieve God’s purposes, God can also use them to exert a significant godly influence upon unbelievers.”

5. Spiritual leaders work from God’s agenda.

“The greatest obstacle to effective spiritual leadership is people pursuing their own agendas rather than seeking God’s will. God is working throughout the world to achieve his purposes and to advance his kingdom. God’s concern is not to advance leaders’ dreams and goals or to build their kingdoms. His purpose is to turn his people away from their self-centeredness and their sinful desires and draw them into a relationship with himself.”

Adapted from pages 20-23 of Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby.

Do You Have Leadership Potential?

According to J. Oswald Sanders, here are some ways to investigate your potential:

–          Have you ever broken a bad habit?  To lead others, you must master your appetites.

–          Do you keep self-control when things go wrong?  The leader who loses control under adversity forfeits respect and influence.  A leader must be calm in crisis and resilient in disappointment.

–          Do you think independently?  A leader must use the best ideas of others to make decisions.  A leader cannot wait for others make up his or her mind.

–          Can you handle criticism?  Can you profit from it?  The humble person can learn from petty criticism, even malicious criticism.

–          Can you turn disappointment into creative new opportunity?

–          Do you readily gain the cooperation of others and win their respect and confidence?

–          Can you exert discipline without making a power play?  True leadership is an internal quality of the spirit and needs no show of external force.

–          Are you a peacemaker?  A leader must be able to reconcile with opponents and make peace where arguments have created hostility.

–          Do people trust you with difficult and delicate situations?

–          Can you induce people to do happily some legitimate thing that they would not normally wish to do?

–          Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without taking offense?  Leaders always face opposition.

–          Can you make and keep friends?  Your circle of loyal friends is an index of your leadership potential.

–          Do you depend on the praise of others to keep you going?  Can you hold steady in the face of disapproval and even temporary loss of confidence?

–          Are you at ease in the presence of strangers?  Do you get nervous in the presence of your superior?

–          Are you interested in people?  All types?  All races?  No prejudice?

–          Are you tactful?  Can you anticipate how your words will affect a person?

–          Is your will strong and steady?  Leaders cannot vacillate or cannot drift with the wind.

–          Can you forgive?  Or do you nurse resentments and harbor ill-feelings towards those who have injured you?

–          Are you reasonably optimistic?  Pessimism and leadership do not mix.

–          Do you feel a master passion such as that of Paul, who said, “This one thing I do!”  Such a singleness of motive will focus your energies and powers on the desired objective.  Leaders need a strong focus.

–          Do you welcome responsibility?

Copied from pages 36-37 of J. Oswald Sanders’ classic book “Spiritual Leadership.”

The Connection Between Vision and the Word of God

The concept of “vision” is incredibly popular these days.  If you were to go to your local bookstore, you would have no problem finding several different books on this subject.  Even in Christian bookstores, it would not be hard to find a number of titles on “vision” and visioneering.”  One of the verses that pastors love to quote is Proverbs 29:18.  “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV)  But what is vision?  Obviously it is needed because without it the people perish, but what did Solomon have in mind when he penned that verse?  The way the NIV translates this verse is helpful for our question.  “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.”  In this rendering, it is clear that “vision” is directly connected with Divine revelation.  The human soul has a desperate need to hear the very words of God.  Presently, there is a famine in the land, but most don’t even realize it.  In pulpits all over the country, people are hearing a lot of “good advice” but very little “good news.”  In Amos 8:11-12, we read these solemn words.  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land – not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.”  Surely we are witnessing a fulfillment of that prophecy in our day. 

You might be wondering, what is the difference between “good advice” and “good news?”  The answer is very simple.  We find good advice from a number of different places such as TV, radio, books, magazines, internet, etc.  Good news, on the other hand, is only found from only one Source – that being God himself.  The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ and the hope that we find in Him.  We can thus conclude that the pulpit must be a place where the Word of God is heralded and proclaimed and not a place where we hear the same “good advice” that we might hear from Dr. Phil or Oprah.  If the people of God are to know where to go and how to live and how to walk “in the light,” then they must have a steady diet of God’s Word.  Vision and the Word of God are inseparable.