The Pastor and Personal Holiness

“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!

The First Task of Discipleship

The Great Commission mandate is clear. In our going, baptizing and teaching, we are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This has not changed for 2000 years, nor will it change until the Lord returns. The chief business of the church is to make disciples who will make disciples, and on and on it goes. In this process, disciples of Jesus Christ are continually multiplying and being reproduced.

Recently, I watched a conference video of Francis Chan. Chan is a popular speaker and writer calling the church to reconsider this critical task of discipleship. In the video and while speaking to thousands, Chan challenged the crowd (allow me to paraphrase). “Discipleship is all about multiplication, but I’m not so sure we would want to multiply this group of people here today. Many of you are angry, prideful, unforgiving, and slanderous, etc., etc.” Chan then proceeded to explain that before we make plans to multiply disciples, we must first be disciples of Jesus Christ.

Incidentally, Chan’s new book is called Multiply. If this has wet your appetite for more, you might just want to purchase a copy of the book. Whatever the case, Chan is right. The first task of discipleship is being a disciple. This means being committed to following Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. It means being committed sanctification in your life and having at least some resemblance to your Master, Jesus Christ. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:24-25).

Ask yourself, is there evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in my life? If you are going to help others follow Jesus, it stands to reason that you must first take up your cross and follow Him. You can’t give others what you don’t already have. But as you commit yourself to discipleship, the strength of your witness will increase, and in turn, you will be more effective in helping others follow Jesus. You will be able to say, like Paul, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I am not suggesting that you need to be perfect before you can help others follow Jesus, but I am suggesting that there should be evidence of growth and transformation in your life.

Later on in the same video, Chan noted, “Some of you are going to be welcomed into Heaven and the King will say to you, (again, a paraphrase) “Well done good and faithful servant. You made 8 disciples and you had a church of 9.” Sure, we can find some humor in that, but it’s true. Helping other people follow Jesus is a lifelong task that does not happen overnight. Many of us are accustomed to a paradigm where disciples are made through programs and classes. It is designed to be almost instantaneous. This model has helped us fill our churches, but we’ve filled them with angry, prideful, unforgiving, and slanderous people, who look more like the world than the redeemed of the Lord. In other words, we’ve filled our church with pseudo-disciples and not true followers of Christ. We have multiplied, but not in the way Jesus intends us to.

My intention is not to point the finger at the modern church. It is what it is and we can’t change the church as a whole overnight. However, we can individually commit ourselves to the first task of discipleship – being disciples. We can commit ourselves to sanctification and a holiness of life that will speak volumes to those around us. And as we do that, we can more effectively come alongside other disciples and strengthen them as they pursue Christ.

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10)