In part 1 of this post, we saw ten indicators of imbalanced ministry. We noted that our ultimate goal is to serve like Christ—full of grace and truth.
As we walk in humble sincerity before the Lord, we will insist on godly integrity. Our purpose in ministry is to exalt the name of Jesus Christ. He receives glory when people are saved and His Word is preached—unless we sabotage that glory with unethical or immoral ministry. The greatest motivator to serve with integrity is not protecting our “image,” but magnifying the testimony of Christ.
How can we exalt Christ in the autonomous local Baptist churches where we serve? Below are suggestions—areas that God has blessed over the years.
Emphasize a heart for God.
Our relationship with Christ is the single most important part of our lives. He is our strength, our comfort, and our example. We can become professional ministers to the point where preaching, counsel, and administration is all done out of habit in our own strength. Even preachers can keep up the appearance of effectiveness after we have quenched our heart for God and the Holy Spirit. Standards and practices in a church without a thriving, personal relationship with Jesus are not enduring. This is why the first book I wrote was entitled A Heart for God. Our own children and our students can be given all the standards for personal holiness, but without a heart for God, those standards will either be cast aside or maintained with root sins lingering in the heart. Do not discard godly standards, but emphasize developing a heart for God.
Teach Bible truth.
Nothing can replace contextual, expository preaching. I preach topical sermons, but even with them I strive to include dozens of verses. Stories and illustrations are helpful for applying Scripture, but it is the Word of God itself that changes lives.
Practice servant leadership.
When I first came to Lancaster Baptist Church, I honestly didn’t know a lot about servant leadership. I began to study the Scriptures, though, and read passages like Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” God began to convict and teach me about the kind of spirit He desires in His servants. Being a strong leader and being a servant are not incompatible. Jesus Himself was both authoritative and humble. Because we sensed this leadership model was lacking in the 1990s, we called our annual conference, “The Spiritual Leadership Conference.” It has been our desire to uplift Christ’s model rather than man’s harsh and often self-centered models.
Seek godly friends and mentors for accountability.
We are all men who struggle. Being in any position of Christian leadership makes us no more immune to temptation than being in an airplane exempts us from the laws of gravity. In fact, either position becomes all the more serious. Pastors (and all Christians) need other men with whom they can be open, honest, and transparent. It is dangerous for pastors to operate in an untouchable bubble of authority structure. Although there are different ideas about how it should be structured, every spiritual leader needs genuine opportunities for fellowship, transparency, and accountability.
Seek counsel before tragedy strikes.
Part of having the accountability structure in place is to seek help before the seed of an issue grows into something much more dangerous. Although biblical counselors are not in great abundance, there are men who have given their lives to helping others if we as pastors need help. I am thankful for older mentors in my life, and for good ministries like the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship, and their willingness to encourage and counsel those who seek guidance. Pastors, please don’t look at seeking personal and family counsel as a sign of weakness; see it as an opportunity to humble yourself and to receive the grace you so desperately need.
Immediately report crime and abuse.
Every ministry should have a written policy in place to immediately report instances of sexual abuse and other criminal activity to local authorities. In many states, it is mandatory that those in ministry report suspected child abuse or neglect. We are to be subject to the government God has ordained, for they are a “terror…to the evil” (Romans 13). This is vital for protecting children whom God has entrusted to our churches and for protecting the testimony of the church.
Biblically handle issues of immorality.
It is important for the health of a church that sin issues be confronted. Matthew 18:15–17 outlines the proper way to deal with offenses within a church (keeping in mind that immorality that is also criminal should be reported). While restoration for a man who has failed morally is the goal of church discipline (Galatians 6:1), and he may still serve the Lord in different areas, the pastorate should not be one of those areas. First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 include being “blameless” and “the husband of one wife” as requirements for pastoral ministry. Fallen pastors should not be knowingly recommended to other churches.
Develop policies for moral integrity.
To protect both your church and church staff, have policies in place that help them “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We usually have women counsel other women, and on occasions when one of our men on staff counsels a lady, another lady is present. We do not allow children’s workers to be alone with a child, and we conduct a background check on children’s workers before they begin working in a classroom.
Develop policies for financial integrity.
We are stewards of God’s resources, given through generous, hard-working members of our congregations. It is a wise practice to regularly have an independent audit conducted. This reassures the church of your financial integrity and can help raise awareness of areas that could use improved controls. The process can be cumbersome, but it is necessary in this day. Romans 14:16 says, “Let not then your good be evil spoken of.”
To minister with a balance of grace and truth is a delicate journey. But when we make it our driving purpose to know Christ, we learn to serve like Him—full of grace and truth.
I pray that those who carry the name of Christ, and specifically those who call themselves independent Baptists, will make Christ their goal as they serve with humility and personal purity. Some may refer to themselves as “biblical Baptists” or “unaffiliated Baptists” but more important than the descriptive adjectives is that we return to (or continue in) the New Testament model of servant leadership, focused evangelism, and discipleship.
I pray for days of greater camaraderie amongst men who understand, like leaders of yesteryear, that independent pastors can be different in minor opinions but still be brothers praying for revival and planting churches. I pray that all of us will turn from whatever glory we may perceive in our position (doctrinal or practical) and redirect every beam of focus on Christ alone. May we serve in His church with integrity and humility that brings glory to His name.