Monday, December 15, 2014

Preach, Live, And Let God Do What He Can Do

“Preach the Word, live in the Kingdom, leave the results to God.” Dallas Willard

I have now heard Dallas Willard say this in a couple of contexts, and I think it is a worthwhile way to think about the vocation of the pastor. As I have argued in the past, I am not sure we have a good handle on a biblical model of pastoring, so hearing from those who have something different to say is valuable to us.

Preach the Word
How could we disagree with this? Yet, my interaction with many churches and pastors tells me that on most Sunday mornings Scripture plays a supporting role at best. Our church supports a lot of missionaries and I often get to preach to people who have traveled throughout the English speaking world and experienced all kinds of churches. After one Sunday morning in which my text came from John 5, the missionary guest said that he could not remember the last time he heard a sermon on God. What does that mean? Can it be that over several years of itineration he had literally not heard (that he could remember) a sermon whose topic was the character and nature of God? Can this be representative of the American church?

If I did not preach from Scripture, I do not know what on earth I would preach from. Does this mean I need to preach verse-by-verse every single week? Not necessarily, but it does mean that my controlling text and set of principles comes from Scripture no matter how I speak.

Live In The Kingdom
The philosopher Aristotle said there were three pillars to effective public speaking: ethos, pathos, and logos. Logos is the logic of your arguments, pathos is your emotional connection with the audience, and ethos is the character or integrity of the speaker. Are you trustworthy? Does your lifestyle somehow backup what you are saying about life?

While striving to avoid some kind of simplistic legalism, it can be reasonably expected that pastors live genuine lives of Christ-likeness. This is not some kind of moralism, but a kingdom possibility. Christ offers us life in the presence and power of the one true God and gave the gift of the third member of the Trinity so that we might actually be able to do that. We say Christ is Lord, but do we live as if he reigns in our lives? The people in our churches have dozens of examples of life outside of the kingdom of God, why not give them at least one example of life within it?

Leave the Results to God
Here is where we may hit the most interference with conventional wisdom. It is either stated or assumed that pastors work to grow the numbers and budgets of their churches. And while health may very well result in that, Willard is clear that this ought not to be the primary goal of ministry. I have said for years that the only thing I am in control of is my obedience to what God has called me to do. I am not called to be a controller or manipulator or herder of people. And if I am not an expert marketer of my skills or church, I am still not called to attach my worth or usefulness before God in terms of “butts and bucks.”

Timothy Keller in his book, Center Church, has challenged me on this. His argument is that we are called to be both faithful and fruitful. At least, we need to strive to be fruitful. And he is right, but in the end his point about fruitfulness may boil down to being faithful to the drive of the Gospel to tell as many people as possible.

But in the end, I think Willard is right. God is the shepherd of human souls, not me. He is the Superintended of our services and gatherings, not me. The Holy Spirit is our guide into truth and toward Jesus Christ, I am only (hopefully) an obedient and useful guide to others along the way.

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