In the previous week, I raised three pitfalls of church leaders. They are: (1) having a sense of self-glory and vindictiveness, (2) succumbing to itching ears as love of truth evaporates, and (3) disregarding the family life. Today, two more pitfalls are considered here.
Pitfall #4: Wallowing in Self-pity that Excuses Worry, Bitterness and Other Sins
The struggles of a church leader are seldom fully understood, let alone empathised, by those who are around him. The apostle Paul has succinctly captured the troubles of the church leaders when he wrote: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Some in the ministry have been so plagued by problems that they allow their souls to plunge into self-pity and many other sins that accompany anxiety, worry and fear. Some leaders have used their needs, loneliness, problems to excuse their sins of greed, theft, sexual promiscuity, abusive behaviour, etc. They would say, “Nobody understands my problems. Nobody seems to care that I also have to take care of my family’s needs. It is such pressure that led me to steal.” Or they may say, “Nobody else seems to feel for me in my loneliness the way she does. If any of them knew what I was going through in this leadership role, they would understand why I need this kind of embrace, and why I need this kind of ‘unconditional acceptance’. I have borne enough of the burden of being everybody’s spiritual example; I can’t take it any more! And I don’t care if they don’t approve!”
Self-pity is a subtle sin; it is packed with deceptive power. It looks so meek and weak, but underneath it is pride. Self-pity is a blind leader of proud men, guiding them into pits of sins.
Every leader must learn to find his strength, wisdom, courage and provision in the Lord. The Lord—and He alone—must be our portion; otherwise we will give in to self-pity and all the sins that accompany it. We must seek the presence of God where there is “fulness of joy” and where “at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). Let us learn to draw near to God when all kinds of troubles befall us. Truly, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).
Pitfall #5: Falling in Love with the Present World
“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica…” (2 Timothy 4:10). Demas was a fellow labourer of Paul in the work of the Gospel (cf. Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24). Paul mentioned him along with the early church leaders like Luke, Marcus and Aristarchus.
Apparently, Demas left Paul and the ministry after he fell in love with this present world. What is it about the world that leaders (like Demas) in particular are tempted to love?
In Luke 8:14, Jesus cautioned, “…when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” Our Saviour mentioned three causes that could lead a man away from being fruitful in the kingdom of God. They are cares of this life, riches of this world and pleasures of this world. Sadly, Demas’ motive for forsaking Paul might have been his love for worldly ease, safety and comforts, as well as his disinclination to brave danger with Paul.
Anyone who sincerely serves the Lord will soon find that he needs to sacrifice all his desires for comfort, pleasure and glory of this world. Anyone who entertains an immoderate love for this material world, and its gain, pleasure and glory, will not be able to serve God fervently and faithfully. He will soon wilfully abandon the cause of the Gospel because of his love for this material world.
The best safeguard from this pitfall is to always set our mind on the glory of God and His kingdom. Paul said, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). The spell of sin’s fascination is broken when the superior pleasures of God’s presence become our preoccupation.
If we love the Lord and His work, then we must also remind ourselves that “the friendship of the world is enmity with God” and “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). Think long and hard about those who have fallen so painfully and drastically, having drunk the deadly poison of worldliness. May we be warned!
Pray for Our Church Leaders
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1a).
The apostle Paul often requested brethren to pray for him and his fellow labourers in the work of the Gospel (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:25; Hebrews 13:18). Though the apostles were called, equipped and endowed with the Holy Spirit and extraordinary miraculous gifts, they humbly beseeched the people of the church, both young and old, to pray for them. If Paul (with all his unique, miraculous apostolic gifts) required the prayers of God’s people, how much more preachers and pastors of our time need the prayer support of the church. Those who lead the church should not forget their need for spiritual support from the congregation. One’s office of leadership in the church or spiritual gift or past successful service does not make one self-sufficient for the work of the ministry. Mutual support, particularly prayer support, is vital for the success of one’s service.
Every member of the church, being joined with one another as the body of Christ, is to supply each other that which is needed. The eye cannot say unto the hand, “I have no need of thee“; nor the hand to the feet, “I have no need of you.” Mutual support, according to the ability that God has given, is vital for the efficient operation of the whole church.
The apostle desired prayer, particularly for the ministry of “the word of the Lord“. Prayer, both requested and offered to God, recognises God as the source of the progress and success of preaching. It is a great danger to attribute the success of preaching to the preacher’s talent and not to rely on God’s help, as that would ascribe to man the glory due unto God alone. Every Christian who hears the preaching of God’s Word must remember that he is in the presence of the preacher’s God rather than the preacher himself. The blessing he receives through the preaching of the Word is God-sent. So when he prays for the preacher and his preaching, he links the pulpit to the throne of God, the true fountain of all spiritual blessings.
The object of praying for the preacher is that the Word of God “may have free course, and be glorified“. Paul is here using Greek words that evoke the memory of the ancient Greek runners’ success and honour. Christians must desire and pray for great success through the faithful and fervent efforts of the preachers in turning sinners to Christ and establishing faithful churches for the edification of saints (cf. Psalm 67:1-3).