Thursday, August 27, 2009

Woe To You When All Men Speak Well of You

J. C. Ryle comments on Mk. 6:14-29 (John the Baptist's beheading), saying,
    Let it never surprise us when we hear of faithful ministers of the Gospel being spoken against, hated and reviled. Let us rather remember that they are ordained to bear witness against sin, the world and the devil, and that if they are faithful they cannot help giving offense. It is no disgrace to a minister's character to be disliked by the wicked and ungodly. It is no real honor to a minister to be thought well of by everybody. Those words of our Lord are not considered enough - "Woe to you when all men speak well of you" (Luke 6:26).
My father recently told me about a survey he had read some time ago that found that the most common factor in unhealthy churches was non-confrontational leadership. When pastors are subject to the tyranny of congregational opinion, their churches fail.

This isn't surprising, on the one hand, because most pastors are Really Nice Guys. Thus the common caricature of a warm-hearted country pastor full of gentle wisdom. Peterson calls them "chaplains of the culture" and rejects the label. Since pastors are like that, and since culture expects them to be, pastors don't confront sin.

This is also not surprising because people are sinful. Yes, even Christians. Yes, even Christians who have gone to a church for a long time. So when a Really Nice Guy tries to shepherd a bunch of sinners without ever confronting their sin (or just poor biblical thinking), church problems don't just slowly fade away. Owen was right: if we are not continually at work killing sin, sin will be killing us. While Owen aimed that at individuals, it applies to communities just as much. And no one has ever killed anything without being confrontational.

After my father and I had that conversation, I resolved that I would never be a non-confrontational pastor. If I am to take my mission as a pastor seriously, I must be willing to call sinners to repentance, always with the aim of grace-filled restoration. I must carry out biblical church discipline. I must commit unwaveringly to the Bible as the only textbook for Christian ministry by rigorously applying its teachings to my life and my church, even if it means risking my approval rating.

Our Lord purposed to go to the cross from the beginning. Confronting sinners was his chosen means to that end. Woe to us if we will not follow his example. Woe to us if all men speak well of us.

1 comment:

Sam Wilder said...

As you co-worker in Christ and, hopefully, mentor, I will be eager to see how this fleshes out because it is a terrific calling God has placed upon your heart. I'm excited for you...and for myself, a comrade in arms. Thanks for bringing me up short Andrew.