Since arriving in Connecticut to pastor, I’ve had the privilege of seeking biblical counsel and insight from dozens of godly, gracious pastors and spiritual leaders. I entered the pastorate hungry for spiritual advice from those who have pastored well. And God has consistently intersected my path with such men.
I’ve been given a LOT of great advice. In recent days, men have counseled me on family transition, marriage, parenting, church finance, staff development, budget development, personal schedule, priorities, preaching, outreach, and hundreds of other topics. But a few men have said the same thing over and over again. And this one bit of advice has proven, thus far, to be the best.
When these long-time pastors say this, they usually get very focused and intense. And it goes something like this.
“Cary, don’t you let another man hold your vision hostage.”
When I hear this, my mind starts racing for a context. Are they talking about people within the church? Without the church? People in the community? Other pastors? So I ask. And the answer is…
“Primarily other pastors.” And then these older, godly men proceed, “Don’t you ever allow someone else’s outside opinion to hold God’s vision for this church under their own preference or opinion. Don’t worry about pleasing any other crowd or group. You be and do what God wants you to be and do.”
Great advice. One man told me, “This is exactly what Lester Roloff told me 40 years ago!”
There’s great freedom in following Jesus and obeying Him. And I praise the Lord for a new generation of sharp young leaders who get it! They get the idea of loving and encouraging one another in ministry rather than inspecting and judging one another.
Trying to please men is a fickle path. Trying to fit into a “movement” other than the move of the Holy Spirit or identify with an extra-biblical culture or mind-set is a hand-cuffing experience. A couple of generations ago, when denominational control was on the rise, and denominations were compromising sound doctrine, a group of renegades broke away from denominations and got back to allowing Jesus to be the head of the church. That was a good move.
In the land of “arm-chair ministry” there are a lot of Monday-morning critics. These are people who prefer to nit-pick those fighting the battle than fight the battle themselves. Their opinions are a dime a dozen, and are generally worthless. They fit the descriptors of James 1 and 2 about proud, judgmental, and political religion. They seem to be religious. They bridle not their tongues. They have a show of religion but not a genuine, active, mercy showing faith. And in general their churches are dying or dead—also fitting into James’ description of “dead faith.”
Of one thing I’m painfully aware—authentic gospel ministry is practically non-existent in judgmental, political, hypocritical, and proud churches.
(As a side note, I’m not addressing criticism I’ve received. Since moving to the east coast, I have been overwhelmingly encouraged by other Christians and pastors.)
And so I appreciate the firm nudge of faithful men in saying to me, “Don’t worry about what other pastors think.” I needed it. Because inside of every pastor there’s a dilemma. There’s a struggle—knowing what Jesus is calling you to do and how He is calling you to do it—and wondering what other people, especially pastor-peers will think of it. Please Jesus or please men? Do, be, and say what Jesus is compelling? Or temper it so others won’t criticize?
Follow Jesus. Answer to Him. There’s no greater accountability. There’s no more sobering accountability. There’s no more intense and fearful thought in spiritual leadership than this—I MUST ANSWER TO JESUS FOR THIS. And nothing will more quickly release you from the opinions of those who “teach for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9 and Mark 7:7)
The only real reason anyone ever has time to fight other Christians is that they aren’t engaged in the real fight themselves. I’m fighting a war. It’s a big war. It’s an eternal war. It’s the good fight of faith. It’s an eternal mission to help lost souls come into faith in Christ and grow in their faith. It’s a life-changing war. And I’m so thankful for EVERY SINGLE BIBLE-BELIEVING CHRISTIAN who is fighting in that war, that I just don’t have time to nit-pick whether or not they fight just like me. I’m just glad they are fighting, and I want to encourage them to fight on!
I can’t turn my back on the HARVEST to fight meaningless battles. BIG HILLS! I want to die on BIG HILLS! And I want to stay focused on the HARVEST FIELDS—not on self-appointed judges. I think Nehemiah had that mind-set if I remember correctly.
And so I pass on GREAT advice from a few heroic pastors who have successfully led healthy churches for many years.
“Don’t ever let another man hold your vision hostage!”