Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:10).
Keeping up appearances: Professionalism without heart
My wife and I love the BBC comedy hit, “Keeping Up Appearances.” It’s the story of an upper middle income woman named Hyacinth Bucket (which she pronounces “Bouquet”) who struggles to maintain he facade of high society in the presence of lesser mortals. At exactly the right moment in each show when she is trying to impress her neighbors with her good taste — along comes her very low society relatives to blow her cover!
The Methodist clergyman and writer Charles Merrill Smith wrote a tongue-in-cheek book for preachers a few decades ago entitled, How to Become A Bishop Without Being Religious.1 It was a poignant satire about keeping up appearances while sacrificing your ministry. Smith essentially shows that, like Hyacinth, keeping up appearances in the ministry is a sham.
I want to borrow his approach to express the truth of God’s Word to a potentially devastating and most often silent killer in the ministry: professionalism without a heart.
I do not mean to say that we are not to be professional. I do not mean to charge that those of us who seek to improve our ministries through education and associating with others in the ministry are wrong to do so. Certainly if we are improving, then it stands to reason that we will serve our people better.
What I mean when I say “professionalism without heart” is that condition of ministers — and I believe that we are all subject throughout our lives to this insufferable propensity — which prioritizes utility over passion.
To put it another way, professionalism without heart means to do ministry without getting dirty.
Paul must have known that Timothy faced this possibility. In our passage, the Apostle encourages the younger minister to be extravagant with his service to the saints at Ephesus. He calls for a “hands-in-the earth” approach to ministry.
We need to hear this today. You and I both know that we can lose our ministries and still excel in our professions as ministers and church leaders.
In keeping with the spirit of Smith’s sarcastic title, I want to show you from God’s Word how to lose your ministry and actually excel in your profession.
Follow me closely…
I. You can lose your ministry and excel in your profession if you do it the easy way. (2 Timothy 2:3)
Now, St. Paul says in verse three that we are to “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3).
Paul uses the metaphor of a soldier in warfare. When Paul writes, “endure hardship,” I know what he means.
I remember my officer basic training as an Army Reserve chaplain. We had to crawl under live fire on a beach about 100 yards long. I remember the horror of the sound of incoming missiles. It was a struggle to crawl beneath fences and around exploding bunkers. I remember saying that if I got to the end of that beach without getting hurt, I would never want to “soldier” again! Of course, as soon as I got my breath again, we had to head out on a night patrol through a dense forest and endure the tension of possible booby traps and the ever present hazard of enemies hiding in the brush coming out to attack us. Now, it was all training and not real. But, I can tell you that I slept good that night. Soldiering is hard work!
Each of us called to preach the Gospel of Christ and to labor in governing the spiritual affairs of the Church of Jesus Christ have the responsibility to fight the good fight of faith as soldiers. It’s like crawling across a beach with live fire — you are seeking to lead people in God’s Word while the world is sending over missiles! Disease and sinful attitudes and a plethora of counseling issues fire at you even as you seek to teach the people God’s way.
It seems as soon as you get a program going that will result in discipleship, Satan or the world or the flesh throws another grenade at you! Soldiering is hard work and so is pastoring! My dearly beloved, if you haven’t figured it out yet — if you aren’t careful, it can make you look like a fool! Crawling around on a beach avoiding fire while trying to secure a beachhead is not usually done with a lot of grace and finesse! And I can assure you that trying to bring the Gospel to a community while being ambushed at every move by Satan can also make you look less than professional at times! You very well know that you can lose your jobs trying to advance the Word of God in our day to a people who enjoy the sins you are exposing!
Thank God though that we have the right weaponry — the Word of God! Praise be to Christ that our victory is sure in the Sovereign hand of Almighty God! Glory be to the Lord that the Commander in Chief of our Army is the Lord God of Hosts and every enemy shall fall before His mighty plan is finished!
But just in case you are more concerned about your career than your calling, let me suggest a few steps to help you:
(1) Identify difficulties before they confront you.
By identifying the fact that a given course of action could result in possible danger to your career, you can easily avoid crushing defeat by just avoiding the territory altogether. For instance, if you haven’t figured it out, by avoiding any teaching on financial stewardship you can avoid a whole host of difficulties.
(2) Steer clear of difficult people.
The second way to avoid a problem in your career is to do as one church consultant I heard said to do: “Choose who you lose.” That is, identify those people who are difficult and get rid of them. Force them to leave, somehow, so you don’t have to minister to them. Never mind that their behavior may be concealing deep pain. Let another minister who doesn’t have a professional image to uphold deal with them!
(3) Avoid standing for what could very well cause you to lose sleep.
This third way of doing it the easy way is designed to get the most out of life! When you consider that the value of a good night’s sleep is worth more than getting involved with sleep depriving, difficult issues — such as figuring out how to minister to the handicapped in your community and how to reach the unchurched in the two mile area around your church — you will soon be on your way to a more professional image. After all, baggy eyes and a wrinkled brow doesn’t do anything for your photo in the community news section of the local paper!
II. You can lose your ministry and excel in your profession if you will do it the popular way. (2 Timothy 2:4)
The Apostle tells us that “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:4).
The minister of the Gospel, the Church leader, every Christian in whatever place God has called them must have a single mindedness about his or her duty to carry out the Great Commission. He says here that our motivation is to please God. That is what Paul is saying. “Timothy, there are many lures out there which can rob you of your priorities as a pastor and one of them is to seek to please others. Do not yield to the temptation. When you pastor, dear boy, you are to do so with an eye on pleasing God.”
I’m going to tell you a story if you promise not to tell anyone else. When I was playing baseball as a boy in little league, I had a great coach. I would do anything to please that man. When I was in center field and a pop fly came to me, I would run and catch it and then I would just look over to “Mr. Sonny” waiting for his approval.
One day, I knew there was a girl from my class sitting in the bleachers. Now, this girl was a beauty. She was clearly out of my league, I thought, but, if I could just “wow” her with my athletic prowess, I could get her attention. Pleasing her — and of course, she had no idea who I was and I subsequently proved that she didn’t care — was the only thing I could think of when another ball was hit in my direction. I was going to have to dive for the ball catch it (but what a wonderful opportunity to impress that gal!). So, I did and I barely caught it, but I nabbed it like a pro! I came up and with great dramatic flair raised the ball in the air to show her and everyone one else that I had miraculously caught it! The problem was in the midst of my grand performance, the man on third tagged up, and with me taking a bow in the outfield, he trotted on into home plate and scored the winning run. “Mr. Sonny” got real mad. He benched me. And the girl had left the game to get a snow cone and never even saw my performance.
Isn’t that the way it is in the ministry? We seek to do it the popular way when God tells us to do it His way. Paul says we are to please our Commander, not the civilian world! In preparing our sermons, are we seeking to please God or show off the fact that we know Greek? When we sign up for our doctoral courses, are we seeking to become educated in order to please God or to impress the next pulpit committee? When we show up at the bedside of our church leader’s wives, are we there to communicate the love and healing of Christ to hurting people, or to show our church leaders, finally, just how hard we work? When we get an opportunity to preach to our peers — the way I am doing now — do we do it to “wow” them or just to be obedient to the One who has called us to preach?
Too often, we have made a decision in the ministry which we hoped would make us look good to a watching world, only to disregard God’s plan for our ministries. It’s a wonder He doesn’t bench us all! By His grace, may we resolve this day to work as unto the Lord and not unto men.
Of course, we can disregard the Apostle’s Spirit inspired words here and do it the popular way. How is that?
(1) Impress your peers
We all want to be admired. Why not use churches as stepping stones to get that perfect pulpit which will make everyone else envious! It will be obvious to all then of your natural abilities. Some may even believe that you are God’s greatest gift to your denomination and may be the next superstar!
(2) Patronize your parishioners
Of course, you must do this one! With just a little reading on Machiavellian technique, all of us can learn how to make our parishioners feel better about themselves — enough to leave us alone so we can spend time doing what ever it is we REALLY want to do!
(3) Please potential members
We all know that you won’t find anyone admitting this in a church growth manual, but, hey, we’re all professionals here, right? Avoid the sinner stuff; get around those pesky vows of membership, and just make them feel that as long as they keep their pet sins private, we’re not concerned about them. But, then again, there is that tricky little statement in 2 Timothy 2:4: “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:4).
III. You can lose your ministry and still excel in your profession if you will only do it your way! (2 Timothy 2:5)
Verse five says: “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5).
The notes to the old Geneva Bible on this verse provide our interpretation: “The ministry is similar to a game in which men strive for the victory, and no man is crowned, unless he strive according to the laws which are prescribed, be they ever so hard and painful.”
All of you Olympic buffs, answer me this: What do the Olympic committees do with people who win foot races while on performance enhancing drugs? That happened just a few years ago in Seoul, South Korea. What happens to a weight lifter on steroids? Of course, their victory is ruled ineligible. They are dismissed from the games under a cloud of shame. They could have been crowned with garland and a gold medal. Instead they are remembered as phonies and as disgraces to their countries.
The rules of ministry are easy. Carry out your charge whatever it is in spirit and in truth with an eye for God’s glory. That means different things to different people. For the church planter, it means establishing your church upon God’s Word not upon gimmicks and easy steps to success. For the pastor, it (means building ministries that will reach the lost and build up the saints — not just quick fixes to prop you up until you can advance to your next pastorate. For the church leader, it may mean actually getting involved with helping to shepherd the flock rather than just acting as an occasional glorified business consultant.
Naturally, this way of doing things can cost you dearly and even rob you of your professional image. But, if you chose to forego doing it God’s Way you will actually lose your ministry. You will miss the crown which He will give to His faithful servants on that day when He judges the living and the dead. Isn’t it much better to labor and toil for the prize and go to sleep at night knowing you are on the right track — no matter how difficult — than to do it your way?
But for those intent on doing it your way here, again, are some pragmatic tips for a sure-fire victory in the ministry:
(1) Think of yourself as the first one to ever do it.
Translation: church history is not for you! This is the 21st Century and you are in control of your own success or failure.
(2) Avoid the counsel of others.
After all, it’s not them who is responsible for building your nest egg. How will you make it up the ladder if you have pious friends warning you against what will obviously place you above them? Forget them! Aren’t you doing this for your families’ benefit?
(3) Rationalize away examples of how God’s servants in the Bible did it.
If your conscience bothers you after reading of how Joseph did it God’s Way rather than his way and yet still came out on top, then just consider that Joseph never had an article on “Career Management” published in his denominational magazine either!
But, I must call you back to these words: “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5).
IV. You can lose your ministry while excelling in your profession if you do it the least messy way (that is without getting too involved) (2 Timothy 2:6-10)
I come to my final point, and it is concerned most of all with our degree of involvement in the lives of others. Listen to 2 Timothy 2:10: “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10).
I must admit that I can imagine Paul saying that he would endure all for the sake of the glory of Jesus Christ! I can expect the great Apostle to admit that the cause of the Gospel motivates him to endure all things! I can believe that Paul would say that he will undergo persecution for the honor of God; but, it is shocking for me to hear him say that “I endure everyone for the sake of the elect.”
I am startled because I know that people can hurt you in the ministry. I know because I think it is true that people can use you in the ministry. I am not naturally inclined to give up everything for such people. I am not even inclined to give up much for people who like me! But that is what Paul is saying. His min-istry is driven by sacrificial love for others they might obtain eternal life in Jesus Christ.
Now, let me stick my clerical tongue-in-cheek for one final admonition.
Dear friends, this is perhaps the greatest risk to your career. To give your life for evil men — well, it will ruin you! To risk your professional image on people who could never appreciate your homiletical brilliance or your keen perception of the flow of history or your scholarly grasp of Hebrew syntax is to “cast your pearls before swine!” Come and let us reason together and let me show you how to keep your professional image secure:
(1) Do ministry without getting involved with people
Most people have not been to seminary and do not understand the real issues in the life of a church. Skip them and you can manage your future much easier and a whole lot quicker.
(2) Do ministry without getting involved with their problems
Can you imagine how far you can go if you don’t have to spend your emotional energies on couples facing divorce or singles facing loneliness issues or people struggling to understand what you mean when you preach?
Doctors or Healers?
O.K. — no more funny business. This is quite obviously just the opposite of what Paul is saying when he says he “endures all for the sake of the elect.” But, does his statement really characterize your understanding of your ministry?
You and I know that there is a temptation to define success in a way that is just opposite of what God requires for our ministry. And you and I know that one can do it and still get nominated for Clergyman of the Year!
But such success comes at a high price. And it is time for my little exercise to come to an end. Let me get very serious in closing.
I saw a movie the other day that centered on the life of a medical school community. It involved a young man who was struggling with his call to become a physician. At the end of the movie there was a quote which really grabbed me. The quote was this: “I made doctors, but people need healers.”
It grabbed my heart because it was spoken by a Medical School faculty member who, in dealing with her own inoperable and terminal disease, found that the very men she had trained were quite professional, but without the slightest evidence of a passion for her as a suffering patient. She looked at one of those young men: a fellow who was struggling with his call to be a doctor. It was that woman, that faculty member, who told a young medical student, “I made doctors, but people need healers.”
When she spoke those poignant words, she seemed to be telling him, “Don’t be just another professional physician … they lack the heart and soul that is truly needed by a patient who is gripped by fear of the unknown and who is placing her life in his hands! Be a healer! Have a heart for your patients! Show us that we are not just another manila folder in your clinical file cabinet!”
“I made doctors, but people need healers.”
I looked at my life and my ministry. I was growing in my profession while all the while possibly distancing myself from the real life pains of my people. I was diagnosing their spiritual conditions without weeping for them. I was getting professional without heart. Some of us are clergymen, but people need healers, others of us are professional board members of the church, but people need care givers.
How different we often are from the Apostle Paul who said, “I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus.” What beatings and insults and deprivation of every human comfort was Paul’s for the sake of other people! Paul was imitating Christ who said He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many! And he tells us in Philippians that we must imitate Jesus Christ! He offered His Body and His Blood as a sacrifice of unimaginable Love for a people who were sinners and who even hated Him to death! You can be a raging success and still lose your passion for souls which is your ministry.
Of course, you will never be happy. Of course, you will one day die and have to face the truth that it was not worth it! Of course, you will regret not having given your all to the ministry to which Almighty God had called you! For if God has called you to be an ambassador for His Kingdom and to plead with the hearts and minds of men to embrace Jesus Christ, you will never be happy until your life is in every way poured out as an offering for the sake of God’s elect.
Dearest fellow labors in Christ, please go ahead and commit yourself to improving your ministry. Become a sharper instrument in the Hands of Him who called you. But do it while getting your hands dirty in the rich soil of human lives which are in desperate need of those like you who are willing to love them and help them to “Obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
Seek God’s forgiveness if you have failed. Receive your renewal in Him and recover your passion for the ministry to which God has called you. Do it right now before you go any further. Your career can wait; your vocation cannot.
1Charles Merrill Smith, How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1965).
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:10).