By Sean Sears
I hated history in high school. It probably had more to do with the bland personality of my teacher than the actual subject matter itself. That guy, as nice as I’m sure he was, could have made Disneyworld boring. It may be because of maturity, or the fact that there is as much history behind me as future in front, but I love history now. Living near Boston makes me particularly inclined toward the American Revolution.
My town of Stoughton was founded in 1726, making the original founders more British than American. The birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams is less than 15 minutes from my home. When visiting Boston Baptist College, I drive right past the Suffolk Resolves house. I could go on, but it is sufficient to say that I have access to as much Revolutionary history as my heart desires.
I’m currently reading Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis. In one particular chapter, he speculates on the motives behind Aaron Burr’s and Alexander Hamilton’s famous duel. Each man felt his character injured by the other man. Ellis writes that they believed “personal character was essential in order to resist public temptations” and felt bound to defend themselves. This passing comment stands out in contradiction with today’s political climate. We’ve segregated our elected officials’ private lives from their public ones. It’s possible that politicians aren’t the only ones guilty of this.
I think we consistently run the danger of doing the same thing as pastors. Each of us is gifted by God to equip the saints for ministry and to build the body of Christ. We use our gifts to the best of our ability and leave the results to the Lord. The problem is that I’ve seen our church grow and make disciples when my heart wasn’t right with God. How is this possible? This goes against everything I’ve ever thought about ministry.
I questioned this apparent contradiction once with a pastoral mentor in relation to a pastor who had failed morally. His ministry was blessed, by most people’s assessment, even while he had a long pattern of personal lapses of integrity. My mentor got quiet at one point and then said, “Son, God has a habit of using severely flawed people and some day you’ll be glad He does.” Personal history leads me to believe he is right. Scripture is full of examples where God used men and women who were less than exemplary in their faith (think Sarah and mistrust, Gideon and cowardice, David and lust, Peter and fear, etc.).
Unlike the founding fathers who were not guaranteed that the American Republic would survive, we know God’s kingdom will. It is because of this confidence that, I think, I am prone from time to time to let myself off the hook regarding my personal struggles. God will bless if Jesus is lifted up and saints are praying, even in spite of me. If I work my gifts and abilities well, things can happen even if things aren’t happening in my heart. And that is, sometimes, the most frightening thing about being in ministry.
I can find myself focused more on ministry success than on having a godly personal life. No one calls to congratulate me when my wife feels loved and honored in our marriage. I don’t get invited to speak at a mission conference because my kids get all the personal attention they need from me. People don’t call to talk church planting because I’ve been consistently spending time with God in prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. However, if we get this church plant fully independent in New England by our fifth anniversary, I could write a book people will want to buy! So, which do you think my flesh tends to focus on in moments of weakness and spiritual fatigue?
I may get by, from time to time, with unchecked personal pride, spiritual laziness, or ministry ambition, but “personal character [is] essential to public temptations.” A continued pattern of personal, spiritual neglect will inevitably lead to disqualification. We’re never beyond the grace of God, but I think we can get beyond our personal usefulness to the Holy Spirit in the positions of influence within God’s Kingdom that we currently occupy.
Writing these thoughts does not mean that I have conquered this matter of personal spiritual integrity by any means. It’s just that the Holy Spirit unexpectedly used a secular history book to remind me of a spiritual truth. God will not be made light of and we, as spiritual leaders, do have a greater responsibility to personal holiness. In eternity, it will not matter if Grace Church was financially independent within five years. I will not care who invited me to speak where. However, to misquote a popular pastor, God is most glorified when I am most centered on Him. He is honored when I honor Him as much out of the pulpit as in it.
It’s good to be reminded that who I am matters more than what I do. If that’s the lesson I learn today from history then, “Dear God, let history repeat itself!