Last week I wrote an article on the issue of self-promotion. Today I want to apply a few reflections from last week’s article specifically to pastoral ministry.
Postcards and Self-Promotion
Before I went to seminary I served for nearly five years as a youth pastor. I was fresh out of college with a Bible degree and a desire to disciple students when I took the job, so I didn’t give much thought to preaching opportunities outside the church. On a semi-regular basis, however, I would receive mail–typically oversized postcards–from men my age or a little older who were offering their services to my youth group. They were self-appointed Christian speakers who would be willing–for a fee–to speak at our retreats and summer camps.
At the time I found it slightly odd that these Christian youth speakers thought it necessary to advertise like the local hardware store or soda fountain. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but these 8.5″ x 11″ flyers just didn’t seem like a fitting way for young men to inform others of their ministry. This kind of self-promotion seemed out of place for servants of a Master who often turned down opportunities of self-promotion for the sake of the mission (see Matt. 9:30; 12:16; Mark 1:34; Mark 1:43-44; Luke 4:35, 41; 8:56).
Pastoral Ministry and Self-Promotion
As I noted in last week’s article, Scripture points us, not to self-promotion, but to quiet, diligent, day-to-day faithfulness and the honing of our God-given skills for the good of others. In due time, as the fruit ripens, God may choose to inform others of your work and provide greater opportunity for leadership and influence. But until then, we are to labor patiently, not for eye-service, but for the sake of Christ and the good of others.
These principles must be rigorously applied to pastoral ministry. We will be ever tempted to judge our usefulness on the number of opportunities we receive from outside our local church. If we think too highly of our gifts, we may grow discontent that we are only speaking to our own congregation week after week. We will begin to expect others to recognize our teaching abilities and find it strange–even offensive–when we are not invited to speak at various conferences and schools and churches. Our discontent, if left unchecked, will eventually lead us to indulge in the unfitting practice of self-promotion and self-invitation.
Spurgeon and Self-Promotion
Charles Spurgeon recognized this tendency among young preachers. He knew that young men in pastoral ministry would be distracted by grand thoughts of wide-influence and evangelical prestige from the calling to walk closely with Christ and shepherd those nearest to them (1 Peter 5:2). In his book Lectures to my Students, Spurgeon speaks straightforwardly to this kind of temptation:
Be fit for your work, and you will never be out of it. Do not run about inviting yourselves to preach here and there; be more concerned about your ability than your opportunity, and more earnest about your walk with God than about either (33).
The sequence of Spurgeon’s instruction matches the biblical principles we observed in last week’s article. Forget about creating opportunities for yourself; rather, hone your craft and set yourself to labor diligently everyday in the work the Lord has put before you. The opportunities will come later, as God sees fit. But at the root of your pastoral work will be a superior task: to walk closely with God through repentance, faith, and a well-ordered personal life that very few people see.
You may stumble at these statements. What about gospel-productivity? You might protest that we have an eternal treasure and we should seek to spread it far and wide! Yes, we should. But it is easy, especially for young ministers, to confuse zeal for the spread of the gospel with zeal for our ability to spread the gospel. It is no wonder that Paul does not allow young converts to assume the role of elder: they are far too susceptible to the wiles of pride and a sense of self-importance. Besides, the urgency of the message does not preclude the spiritual vitality of the messenger–it demands it. And spiritual vitality can only grow in the soil of humility (James 4:6). With regard to productivity, we often forget this key principle, stated by Spurgeon early in his Lectures: “…we shall be likely to accomplish most when we are in the best spiritual condition” (7). In other words, concern yourself first with your walk with Jesus, and the productivity will come.
Stewarding Your Gifts
None of this is meant to suggest that we should turn down opportunities to teach and preach outside of our local congregation. When the opportunities arise, through prayer, the blessing of your elders, and the careful consideration of the strain this may place on your family, you may determine that it is a wise stewardship of your gifts to accept such an invitation. Or you may not. Either way, the driving motivation won’t be the advancement of your pastoral career, but the good of others, especially your own flock and your own family. And you won’t need to waste your money on any oversized postcards.