Have you ever had the feeling sometimes that ministry is like walking a tight rope? I know I have-especially in those early days of pastoring when I had so little experience, and a whole lot of zeal. There are so many complexities when working with people who are carrying burdens or stuck in the mire of sin. Leading has many challenges, and if we are not careful, we can feel like someone is trying to shake us off of the tight rope of ministry.
Last night I shared a very helpful message with our church family, which was even more of a personal help to me. In 1Pe 5:2-3, Peter reminded the elders to
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
Although I’ve preached this passage many times, God spoke to my heart in a special way as I recently prepared this message. I used to think that being constrained dealt more with the pastor constraining the people “as being lords”, maybe forcing the flock into compliance, and so on. But what God showed me yesterday, was that far too often it is the pastor who feels constrained by those around him. The word “constraint” here comes from ἀναγκαστῶς “anagkastōs”, which means “to feel forced to”. In other words, it is the “elder” or pastor who feels forced to lead in a certain way because of those constraints that he feels on him.
Peter is warning the pastors against bad motives for shepherding God’s flock, and certainly feeling forced to do something is one of the worst motivators there can be. While there are many constraints that we can experience in ministry, I want to limit my remarks to a few relevant issues that pastors face today.
- FEAR– Probably the most strangulating opposition to ministry comes from fear. It cripples our courage and crushes our vision. Far too often we are constrained by “What will they think?”, “What will they do?” We fail to take giant steps of faith because we allow ourselves to be constrained by the unknowns. I read this encouraging statement recently. “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”- Winston Churchill. Paul reminds us in 2Ti_1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
- CULTURE– What do I mean by this? Everyone has a culture. It is made up of your background, your ethnicity, your upbringing, and many other innumerable factors and influences. These influences create our worldview, preferences, and even prejudices. In ministry, if we are not careful, we will operate within these constraints, which will ultimately limit the influence of our ministry and our effectiveness of reaching the lost. For me growing up in the south, my 11 years in the military was so helpful in destroying my preconceived notions about people and the world at large. The result? A church filled with all kinds of people, saved by the grace of God, and loving each other! Just like it’s going to be in heaven! Don’t limit what God’s wants to do through your life.
- TRADITION– This has been a hot topic as of late for many and I do not intend to address all the issues here. I simply want to say that there is a big difference between timeless principles from God’s Word and traditions based on those truths. What’s the difference? Principles never change, traditions do! Our loyalty must be to Christ and His Word, not a era or generation. I thank God for my forefathers in the faith and have no intention of forsaking their labor and investment into my life and my generation. But, nobody is perfect, and we have lost a generation of our youth because of some of those imperfections. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water! Simply adjust and move forward for the cause of Christ!
I have watched some of the brethren trying to live up to a pseudo standard that is built on constraints like these. It is always disastrous, and destructive to the work of the Lord. BE YOU! Let God conform you by His love and grace into a vessel meet for the Master’s use. The only constraint we should feel in serving God should be the love of Christ! 2Co_5:14 For the love of Christ constraineth us;