The Pastor’s Family, Sloth, Jealousy, Competition, Sexual Lust, Ecclesiastical Politics, and Ministry Philosophy


by Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2003.

1. The pastor’s family, its importance, difficulties and witness. Practical ways I will minister to my family.

IMPORTANCE. The pastor’s most important human relationships are in his family. There his true identity is revealed and his sanctification is improved. If he is a tyrant at home, he will be a tyrant in the church. He may put up a good front for awhile with his congregation, but eventually, his true self will come out. Conversely, if he learns to serve his family as a loving shepherd – guiding, protecting, feeding – he will do the same with his flock.

Before I had children, I didn’t understand why some parents came late to meetings from time to time or didn’t show up at all. I expected them to be on time every time and had little patience with their seeming negligence.

However, after our two children came along, I began to understand from experience that kids get sick and have emergencies that cannot be prevented. I became more patient with the flock as a result. Similarly, God has used my wife to knock off some of the rough edges in my life. Because I can’t hide my true self from her, she points out my weaknesses and faults so that we can bring them to God in prayer for his sanctifying work.

DIFFICULTIES. The pastor’s family is vulnerable in some unique ways. First, everyone in the church (and sometimes outside the church) knows who they are. This can have a positive and some negative effects. It can be a source of comfort but it can also feel as though the family lives in a fish bowl where everyone knows their business. Expectations can be very high and they feel like they own you. It can also cause the family members to feel that everyone owes them something. Second, there will be a sense of loneliness because the pastor and his family will never be like everyone else in their eyes. Some folks think that pastors don’t have sex or understand sin, lust, and temptation.

WITNESS. The most important thing is to be authentic. The pastor and his family will be a model for other families, so they must be the same at home and at church. If not, the kids will become confused and the wife hurt. The best thing a pastor and his family can do will be to bring their values and practices into the church where everyone can see them – treating one another with love and respect, serving one another, disciplining when necessary but doing so in a way that is not demeaning. This testifies to the grace of God in practical family living that others can emulate.

PRACTICAL WAYS. I will minister to my family in the following ways. I will not leave them. I will improve my sanctification. I will communicate with them by listening to their concerns and responding to them in a loving manner. I will be demonstrative in my love for them by telling them that I love them, hugging them, affirming them and disciplining them when needed. I will seek their highest good by helping them discover and live out God’s will for their lives. I will pray with and for them and teach them God’s word so that they learn to do it for themselves and their families. I will protect them from the church by not using them as a negative illustration and not insisting that they participate beyond what normal members do.

2. Why sloth is dangerous. How I am going to avoid the “twin demons” of obsessive work and sloth.

Sloth is dangerous because it leads to ruin. Scripture tells us that laziness leads to trouble, death, destruction, poverty, and want, among other things (Prov 15.19; 18.9; 21.25; 24.30). It often doesn’t show up right away in the pastorate. The slothful pastor can neglect his duties for some time before anyone notices because most people are not clear on exactly what his responsibilities entail. They think if he preaches a pretty good sermon on Sunday he is doing his job. However, some pastors have the ability to preach without working very hard to do it. They have a silver tongue that allows them to get by with a minimum of study and effort. The pastor may even justify himself in doing so since he “gets the job done,” and besides, people tell him he always looks tired and his family says he is never home in the evening.

Moreover, the pastor who avoids prayer, visitation, evangelism, and applying discipline in the congregation will pay the price in time. After a number of years, the congregation will begin to reflect the neglect. They will stop growing in their spiritual lives and will begin to slip morally because they are not receiving God’s word carefully preached and taught. They will feel emotionally neglected because the pastor has failed to visit them in times of need. They will not be challenged to evangelize those around them. They will not be called to account when they sin against one another and against God. They will lose their zeal for the Lord. In short, they will reflect the life of the pastor.

Avoiding sloth and obsessive work requires accountability. It seems the best way is to appoint a couple men to make sure I’m doing what is required, but not overdoing it. They should be people with whom I can be honest about the pressures and boredom of the ministry and who can be lovingly honest with me when I’m going too far in either direction. I should meet with them on a regular basis to evaluate my life and practice. This is not a performance evaluation, but more of a heart evaluation. Am I still zealous for the work? If not, what can be done to restore that zeal? Am I spending enough time with my family and away from the ministry? If so, am I trying to control the church or am I running from problems in my family? These men should pray with me and for me on a regular basis so that I might maintain a balance between the two “demons” and for recovery when I fail to do so.

3. The problems of jealousy and competition and practical ways to remedy those problems.

Jealousy or envy in ministry is covetousness (the desire for more) directed toward other people. Conversely, it is the failure to be content with the gifts, talents, and ministry that God has given me. It is the desire to possess that which God has given to someone else such as a larger, more influential ministry, larger buildings and resources, or the talent to write books or songs. A jealous person is continually striving to gain what someone else has. The result is that he takes for granted what he himself has received from God, and neglects that. Saul was the anointed King of Israel, yet when David began to win military victories for the king, Saul became jealous of David. He despised the fact that the people were acclaiming David over him. Rather than rejoicing in the victories over their common enemy, he became David’s enemy, even trying to kill him many times. As a result of this and other sins, he was deposed as king.

Similarly, when a pastor becomes jealous of another pastor’s influence or gifts, he becomes in effect that man’s enemy. He is joining forces with the devil in sin against the man, rather than rejoicing in that person’s ministry and joining forces with him against the devil. He is likely to lose his ministry because he is spending more time and energy trying to gain what someone else has than on his own ministry.

Competition is comparing oneself to others in an attempt to best the other person, or to stay one step ahead of him. It is one-upsmanship. If my fellow pastor or a pastor from another church accomplishes “A,” I must accomplish “A+1.” I am compelled to show him or myself that I can do something better than the other person. When I was a teenager, a friend and I had an ongoing competition in spring-board diving at the local swimming pool. If he learned a new dive and added it to his arsenal, I had to learn another one to keep up with him. When I learned a new one he had to do the same to keep up with me. We always tried to stay one ahead of each other. That is the nature of competition. In pastoral ministry, competition might consist of comparing the number of members in the church, the number of baptisms in a year, the number of buildings in the complex, or the amount of money spent on the last building project. However, such jealousy and competition are sin.

Instead of engaging in the devil’s work, I should be faithful to do the work God has given me. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). If I have a relatively small church or ministry, I should concentrate on making it the best church or ministry it can be whatever its size. If I am primarily a church musician, I should not be jealous of the senior pastor. I should be faithful to use the musical gifts God has given me and rejoice when the pastor uses his gifts so that we complete one another for the glory of God.

Similarly, I should not be jealous of other church musicians who have larger or more influential ministries than I have, but make the most of the situation in which I find myself. I used this principle in high school. I went out for the cross country team in my junior year because the baseball coach made fun of how slowly I ran the bases the previous year. I wanted to prove to him and myself that though I could not run fast, I could run far. That whole year, I never beat anyone on my own team or any opposing team. I came in dead last in every meet. However, I was content with improving my own time with each successive meet. I was content comparing myself with myself because I knew my limitations. Similarly, each of us has limitations in our ministry gifts. We are faithful when we develop them to the best of our ability in the context God has given us to his glory.

4. Practical ways a pastor can deal with sexual lust. Comment on the spiritual disciplines one should exercise in avoiding moral failure.

Lust is evil desire. Sexual lust is evil desire in the arena of sexuality. In 2 Tim 2:22, Paul enjoins his readers to “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Two points arise here. First, Paul says that we are to flee lusts, that is to run away from, to shun or avoid them by flight. Likewise, to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “flee immorality” (1 Cor 6:18). Second, we are instead to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. We are to seek after, strive for, or follow righteousness et al. Therefore, we are to run away from lust and run toward righteousness so to speak. We must be proactive like Joseph who ran from the room when invited by Potiphar’s wife to join her in bed.

Following are some practical ways a pastor can deal with sexual lust. First, the pastor should have two men he can be honest with in this area. He should share with them his own struggle and the situations he finds tempting and ask for their help.

Second, he should admit that he struggles in this area like everyone else and try not to be overcome by guilt. He should remember that he is a man with the same temptations and failures as others. This will prevent him from hiding his sin, because when sin is hidden it grows greater in strength. Bring it into the light to diffuse its power.

Third, he must remember that the thought life is the genesis of moral failure. Jesus said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat 5:28). If adultery is committed already in the heart, it is only a small step to commit it in the body.

Fourth, he should avoid viewing certain materials, such as that on Internet pornography sites, Playboy and similar magazines, and certain cable TV channels late at night. Some men avoid using the Internet altogether while others subscribe to services that periodically send their list of websites visited to someone who will review the list and hold them accountable. Traveling can be especially dangerous since the pastor can participate in activities of which his family, congregation, and members of his community are unaware. He can easily buy porn magazines in airport bookstores and view late night pornography on the motel TV or view Internet websites undetected on his laptop computer. To compound the temptation, the pastor, who is normally a pretty lonely guy anyway, is more so without his family. It is therefore best if he can travel with a male companion or with his wife to minimize temptation. He can also have the TV removed from the room if he is staying more than one night.

Fifth, the pastor should be careful of giving signals to women, such as looking too long or touching in the wrong way. Finally, it helps to use a Scriptural reminder that one can repeat to himself in times of temptation such as Job’s saying, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. (Job 31:1).

Spiritual disciplines to avoid moral failure include the study of God’s word, meditation, prayer, confession, fellowship and worship. We should continually study God’s word on passages regarding immorality and purity. As we study these passages, we discover and capture God’s heart for righteousness and purity and his disdain for immorality. As we meditate on these passages, we memorize and internalize God’s will in this area and it becomes a part of us and a refuge in times of temptation. Prayer is a source of strength as well. In prayer we seek God’s strength to overcome temptation and we confess our failures.

We also confess our failures to other trusted people so that they can help us avoid the pitfalls of immorality and pray for us. True fellowship (koinonia) with other believers is a source of help as well. A pastor friend of mine says that addiction to pornography is a search for intimacy in the wrong way. Rather than delivering true intimacy, it delivers self-gratification that never satisfies and causes one to desire more and more. It is not surprising that intimacy is lacking in our self-sufficient society. We pretend that we don’t need one another, but we give ourselves away with our addiction to pornography. As we participate in true fellowship by opening ourselves more fully to a few people who can be trusted, our need for false intimacy will lessen. Moreover, as we open ourselves more fully to God in worship, it will have a similar effect.

5. The value of “chips” in pastoral and ecclesiastical politics. Give an ethical brief for the acquisition of “chips.”

“Chips” are personal political power or influence that is acquired by pastors when they minister to the needs of other people, whether in the local church or in higher church courts. When a pastor ministers to a person in the hospital, or who has a tragedy in the family, or some other valid need, the pastor collects “chips.” He is not only demonstrating love for the member, he is gathering influence that can be used later on. When the pastor has a need for political clout, he can “cash in” the chips he has collected with these people. Because he has ministered to them in a personal way, they are willing to help him accomplish his goals.

The essence of the principle is “I’ll scratch your back today so you’ll scratch my back tomorrow.” In ecclesiastical politics it may take another form. The pastor might support an issue of a group of elders on the session today. In return, those elders will be more willing to support an issue he holds dear later on. In the Presbytery or General Assembly, a pastor may speak in favor of a particular issue today and receive support from those he helped at another time when he has an issue before the court.

This is wrong when it is done by the pastor for personal gain (for me), but it is valid when the pastor does it for the good of the Body of Christ or the Kingdom of God (for us). What is at issue is the glory of God, and the purity and unity of the church. If the pastor’s aim in collecting “chips” is self-aggrandizement, gaining glory for himself, immorality or schism, then he is clearly in the wrong. The pastor must ask himself what his motive is in helping someone else. Is he seeking his own ends or is he seeking to further God’s kingdom?

For instance, it is common for a pastor who is visiting a member in the hospital to leave his card with a note if the person is asleep or out of the room when the pastor drops by. That way the person and his family knows that the pastor made a visit. Is this self-serving on the part of the pastor? If he does so only for more influential or wealthy members, then he would be showing favoritism, which is forbidden in James 2. But if he does so for every member, then he is preserving the peace and unity of the church.

Worse still is the pastor who fails to visit or tend to the needs of the less influential people at all, but spends most of his time hobnobbing with those from whom he can gather more “chips.” This pastor is obviously more concerned with his own welfare than that of the church. This can be the beginning of a schism in the church, the have’s and the pastor versus the have not’s.

On the other hand, as long as the pastor meets the needs of all the people in an even-handed way, if he spends more time with those who wield the power in order to get them on his side for the good of the entire church, this is valid. So long as his motive is the welfare of the Body of Christ and he does not show favoritism as he ministers, then he is doing well.

6. Why a personal ministry philosophy and a congregational ministry philosophy are important and how they are related.

A ministry philosophy describes the basic covenants, goals and plans a person or a church has for his/its ministry. Basically, this is a personal or church mission statement – “I/we will do this, I/we will not do that,” “I/we believe this, I/we do not believe that.” This is the line beyond which the person or church will not go on particular issues and practices such as doctrine, race, programs, polity, worship style, giving, and family. These are guided by Scripture first, then personal preference. No person or church can do all things, so they must choose what they consider the most important. These should be thought through and set down when a person or church leadership has a clear head, so that when the issues arise, it has already been decided what will be done.

If these are not decided ahead of time, the person or church will drift about and will be unduly influenced by those around them or among them who speak the most or the loudest. A person’s ministry philosophy should be in fairly close agreement with that of the church he serves in order for the relationship to work. Divergent philosophies can work together only if there is significant flexibility on both sides. Otherwise they will be pulling in opposing directions and the church will become confused and side-tracked by infighting. One group will want to follow the pastor while another group will want to follow the church’s philosophy and many will be caught in the middle.

The church I served had an established philosophy, but the new pastor’s was decidedly different, though this was not apparent at the outset. Over several years, he attempted to change the church’s philosophy, but because he did so in a covert manner, his efforts failed. He would have been better off never to have come or to at least to have registered his differences coming in and asked the church if they were willing to change.

The pastor must have his resignation prepared so that when he is asked to go beyond his philosophy he can tender it. The sooner the better. When a congregation’s philosophy violates Scripture, the pastor may be called to serve as a prophet. He may win the battle, but divide the church or he may win the battle for the next pastor. Then again, he may lose and have to leave.

However, most church ministry philosophies are simply a matter of taste. That is, in most cases, it is not wrong, it is just different. It is often simply a cultural issue that varies from one locale to another or one group of people to another. The wise pastor goes slowly when enacting change in a congregation’s philosophy so that he can maintain the peace of the church.

Originally written for Dr. Steve Brown, Theology of Ministry, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, December 2003.

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