By Joe McKeever
Just because people look at us when we stand to deliver a homily, we must not automatically think we possess knowledge, authority, or anything not available to the least among us. They could be listening for God.
Just because they fill the pews to worship God and in the process, listen to our sermons and say good things afterwards, does not mean they are there to hear us. They could be there for greater reasons.
If they laugh at our jokes and weep at our stories, we are not to think of ourselves as gifted communicators who have mastered our craft. It could be they are people of grace and graciousness.
We are messengers for Jesus Christ.
Anything more is wrong.
And could be dangerous.
In the early days of radio news networking, the Columbia Broadcasting System established a national hookup which allowed newspeople to speak to one another on the air at the same time from different locations across America. What is standard procedure for us was once revolutionary and radically new. Before they went on the air, news director Edward R. Murrow told his colleagues, “Just because our voice now carries from one end of the country to the other does not mean we possess any more wisdom than when it only carried to the end of the bar.”
When a young preacher is given acclaim for his pulpit work, he may find himself dealing with an onslaught of egotistical forces, powerful voices all telling him how wonderful he is, how brilliant are his teachings, how gifted his delivery, and yes, how superior he is to his colleagues.
The moment he starts believing that rubbish he’s in trouble. From the moment he sips of that kool-aid, he becomes less and less valuable to the Lord’s work, less helpful to the Lord’s people, and more susceptible to the enticements of the flesh.
The successful young preacher may find himself struggling with these temptations:
The temptation to pontificate. A preacher “pontificates” when he comes across as a little pope dictating behaviour and doctrine to his listeners. Something he said is true because he said it was so. Anyone questioning him risks bringing down the wrath of the Almighty upon himself.
All humility has gone out the window, all gray areas of doctrine have disappeared, and all questions of right and wrong have their solution in his pronouncements. Lord help his congregation. The preacher is on the path of Jim Jones of Jonestown.
The temptation to preen. Privately, he spends a lot of time checking his image in mirrors and goes to extremes to see that his clothing and coiffure are only the best. His public expects nothing less from him, he assures himself. The household budget is sacrificed so that he may dress the part he has chosen for himself. Pity his poor wife, if he has one.
The moment the messenger thinks he himself is the message, everything is downhill from then on.
The tendency to posturing. He expects to be treated differently from others, to be taken to the head of the line at the restaurant, to be recognized by the public, and acclaimed by everyone. Everything he does is determined, not by the question “what does the Lord want?” but “what will enhance my ministry?”
He becomes more and more demanding from those inviting him to preach. He will stay only in certain places, and requires a number of amenities in order to be comfortable. And did we say that the honorarium must either be sizeable or that he himself be allowed to solicit the congregation for the love offering?
The urge to control the publicity. It’s all about him. He either writes the articles or sees that someone does with the intent of puffing his resume, of glorifying his ministry, of selling his services. Do not read such puffery for factual reports because you will not find any. The meeting attended by 200 people by actual count balloons to a thousand by the time his spin machine tells it.
The tendency to use people who can help you and discount all others. If this successfully and acclaimed messenger of God happens to be a local church pastor, do not look for him to show up in your hospital room when you’re having surgery. He has underlings to handle such nitty gritty of pastoring. He’s interested only in the glory work, the television cameras and the crowds and the big numbers.
Such a minister–to use the word loosely–hones in on people with talents he needs and money he can get to.
Any pastor who has been in the Lord’s work for a decade or more has seen the type, and is sickened by it.
My brother was pastoring a church in Alabama and invited a well-known preacher to do a meeting of several days in his church. He arranged for a fine family in his congregation to host the guest preacher. However, the first day he was in town, the guest was introduced to another family in the church with big money. My brother was chagrined to learn hours later the guest preacher had moved out of the home where he had been placed, and moved into the million-dollar home of the family he had just met. He never invited that man to his church again.
Many years ago, when I was a pastor in my late 20s, we were having a good deal of success leading the teenagers of our city and encouraging those in other churches. On one occasion we scheduled a youth rally at the courthouse square and invited a popular young evangelist–really young, he was barely 18 years of age!–to speak to the crowd from the courthouse steps. He accepted, came, did the assignment, and left. The event went off fine. But I have never forgotten one thing the young popular preacher said.
With a grandiose manner, he exclaimed, “As I travel around this great world of ours….”
He’d probably not been out of the Deep South. I said he was 18 years old.
I wonder sometimes what ever happened to him.
Let the preacher say with John the Baptist, “He must increase; I must decrease.”
Joe McKeever is retired missions director for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Before that Mr. McKeever pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.