January 5th, 2021
Alarming it is to witness how much the construct of comparative ministry continues to be a significant issue for ministers in every denomination. In some instances, this construct is a driving problem, which breathes confusion and chaos. As the New Year begins, and life slowly returns to some form of normalcy, there’s a huge probability that comparative competition in ministry will become an even broader problem this year, and in those to come.
The structure of comparative competition often stems from many factors such as congregation size, financial struggles, worship team, but mostly its origins lay in prideful behavior. In church leadership consultations, it is distressing to experience some of these same forms of behavioral patterns studied and written about between the years 1656-1685 and later reproduced in 1974, continue to exist even more so today. Consolidated decision to write on this topic is validated by study and research of Richard Baxter (1615-1691). In a recent review of his writings, Setran (2016) noted that Baxter’s primary focused was to examine the habits where pride infiltrated ministers through the display of an elevated personal charge and through a significant need for human admiration.
To shed light on the danger of pride, Setran (2016) also pulled from recent writings of Tripp (2012) who stated:
Perhaps there is no more powerful, seductive, and deceitful
temptation in ministry than self-glory. Perhaps in ministry there
is no more potent intoxicant than the praise of men, and there is
no more dangerous form of drunkenness than to be drunk with your
own glory. It has the power to reduce you to shocking
self-righteousness and inapproachability…. It will make you look
down on people who are more like you than unlike you. It will cause
you to surround yourself with people who too often say yes and too
frequently are ready to agree. It will leave you spiritually unwise
and morally unprotected. And all of this will happen without your
notice because you will remain convinced that you are perfectly
okay. (p. 167)
It is a suggestion to read this book if prideful leadership problems reside in your church.
In the Puritan classic The Reformed Pastor Baxter wrote to ministers:
One of the most heinous and palpable sins is pride. This is a sin that hath too much interest in the best of us, but which is most hateful and inexcusable in us than it other men. Yet, it is so prevalent in some of us that it indicteth our discourses, it chooseth our company, it formeth or countenances, it putteth the accents and emphasis upon our words. It fills some men’s minds with aspiring desires, and designs. It possesseth them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, or who by any means eclipse their glory or hinder the progress of their reputation. (p.3)
In Baxter’s writings above, the words most aligned with this expression are the ones which say, it fills some men’s minds with aspiring desires, and designs. Desires and designs are embedded in the pride of comparison and competition. Not only are these designs obvious in church buildings, craving for praise from devotees through social media platforms, in the sale of books, creation of blogs, vlogs, and so many avenues, are likewise disturbing. These platforms exist to showcase, but in essence; rounds of dialogues as forms of pushed enhancements, can become addictive. In addition, they can also backfire in many aspects. The perils of ministerial pride are no laughing matter.
To ease the burden of prideful competitive comparison, hearts and expectations should be cleansed. The heart must consistently ask itself why the praise of man is more prevalent over that of God. Baxter called this a sense of dishonest refuge. It is dishonest, because the hunger for acceptance can never be filled by man.
John 1:12 says- “I am God’s child.”
Romans 5:1 says- “I have been justified.”
Ephesians 1:5 says- “I have been chosen by God and adopted as his child.”
Three of many written words of validation are represented above. Pride is walking ahead of the Spirit and not with the Spirit. Framework in ministry, must walk with Jesus. Trying to stay ahead of Him, even when writing or speaking about Him, will never behoove the presenter. Jesus is the only breath of life. Taking shortcuts, often result in breathless exhaustion. Re-examination is the key to ultimate humility in ministry, which according to many chapters of the Bible, is the only stance ministers should take to keep prideful competitive comparison in their place.
Baxter, R. (1974). The reformed pastor. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust. (Original work published 1656).
Setran, D. (2016). “Conquering the ‘tyrranical commander:’” Richard Baxter on the perils of pride in Christian ministry. Christian Education Journal, 1, 59.
Tripp, P. D. (2012). Dangerous calling: Confronting the unique challenges of pastoral ministry. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.