In the last post about how we Christians are to commend Church leaders, we asked these questions:
What do we value in the Church?
What is commendable?
What kind of people are we looking for in our pastors and leaders?
Are the criteria we use for making these value judgments biblical?
To find some answers, let’s look at this passage from 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, where Paul is attempting to convince the Corinthian church that he is indeed a leader, worthy of their respect.
“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
Let’s compare how we in the contemporary church in the United States commend ourselves, with how Paul commended himself. Admittedly, all Christians share many of the hardships and attributes that Paul lists here. Many of us exhibit the fruit of lives lived in the Spirit that are included in this passage: knowledge, patience, kindness and genuine love. What is notable, though, is not so much what is present, but what is absent. In order to commend himself, nowhere does Paul bring up how many churches he had planted, and we know that he planted a few. Nor does he reveal how many people he had brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ—and we know he was an evangelist. There is no mention of the number of healings or deliverances—and we know people were healed through his ministry. We don’t read here about the numerical size of the meetings Paul led. No, what we see in Paul’s apostolic defense is a catalog of affliction, virtue, sacrifice and loss, as well as fruit of the Spirit.
There is a difference in what Paul valued in ministry and what we value. Paul valued sacrifice and character.
We value numbers and results.
We see this again in Paul’s apostolic defense in 2 Corinthians 11:21b-33.
“But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.”
There was a myriad of things Paul could have boasted about. But he makes it clear that if he is to do any boasting, it will be about his weakness.
I guess he wasn’t interested in speaking at conferences.
Imagine if you will, a promotional flyer for a Dynamic Spiritual Life Conference, with Paul as the main speaker:
“This year’s conference will be held at the beautiful Boca Raton Opulent Inn. Our keynote speaker will be a man known all over the world: Paul the apostle. He will tell us how to make maximum spiritual impact for Jesus Christ in our world! Learn how to be hungry and poor! Learn what to do when you get beat up by an angry mob! Learn how to be weak and in constant danger! Your ministry will be greatly enriched!”
There isn’t any tidy outline in these passages in 2 Corinthians on how to become a leader, a topic we have almost been obsessed with—only a testimony, again, of sacrifice and loss. Once more, no mention from Paul about what we too easily call the “fruit of ministry”—salvations, baptisms, church plants—no numbers in any way whatsoever. Paul is saying, “Do you want proof that I’m an apostle? Let me tell you about how I’ve sacrificially offered my life to Jesus.”
We don’t hear this kind of talk very much, at least in my experience, when we want to know how to become pastors and leaders.
Numbers. We all say they don’t matter. Pastors of mega-churches say they don’t matter. Pastors of medium-sized churches say they don’t matter. Pastors of very small churches say they don’t matter. We keep saying it, and perhaps some of us believe it. But let’s have a moment of transparency here. Scan quickly and make a list of notable pastors. Why are they notable? For any of the reasons Paul mentions? No. They are notable either because they have a large church or they’ve written a book. What we consider commendable for leaders and what the Bible considers commendable are at odds with each other.