Let’s take a quick look at Hebrews 11:32-38. This portion of Scripture is often the focus of our attention because it is included in this wonderful chapter about faith.

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Samson of and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, mighty in war, foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

There are tangible accomplishments here among these heroes of faith. However, those who did achieve something which was quantifiable accomplished it by faith when they were in extremis. The gist of this amazing chapter isn’t the size of the tasks done by men and women but what it cost for them to believe God: “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” In fact, the writer assures us that these people, in spite of their suffering, didn’t even receive what God had promised: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39).

To be a hero of faith, the pre-eminent aspect is, well, faith, not earthly accomplishments. Most of the heroes are praised here not for what they achieved, but for how they were afflicted. We value faith among leaders—heroes—in the Bible. What premium do we place on it for leaders in the contemporary Church? Yes, of course, faith is necessary for us and a fruit of the Spirit that we rightly haven’t neglected in our teaching. However, it doesn’t necessarily produce anything tangible or measurable for our churches, does it? In fact, the kind of faith we read about in Hebrews 11 might actually cause us to suffer loss—loss that is considered praiseworthy in Scripture. In spite of this, our pastors and leaders do all they can to prevent loss, in order to insure the continuation and survival of their own local expression of the body of Christ.

We teach from this passage about how wonderful and worthy of honor these heroes of faith are. However, we preachers—the very people exalting what faith is about and the kind of people who had it—do not live this kind of faith-walk ourselves. We just talk about it. And, somehow, just by talking about it with some degree of authority, we seem to be included in that notable company.

Strange how that happens.

So what do we do with this? What do we do with the writer of Hebrews and the attributes of the heroes of faith? What do we do with Paul and how he commended himself? I’m not advocating purposeful attempts at suffering and loss in order to attain a share of Paul’s mantle of leadership. Nor should we induce self-destruction as a noble attempt to be included in that august list of the heroes of faith in Hebrews. What I am advocating, however, is a look at our hearts and motivations and what is commendable in ministry.

Please allow me to be blunt. All too often, we pastors and preachers have lifted up ourselves and our ministries. It seems as if we can’t help talking about ourselves. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. We need to grow. We need to be more influential in our communities. We need to get people into our churches. We measure our success by what we have achieved. However, what would happen if we decided not to talk about our accomplishments in order to complete a project? What would happen if we didn’t promote our ministries as a justification for raising money? I understand the justification. Money spent equals more people being reached for Jesus Christ. I get it. It makes sense.

However, it’s not biblical. It’s not what Paul or anyone else in the New Testament did in order to make their ministries “grow.” I realize what a massive shift in thinking this would be for us, a paradigm adjustment so great that it seems almost impossible to comprehend. What scares me is that something so biblical seems so bizarre and foreign according to our modern ministry models, that what Paul considered commendable is a value so challenging that we would not even remotely consider doing it. What has happened to us? How did we depart so far from what Scripture values?

Consider how Paul and the early disciples went about ministry. They were preachers of the gospel, teachers, pastors, apostles and workers of miracles. They labored with their own hands. They were faithful. They didn’t talk about their accomplishments in order to help their ministries grow. They just did ministry, serving others, plain and simple. They suffered loss, for which they were lauded.

Would anybody you know want to join the ministry using these biblical criteria?