The Danger of Ministerial Ambition

I give a great deal of my personal time to ministers. I love ministers. I love the church even more. Because of these two great loves I sometimes have real conflicts. If forced to choose, and thankfully I am not usually forced, I will always choose the church as my higher priority. The reason for this is very simple. The minister exists to serve the flock, not vice versa. The flock must be protected, loved and shepherded, even if the minister fails. I might better say, especially if the minister fails.

Martin Luther wrote a great deal on the minister and the ministry. He was a shepherd who cared for the souls of real people thus his pastoral insights are often balanced and wonderfully bracing in their directness. It was Luther who once said of the ministry: ambitio praedicatoris est ecclesiae pestis. Simply translated the Latin sentence means, "The ambitious preacher is a pestilence to the church."

If I see anything that regularly alarms me about some of the most important role model evangelical preachers in America that disturbs me to my depths it is a crass ambition that is so often common to "big" ministers and ministries. It seems almost endemic to our evangelical church culture at times. And most ambitious ministers defend their ambitious plans and ways as God’s gifting, or God’s call, or their holy passion, etc. The people of God suffer deep harm under such ministers and very few realize the depth of this harm until they have paid a huge price in their souls. There is no place for such pride in the minister.

The solution to this problem is for the minister to gaze more intently upon Christ and thus to see oneself again and again as very little in his presence. The knowledge of God, as Calvin said, must result in the knowledge of self. We need less and less "big men in our pulpits" and more and more of an all-sufficent and glorious Christ living through small (weak) ministers.

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