Rev. Bill Berry served as the pastor for 31 years of a congregation in Marin County, California. He transitioned to part-time staff at the same congregation and has served there for another 4 1/2 years assisting the church through the transition to a young pastor and positioning the congregation to reach the younger generations. Over the past 16 years Bill has lead a group of pastors in Marin County to walk together seeking to foster a visible expression of the unity of the body of Christ. In addition to this he has been to India each of the last ten years seeking to help foster the unity of the church in various cities. Bill is married to Connie for 40 years. They have three grown children, all married and eight grandchildren. Bill is also a vital part of the present ACT3 Cohort group which meets during 2013-14.
If you are a pastor I ask you: “Are you pursuing security to establish your own identity in a way that is hindering your willingness to walk with other pastors in your community?”
Satan does not give up with one temptation in Matthew 4. After this encounter in the desert, he takes Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple. Again, he attempts to weaken Jesus’ confidence in His identity. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’; and ‘on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Imagine a crowd of on-lookers in the square. Satan says, “Jump! Look there is a great crowd in the square; if you jump, angels will come and catch you! People will see how amazing you are. You will have a great following and you will have a high approval rating.” The temptation is to do something spectacular that affirms Jesus as the Son of God and gain the approval of men.
If pastors do not rest in the unconditional sovereignty of God, they will be tempted to seek to do something spectacular on their own to gain the approval of others, and to feel loved, admired and affirmed.
Ananias and Sapphira provide good examples of those who gave into this temptation. Many in the Christian community were selling property and bringing the proceeds to share with others. Ananias and Sapphira sold their property and brought it to the church family, but withheld a portion. (Here they fell into the first temptation, believing they needed to hold back some, just in case God did not provide.) When Ananias brought the proceeds to the church, Peter asked if this was all they received for the property. Ananias answered, “Yes.” Why did he say, “yes”? He wanted to be seen as a spectacular Christian, he wanted the applause of men. When Sapphira came to the church she fell prey to the same temptation. The result: Both of them were struck dead immediately.
This is where the devil comes at me often, and where God puts me to the test. Sometimes it is in the most mundane circumstances. Not long ago I was with a mentor and friend. We met at the airport in Dallas to travel together to Abilene, Texas. After stopping to pick up a quick meal on the road, I volunteered to drive. My Friend said, “You can go about 85 mph here.” I never drive 85 mph at home. A little voice went off in my head and said, “You do not need a ticket.” But I did not pay attention to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Because my friend was tired and I wanted to please him, off I went. After a short time I saw a Highway Patrol car in the review mirror. The Holy Spirit had warned me, but I had wanted my friend’s approval so much that I ignored the warning. And got caught! This desire for approval will at times keep me from boldly speaking among the pastors of my community what I believe God is calling us to become as the one church in our county.
This temptation affects unity. A desire for approval may lead pastors not to participate. Again, a pastor may have a small congregation and feel nobody is going to recognize him or affirm him; in fact he is afraid of being judged because his church has not grown. Another pastor may be so concerned about doing something spectacular in his own congregation that he cannot make time for a group where he is merely one of many and may not get the personal recognition and admiration from which he derives his identity. The pastor of a large congregation may not want to join with others because his church has many congregants who have come from other churches; he is viewed as a superstar in his own church but afraid he will be viewed as a villain when he comes into the room with other pastors.
Look at how Jesus responded to this temptation, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Jesus lived as the beloved of the Father and did not need the approval of people. He did not have to perform spectacular deeds because he lived empowered by the words, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Ananias and Sapphira did not live with those words as a foundation in their hearts. They tested God and paid the price. I failed to live out my place as the beloved and instead let myself be swayed by my desire to experience Tom’s approval and I paid the price. Jesus prayed that we would be one and the only way for this to happen is for all of us to accept our belovedness, that we stand on level ground with one another, realizing none of us is spectacular; all of us are merely living our lives by the grace of God who calls us His beloved.
In the third temptation the devil takes Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows Him the kingdoms of the world, and their glory. “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” The temptation is one of position, power and control. Just think what Jesus could have done from the position of having control over the entire planet! The temptation is to grab for a position because position can bring power and control and a means to establish our identity.
Today it is often not good enough to be a pastor; many aspire to be a bishop, denominational head, or world traveler. The bishop has greater authority, greater influence, and declares, “I am someone significant.” I have seen this repeatedly in my travels in India. In a three day meeting some will come for the full three days. But when an individual of “position” steps in for a couple of hours, he is put in the place of honor. The pastor who has made the three day sacrifice may feel devalued, and be treated that way by other attendees. It is no wonder we battle with envy, jealousy and upward mobility– pastors striving for positions, clawing their way to the top.
Some will not join with other pastors because they will not be the top dog in the circle. Let’s be honest: We all have a tendency to sniff out where we belong in the pecking order. Others may not participate because they believe their ideas are always the best, or that the Holy Spirit has spoken through them. As a result they are unable to yield to others. Still others see themselves as so important to their congregation that they cannot give up the time, especially where they are not in control. Other pastors are unwilling to participate because they cannot control the outcome.
We have not been trained to work with other congregations. We were trained to grow congregations. This training may actually hinder our desire to reach a lost and dying world. Jesus said the world would believe through the unity of the body of Christ and the only way for the world to see that unity is for us to display it. We derive so much of our identity by what happens in our singular congregation. We often gain security, admiration and power through our congregational identity and position. Jesus says the only way for us to give the expression of Him the world needs is to live out of the glory He has given to us, not the glory of our achievements: “You are the beloved of the Lord.” And because we are beloved, we are secure, we are affirmed, we are servants of the God who is in control.
What is the true source of your identity? Is self-sufficiency, ambition, drivenness, fear, keeping you from engaging pastors of your community? If so, I challenge you to repent of falling prey to the devil’s temptations and become a participant in covenantal oneness with the pastors of your community.