Tommy Bowden, former football coach of Tulane and Clemson, is quoted as saying, “I don’t want to follow my father at Florida State. I want to follow the coach who follows him!”
His father, the one-of-a-kind Bobby Bowden, has just retired after several decades at that university where he racked up the second most victories ever for a college football coach.
Preachers advise one another not to follow a pastor who either died or went to the mission field. You will never live up to the image left in people’s minds, whether it’s accurate or not.
People are funny about preachers. They give them a hard time, expect far more from them than any human can ever deliver, and are not unhappy to see them move on. But let a new pastor come in and suddenly the old one looks mighty good. Pray for the new guy. He has to listen to a constant stream of “When Brother Henry was here….” and “how Dr. Henry did things” without it seeming to bother him or slow him down. He smiles and mutters something about, “We are blessed to have had such a wonderful pastor, aren’t we?”
If he is experienced in the Lord’s work, he knows two things: 1) the fellow who followed him back at his former church is having to hear the same junk and 2) give it a little time, and he can outlive the memory of Brother Henry.
No offense to anyone named Henry. The name just popped into my head. (How many Pastor Henrys do I know? Jim Henry, Henry Cox, Bill Henry…)
The business of preferring one preacher over another is not a new phenomenon. In fact, that little carnal activity was not only present from the beginning, it wormed its way into the New Testament.
Paul talks about the “liking one preacher better than another” syndrome in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. In case you wonder, he was “agin” it. No wonder, since he came out on the short end of the comparisons. You and I are amazed at that. How could any preacher begin to measure up to the great Apostle Paul, much less surpass him?
No one surpassed him, I venture to say, except in popular appeal. Paul did not fare too well there. Apparently, he lacked somewhat in looks and his stage presence was not strong. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians goes into that, particularly chapters 10 and 11. Readers will want to pay especial attention to Paul’s resume in chapter 11. Pressed to verify his right to be called an apostle, he does the opposite of what they might have expected. He gives them what I call a “reverse resume,” listing not his awards and achievements, but the scars and suffering he has endured for Jesus. Let them try to match that!
At the moment, for our purposes in this piece, we’re turning to I Corinthians 4, the first 5 verses.
Bear in mind that in I Corinthians 1:11-17 and 3:21-23, Paul introduces the problem, the way people are choosing and preferring one preacher over others. Then he writes:
“Let a man regard us in this manner as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (4:1)
That’s all we are, Paul says. Servants of the Lord and managers of His mysteries. We are not repositories of all this treasure. We are not to be served and worshiped. We are like household servants scurrying around at the bidding of the Master. At best, we are managers of His farm, responsible to the Owner.
So, get the preachers off the pedestals.
“In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” (4:2)
If the manager of a farm is not faithful to his owner, nothing else matters. He is a failure. No matter how much the sheep love him, the cows come at his call, and the horses never want to leave his side–none of this matters if he is unfaithful to the Owner.
I suspect Paul intended this as a caution to the preachers themselves, not to be carried away by all the adulation from one group and the undercutting from another. Eyes on the prize, friend. You are the Master’s man; be faithful.
“But to me it’s a very small thing that I should be evaluated by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even evaluate myself.” (4:3)
I stood in the hallway of a church recently, checking out the photos of the long string of pastors this church had known over the last century. One or two names I recognized. The pastor said, “Notice that this one was here twice. Pity the ones who followed him, because they had to put up with ‘When Brother Allison was here’ and ‘No one preached like Pastor Allison.'”
You got the impression he was glad to be a generation removed from Pastor Allison.
What people think of me is completely irrelevant, Paul said. I’m not here to be popular; I was not sent to get you to like me. How you evaluate me is pointless. In fact–and this one we find a trifle strange–Paul says he didn’t even evaluate himself.
He didn’t mean that 100 percent. After all, later on, he told the same church to “examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (II Cor. 13:5)
Preachers–and every Christian worker–must not fall into the trap of thinking our opinion of our own ministry is any more accurate than anyone else’s. Paul knew himself well enough to admit he could be mistaken. No one judges himself perfectly. We tend to overlook some character defects and exaggerate others; we think we are better in some areas than we are and worse in others than we really are.
It’s the old “speck in my eye/beam in yours” tendency our Lord addresses in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 7:1-5)
Then, explaining why he does not evaluate his own ministry and constantly perform autopsies on every word and deed, Paul continues:
“For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the One who examines me is the Lord.” (4:4)
Sometimes our heart condemns us and sometimes it exonerates us. In both cases, it may be right and it could be wrong. We are not the judge; the Lord is; we are His servants and stewards.
I’ve not heard of a servant stopping halfway through his chores to grade himself on his work. The very act of stopping to grade oneself would be a form of disobedience. A good servant just continues on with the assignments.
Someone says, ‘Well, I feel guilty about this matter.” Okay, then talk to the Lord about it. But remember feelings are poor barometers of reality. Many of us have had the sensation of feeling condemned over past sins which we have confessed and knew the Lord had forgiven. And yet here we were, feeling that if we stood before the Lord at judgment today, we would be in big trouble.
Welcome to the human race. We are a fallen lot.
The beloved Apostle John apparently knew something about this. He wrote, “In whatever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us, we have confidence before God.” (I John 3:20-21)
When our heart condemns us as guilty and wants to lock us up, or when it announces we are guiltless and free to go, we keep our eyes on the Lord. His opinion is the only one that counts.
We would do well to liberate ourselves from bondage to our feelings.
“Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (4:5)
A judgment time is coming, but it’s not now.
A Judge is coming, but it’s not you. It’s not me.
A reward following judgment will come too, but the reward will be from God, not from “Time” magazine, not from the denomination, and most definitely, not from the congregation.
This is not all Paul had to say on the subject of rating preachers and comparing pastors and ranking servants of God. In fact, the 4th chapter of I Corinthians goes forward from here with the discussion. But it’s enough for our purposes this morning.
This tired little joke was probably told by the Apostle Peter to his wife, and it will get repeated until the Lord comes back….
After the Sunday service, on the drive home, the pastor was quiet, reflecting on the success of today’s message. “Honey,” he said, “how many really great preachers do you suppose there are in this world?”
His wife said, “I don’t know. But I can assure you there’s one less than you think there are.”
At another time, we’ll discuss the role of the pastor’s wife. Often she serves as the ballast in his ship, keeping him balanced and on course. And, as with the ballast in balloons, she helps him to soar when he’s down, but may have to bring him to earth when he is tempted to escape into the stratosphere.
Staying even-headed is tough for anyone; it’s hardest for a human being assigned to speak for God. The very idea!