My friend Gene Brock and I have been reminiscing.
We were classmates in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1960s, graduating the same year, ’67, and both went forth to pastor churches, he to SW Georgia and me to the MS Delta. These days, he’s serving sweet Little Ochlocknee Baptist Church outside Thomasville, Georgia, and this week I’m his revival preacherl.
We’re catching up on old times.
Gene and I agree that a revival we did for his church in Edison, Georgia, in the late 1960s is one of the best we’ve ever experienced. The funny part is how Gene invited me in the first place.
The mail that morning in Greenville, MS, brought a letter from Gene. His inviting me to preach a revival for him was most unusual, since we’d never been especially close during seminary, just classmates. But it was how he began the letter that we still joke about.
Dear Joe: If you are still as enthusiastic as you were in seminary, I’d like to invite you to preach a revival for my church.
I wrote back and said, “Sorry. Not as enthusiastic. Try someone else.”
I did not do that. No way was I going to admit to having dampened my enthusiasm for the Lord, for life, or for the Lord’s work.
I am enthusiastic about life, the Lord, and ministry to this day. I hope you are. But if not, it needs to be addressed.
That’s what this is about.
As you probably know, enthusiasm is a combination of a couple of well-known Greek words: en meaning, what else, “in,” and Theos for “God.” So, it refers to being in the Lord.
I suppose the Greeks felt that if a person were “in God,” there would be a power, an unction, a force, at work in his life. An enthusiasm about life.
We completely agree. No argument at all on that. The person closest to the Lord has a zeal for Him, an energy and focus. Enthusiasm.
I get letters, emails, and phone calls from pastor search committees asking about various ministers who are candidates for their pulpit and have listed me as a reference. Often, the caller says, “We’re looking for someone who is enthusiastic.”
That tells me a lot of things. In most cases, it means the previous guy was not very energized for Jesus and consequently they’ve put that toward the top of the list. Had the most recent pastor been on fire for the Lord, full of zest and energy and power, chances are the committee would not think of it, but simply assume all pastors were that way.
I get calls from people on the other end of the equation too–church leaders upset that their pastor has no enthusiasm, and they wonder what can be done about it.
Herewith my quick analysis of the matter of enthusiasm in pastors.
Enthusiasm is important, but there are things it cannot do.
Enthusiasm in the minister cannot compensate for shallowness in his preaching, laziness in his study, rudeness in his behavior, or the neglect of his prayer closet.
Many years ago as a young preacher I found a quote in a book that of all the leadership qualities to be coveted, enthusiasm was highest. I had written in the margin, “Not so. Hitler was enthusiastic.”
True enough. Enthusiasm is no substitute for truth, compassion, or goodness.
Enthusiasm must never be faked.
Car salesman are often taught to turn on the giant smile, turn on the disarming charm, and turn the vulnerable buyer on to himself. Faking it is a natural aspect of good salesmanship by many in that business.
The speaker or salesman, the preacher or teacher, the friend–anyone in the people business–who psyches him/herself up to manipulate an audience is your enemy. Tricking people into anything is unworthy of a person called by the Living God to speak Truth.
A sham enthusiasm is an ugly, repulsive thing. Far from attracting people, it drives them away. Far from impressing others, they can see right through it.
I have sat in meetings of our denomination listening to the loud enthusiastic rants of some preacher and come away feeling something just wasn’t right about that, only to find out later from someone who knew him well that the man was a charlatan, an abuser of staff, a neglecter of home, and consumed by a need for power and a lust for attention.
Healthy enthusiasm can do wonders.
The pastor who beams with the energy of the Lord is a joy to behold and pleasant to hear. The speaker who exhibits a proper amount of energy will never sedate his audience but will awaken them to his cause.
A healthy enthusiasm is like colorful flowers adorning the church grounds: it does not guarantee what’s inside, but it surely attracts the indifferent and interests them to the point they’re willing to look further.
Think of it as flavoring a speaker’s message.
Anyone in doubt of this need only think back to the last boring drone you heard speak from any kind of podium. You could not focus on the content of his message, could not give him a proper hearing, and could not wait to get out of the building.
Enthusiasm for the Lord’s workers is a spiritual thing.
A pastor I know is letting his church die around him. From all reports, he will not budge off the starting blocks. This man of the Lord–we are assuming a lot here–does as little work as he can get by with, takes no suggestions from anyone, and is generally unwilling to initiate any ministry. He repeatedly resists attempts to salvage what’s left of his ministry. “Lack of enthusiasm” does not begin to tell his story.
It’s likely that this preacher has a deeply ingrained spiritual problem, a sin addiction of some kind that has its hooks in him so deeply it drains all energy out of his spiritual life, saps any thoughts of spirituality, and leaves him an empty shell at the end of the day. To rescue him will require drastic action.
A friend whom I consulted about that pastor suggested he may be suffering from chronic depression. Maybe so. But I have my own suspicions.
I think Satan has his mitts on him, has him in his clutches, probably in a stranglehold, and won’t let go easily. This kind cometh not out except with prayer.
Enthusiasm is a spiritual thing.
Being close to the Lord–being clean and pure, forgiven and indwelt, being surrendered and committed–will do more than anything known to mankind to energize everything we do for Christ.
The source of unction in preaching is a life committed to Christ.
The source of energy in life is a daily walk close to the Savior.
The source of a spring in your step, a lilt to your conversation, a smile in your heart, and a power to your ministry is all the same: nearness to the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
The pastor search committees wants a pastor with energy and enthusiasm. And yes, every church wants a pastor who reeks of the joy and power of the Lord’s presence. These are no-brainers.
But neither is the source of these a mystery. The joy of the Lord is your strength.
Sin corrupts. It destroys, contaminates, pollutes, stains, soils, debases, uglifies, destroys, lessens, and poisons.
The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.
After I am cleansed and close to the Lord again, I am once again filled with the joy of the Lord and energy for ministry. That’s no accident, but is the way the Father made us. We work best and well when we do things His way.
Check out Psalm 51 and see if this is not the testimony of David.
Servant of God, keep yourself close to the Saviour–with all this means of your daily devotional work–or suffer the consequences.