Perils of the Professionally Holy
(Many church members suppose if they were pastors, their battles with temptation would decline. Pastors, however, find just the opposite. Most of the old temptations don't disappear. Worse, they discover the pastoral life is filled with new opportunities to sin, in ways more subtle but no less corrosive to life in the Spirit. Mark Galli, who pastored in Mexico and California and is now a LEADERSHIP contributing editor, pays close attention to his own mutating motives as a pastor and gives us others' thoughts about pursuing pastoral holiness.
This article is condensed from "Dangers, Toils, and Snares," co-authored by Richard Exley, Mark Galli, and John Ortberg. Focusing on the hidden temptations of ministry, it is the latest volume in the book series "Mastering Ministry's Pressure Points," co-published by Multnomah Press and LEADERSHIP.)
Pick a century, any century, and you'll find lots of good advice given to pastors. In the sixth century, for instance, Pope Gregory, "The Great," wrote a whole book for pastors called "Pastoral Care," in which he outlined the ideal pastoral lifestyle, or what some might call pulpit-committee utopia.
The pastor, he wrote, "must devote himself entirely to setting an ideal of living. He must die to all passions of the flesh and … lead a spiritual life."
All well and good if you stick to generalities. Gregory doesn't.
"He must have put aside worldly prosperity; he must fear no adversity, desire only what is interior. … He is not led to covet the goods of others, but is bounteous in giving of his own."
Certainly. Well, most of the time anyway.
"He is quickly moved by a compassionate heart to forgive, yet never so diverted from perfect rectitude as to forgive beyond what is proper."
Let's just say we manage this delicate balance, uh, every so often.
"He does no unlawful act himself while deploring those of others, as if they were his own. In the affection of his own heart he sympathizes with the frailties of others, and so rejoices in the good done by his neighbor, as though the progress made were his own."
No tasty resentment of spiteful elders? No gossip or jealousy of Pastor Homogeneous at Mega-Growth Community Church?
"In all that he does, he sets an example so inspiring to all others, that in their regard he has no cause to be ashamed of his past. He so studies to live as to be able to water the dry hearts of others with the streams of instruction imparted."
Yeah, and the Pope is Protestant.
Yet Gregory is right. This is precisely what it means to be a pastor or Christian leader, because this is what it means to be a Christian. It's only reasonable to expect teachers of Christian virtues and leaders of Christian congregations first to model Christian behaviors.
The call to pastoral holiness, then, is right. It's reasonable. It's also ridiculous.
Not because Christian leaders are slothful, though sometimes we are. Not because we don't care, though sometimes we don't. No, most of the time, we fall short of holiness because ...