I heard these words a few times as a youth pastor, when I was just cutting my teeth in ministry, and I absolutely relished them. It was confirmation to my heart and my soul that I was doing what God had called me to do. I’ve heard these words now as a senior pastor and they aren’t nearly as appetizing—they are frightening.
What are these five words?
“I’m here because of you.”
Those words once fed my ego—or maybe just my insecurity. I could look around and congratulate myself that a handful of people were there because of the way that God was using me in preaching, relating or just because of my vision for doing things. I’d be lying if I said that a good part of my excitement wasn’t just fleshly pride.
But now…those words terrify me.
First, those words terrify me because I know if you are here because of me you’ll likely also leave because of me. I’m not sufficient. I’m not competent enough or holy enough to captivate affections or attentions. I’m going to preach terrible sermons. I’m going to step on toes. I’m going to sin against you. I’m going to let you down. And if you are here because of me when those things happen—and they will—you’ll be tempted to leave and find someone else who will also let you down. This terrifies me because I know up front who I am and I know that I cannot live up to those expectations.
Secondly, those words terrify because I’m not Jesus and I don’t need the temptation to think that I am. Oh, there is something so carnal and prideful within me. Abominable thoughts that I’ve got what it takes to grow a church, to keep people, to disciple people. Foolishness. I’m not able to save a single soul. I cannot captive the heart of anyone (nor would I want to). But when I hear words like those dastardly five, I’ve got a battle to fight.
Third, I’m a person and not an asset. It does something to my soul when this truth is forgotten. I need people not just to lead people. I need the vital companionship of the local church just as much as you do. But whenever I’m viewed as an asset (or liability) I’m robbed of a bit of my humanity. My family and I aren’t performers. We’re people. Broken people being redeemed—oh, it feels so slowly redeemed—by Jesus.
If you want to talk about all of the “assets” in our local church, I ought to be somewhere near the bottom. The people doing all the behind the scenes work, the lady who wakes up at 3 a.m. and prays for me, the folks laboring in the kitchen for our Wednesday meals, the folks giving up their Thursdays to put together hundreds of backpacks for the children in our community, these people are the real assets. But they are people too and not assets.
Lastly, these words provide for me a dangerous temptation to start focusing on press clippings and opinion polls instead of the Word. It is in the Word of God that power is found. Paul Tripp is correct when he says, “Perhaps in ministry there is no more potent intoxicant than the praise of men, and there is no more dangerous form of drunkenness than to be drunk with your own glory” (Tripp, 167). If I start focusing on whether or not our numbers are growing, if people are happy with my preaching, if we are developing a good reputation in the community—all of that jazz—then, I’m going to cut corners that shouldn’t be cut. I’m going to put my eyes on the wrong prize and we’ll blow this whole thing up. We might even become successful by some God-forsaken standard but when we stand before Almighty God it won’t be pleasing. I want to focus on His glory and His honor and not my own.
Friends, I’m not sharing these words today because I’m a super humble man. I’m sharing them because I’m a glory monger and I don’t want to be. Those words terrify me because I know my own heart, my own propensity to self-glorification and I know how easily I could make shipwreck of this whole thing.
I’m feeling these words of Robert Murray McCheyne after preaching his last sermon at Carron-shore:
My last. Some tears; yet I fear some like the messenger, not the message; and I fear I am so vain as to love that love. Lord, let it not be so. Perish my honor, but let thine be exalted forever. (53)
So I’m praying with McCheyne this morning…perish my honor. Don’t let this jar of clay try to rob You from one ounce of glory. Let’s tremble at God’s Word alone.