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How Preachers Build Street Cred

Ministry can be discouraging. Oftentimes, it means bearing the brunt of personal attacks from every angle. Pastors are told they’re paid too much, they don’t do anything, they aren’t competent or they aren’t godly enough to have their position.

Sometimes—many times, in fact—we can feel like we’re just not cut out for it. When we look at our long list of flaws, and the matching list of accusations from others, it’s tempting to throw in the towel.

Fortunately, St. Paul gives us a model response to these inward and outward accusations in 2 Corinthians 3.

Paul on supernatural call

After being criticized heavily by the Corinthian church for his lack of accreditation, St. Paul turns the conversation theologically:

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.

“And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.

“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 

“Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.

“Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

A different kind of accreditation

When Paul is accused of incompetence, he doesn’t turn to his degrees. He doesn’t turn to his righteous obedience to the letter of the law. He doesn’t appeal to his visionary leadership or his preaching skills or his good looks.

Instead, he appeals to something else entirely: the transforming work of the Spirit of God.

“You want to know I’m God’s servant?” he says. “Look at how the Holy Spirit has transformed your life and the lives of those around you.” In other words: “Accuse me all you want. But this isn’t ABOUT me. It’s about God’s Spirit, transforming lives. I’m just a vessel of His glory.”

Paul isn’t interested in being accredited from a worldly perspective. Why? Because he doesn’t want his ministry marked by him. He wants it marked by lives that are changed for God’s glory.

Relying on the Spirit’s street cred

I know for me, it’s tempting to find ways to prove to those I minister to that I’m competent intellectually, relationally, spiritually, etc. But Paul’s words here challenge me: I’m not to try to win anyone’s approval or awe. Instead, I’m meant to seek after the transforming power of God in the lives of those I minister to, so that I can boldly stand before the Lord.

What does this look like every day?

Here are some questions I’m asking myself in response:

1. How can I spend more time relying on the Spirit through prayer?

2. How can my next message clearly differentiate between the Spirit’s power through the gospel and the “letter of the law”?

3. What are some ways I can look for and celebrate the Spirit’s work in the lives of others?

4. How do I respond when I’m accused of incompetence?

5. In what ways am I relying on worldly accreditation for my other-worldly call?

How about you? How can you rely on God’s competence through the Spirit this week rather than your own?  

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Nicholas McDonald is husband to lovely Brenna, father to Owen and Caleb, M.Div student at Gordon Conwell Theological seminary and youth/assistant teaching pastor at Carlisle Congregational Church. He graduated with his Bachelors in Communication from Olivet Nazarene University, studied literature and creative writing at Oxford University, and has spoken internationally at camps, youth retreats, graduations, etc. He blogs about writing, preaching and the arts at www.Scribblepreach.com, which has been featured on The Gospel Coalition, Knowlovelive.org and Challies.com. He currently resides in South Hamilton, MA.