Where have all the godly men gone? These days I ponder that question with increased frequency and concern. If the lack of godly men were only a matter of personality or ministerial preference, then little would be lost. Such is not the case, though. The church is in great need of awakening and renewal; and, in the spirit of Richard Baxter, its greatest need might well be godly men.
Not that long ago, “man of God” was a common and honored descriptor in the church. The phrase ranked alongside “great preacher,” “brilliant theologian” or “gifted writer” in frequency and surpassed them in value. Now, it seems as though the designation “man of God” has gone the way of the bus ministry and the youth choir—a largely passé reference to a bygone era of church life.
It is as though someone snuck into the shopping mall of the Kingdom and changed all the price tags, upsetting and inverting God’s value system. We have increased the mundane and ancillary aspects of Christian ministry, all the while cheapening its true virtues and values. In God’s economy, though, character is valued over talent, and holiness over giftedness.
Why So Few Godly Men?
Why is there a dearth of godly men? Admittedly, godliness is nearly impossible to measure, and godly men are nearly impossible to quantify. Yet, three factors seem especially to contribute to the paucity of godly men.
Many churches don’t seek men of God. Given the complexity of modern ministry, many churches prioritize giftedness and experience above godliness in their candidates for ministry. Churches often look for competent administrators, capable speakers, polished people skills a cute family, and other secondary concerns before assessing the heart. Like ancient Israel, we have the propensity to look on the outward; all the while God looks on the heart.
Many ministries no longer necessitate godliness. There may now be more distance between the minister and the congregation than ever before in the history of the church. Through the years, pastors have lived among their people (New Testament), by their people (parsonage) and near their people. Now, everything from the size of the church to the expansion of auxiliary campuses has created distance between the pastor and his people. Moreover, video-screen pastors often have no relationship at all with their people.
An overcommitted laity does not desire personal interaction with their ministers, and overcommitted ministers have less time for personal interaction anyway. Though social media grants the appearance of personal engagement, the truth can be altogether different. The distance between the pastor and his people means there is less life-on-life engagement and less moral accountability one with another.
Ministry “peer pressure” is not toward godliness. The “peer pressure” of ministry is oriented toward events, products, conferences and materials. It is as though the paraphernalia and garnishes of ministry have displaced the more biblical and eternal aspects, like godliness. Perhaps this is why Matthew Henry lamented some preachers who are, “when in the pulpit, preaching so well that it is a pity they should ever come out; but, when out of the pulpit, living so ill that it is a pity they should ever come in.”
Man of God, in Biblical Terms
“Man of God” is a biblical designation granted to Old Testament giants like Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah and Elisha. In the New Testament, Timothy is the singular designee. The title was not merely honorific. It was a lofty and noble designation—granted to men with lives that merited it.