Paul Madson


Month: March 2011

Stand Alone Post: Read through Desiring God with John Piper!

Beginning Thursday, March 31, 2011 from 12:00-1:00 PM (EST) John Piper will be hosting a series of five interactive roundtable discussions with the guys at Bethlehem College and Seminary based on his book Desiring God. And they will be live-streaming it on the web.

This is a great opportunity to reacquaint yourself with Desiring God, or to read it for the very first time (and with John Piper leading the discussion!).

If you’re unable to join in on the live-stream at 12:00 PM (EST), they’re rebroadcasting the video across the nation at 12:00 PM Central, Mountain and Pacific. A perfect lunch break! Or, consider watching the video with a small group in the evenings, working through the book together (the video will be archived on their website).

Click here to find out more information.


Lesson #5: What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago

Subtitle: “Bites from sheep and the sovereignty of God.” This week, we continue with Lesson #5 in the series “What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 Years Ago.”

Number 5: You must remind yourself daily of this simple, but profound and incredibly comforting truth: God is sovereign and in full control of all the circumstances and details of your life and ministry.

You can’t pastor for very long without feeling the deep sting and pain of “bites”from the sheep. Some of those bites are intentional; many are not. Some from close friends, some from people you don’t even know. Intentional or not, the bites still hurt.

I remember attending the Congress on Biblical Exposition in Southern California back in my early 20’s and hearing Chuck Swindoll say (with some level of jest), “If you plan to go into the ministry, you need to develop the hide of a rhinoceros.”

I remember saying to myself as a young 20-something pastor, “I have a thick hide! I’m sure I can take it!”

It wasn’t more than two or three years into my church plant that I was dealing with a mini “civil war” between feuding factions of moms who vehemently disagreed about how to raise babies right (nothing from anything I had preached or taught, mind you, but by material brought in from the outside)! I said, “This has to stop.” So I stepped in and took leadership to try and bring “calm” to the situation.

Rather than bringing calm, I found myself right in the middle and being “bitten” from both sides! After several weeks of this, I remember sitting alone in my office and weeping tears of heartache, saying to myself, “Lord, Why? What have I done to Your church? How did this happen?” Yes, that “civil war” was finally resolved, but there were always plenty more “bites” as our church grew and developed.

Through all of these experiences, I have come to learn that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is one of the most, if not the most, comforting doctrine in all of Scripture.

God’s sovereignty means that…

Nothing has happened, is happening, or will happen apart from His permitting it. Your life and your circumstances are in God’s hands…this means every person, every circumstance, every detail, every misfortune, every unjust situation, every sin done against you, every hurt and heartache. ALL of it has been allowed by God for your good and His glory! God’s sovereignty means that nothing has come into your life as a believer that God has not either caused orpermitted(Proverbs 16:9; Romans 8:28)

Randy Alcorn quotes Margaret Clarkson in his book If God Is Good:

“The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God.”

“Fly this banner over every wound and every regret: ‘Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.'” (Genesis 50:20) – John Piper

Some of these include “bites” that come because of poor leadership decisions that we have made. Maybe it was our fault and we didn’t handle the situation in the most godly, grace-filled manner. God is still sovereign and promises that He will bring good into your life and glory to himself because of those decisions and events! That’s the promise of Romans 8:28. You must learn to move beyond your mistakes – learn all you can from them and then push forward!

No matter who has hurt you, how they have hurt you or why they have hurt you…God has allowed it for your good and His glory. Yes, Satan meant it for evil in your life, but God meant it for good!

This frees us and helps us to always forgive fully and completely those that have done evil against us!

Nothing will poison your ministry more than harboring an unforgiving spirit. An“unforgiving Christian” is an oxymoron! Refusing to forgive those that have hurt you, offended you, let you down and/or disappointed you is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Beware of the insidious acid of bitterness.(Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:31)

Throughout my life, I have made it a practice to ask myself:

“Is there anyone in my life currently or in my past that I am holding a grudge against? Is there anyone from my past, that, if I suddenly ran into them at the mall, I would want to turn and avoid them instead of moving toward them with Christ’s gracious and merciful love?”

If I realize that I’m still harboring some unforgiveness, I immediately confess it and ask for God’s “all-sufficient grace” to help me to move toward those that have hurt me and offended me, rather than away from them. I ask God to help me to model genuine Christlikeness (who moved toward us – from heaven to earth – when we had sinned against Him and had spit in His face). I ask God to fill my heart with mercy and grace – the kind of mercy and grace that He has shown to me over and over and over!

A verse that haunts me whenever I am even considering acting in an unloving or unkind or even apathetic manner toward another person that may have hurt me, is James 2:13.

James writes,

“…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful!”

Let that soak in! I ask myself, “Paul, do you want God to show mercy to you?” Yes!!“Then you need to make it a practice to show mercy to others! Yes, even to those that you think don’t deserve it – just like you don’t deserve God’s mercy!”

Do you really believe this promise of God? “Vengeance is Mine,” says the Lord, “I will repay.” (Romans 12:17-21)

Do you really believe Scripture when it says (of Jesus), “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously”? (1 Peter 2:23 NASB)

John Piper says it well…

“Who is a better candidate to take vengeance – you or God?

“Consider God for a minute. No wrong ever committed against you, not in the darkest hour of any night, has ever been missed. It is written in a book in heaven. He knows every wrong committed against you. He sees the evil of the wrong far better than you see it. He hates the evil of the wrong 10,000 times more purely and righteously than you hate the evil of the wrong. He claims the right to settle accounts for you. And the big issue, then, is do you believe he will?

“When you are wronged, God is saying to you:

“I saw it. You’re right. They’re wrong. I hate what they did to you. You give me that anger. I’m going to settle this for you, and I will settle it better than you could ever settle it. Justice will prevail. Do you trust me?”

Four ways to battle the unbelief of bitterness:

1) Believe that what the Good Physician prescribes for you is good! (Colossians 3:8)
2) Cherish being forgiven by God! (Ephesians 4:32)
3) Trust that God’s justice will prevail! (1 Peter 2:23)

  • We must leave room for God’s wrath.
  • God hates evil far more righteously than you ever could.
  • Though absurd, Jesus entrusted himself to the Righteous Judge.
  • If you hold a grudge, you slight the Judge.


4) Trust God’s purpose to turn the cause of your anger for your good! (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Always remember: God will always have the final say. Always! Either here on earth, or in eternity!

Always cling to the belief that in the end “God will sort it all out!”Misunderstandings that people have about you, your family or your ministry will one day be set right. Righteousness will prevail. Entrust yourself to him who“judges justly” (1 Peter 2).

Entrust all of the “unknowns” in your life and your ministry into God’s faithful, caring and capable hands!

“God’s sovereignty is no more ‘fatalism’ than grace is cheap or mercy is merited. God is free to be God, thankfully!” Scotty Smith

“But He knows the way that I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than necessary food.” (Job 23:10-12 NASB)

You must choose each day to believe that…

1 – God is who He says He is;

2 – that you are who He says you are;

3 – and the He will do what He promises He will do!

Remember: We walk by faith, not by sight!

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:4)

“I have learned that God’s silence to my questions is not a door slammed in my face. I may not have the answers – but I do have him.” (Dave Dravecky)

A final important thought lest I be misunderstood: God’s sovereignty does not release us as pastors and leaders from the responsibility to provide the best leadership we know how. God’s sovereignty does not release us from our responsibility to grow, learn and develop as a pastor and leader. We still bear that responsibility before God.

I realize that for those of you that tend to be “hyper-responsible,” you don’t need to be reminded of the above concept. You already “feel” the weight of your leadership responsibility before God. You know very well that one day you will have to give an account of your life and your leadership before Him. (2 Corinthians 5:10; James 3:1)

I have found that one of the keys to healthy leadership in the pastorate is to always keep firmly grasped in one hand my personal responsibility to grow, learn and develop as a pastor and leader and to firmly grasp in the other hand themassively comforting and peace-giving doctrine of God’s sovereignty!


Stand Alone Post: A La Carte – Quotable Quotes

My “quotes” file was beginning to overflow, so I thought I would pass on some of the best ones I’ve collected in the last few months:

“Only when you know how to die can you know how to live.” – J. I. Packer

“Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally.” – Tim Keller

When asked to describe what is “the heresy of modernity,” J.I. Packer described it this way:

“The belief that…

the newer is the truer,

only what is recent is decent,

every shift of ground is a step forward,

and every latest word must be hailed as the last word on its subject.”

(J. I. Packer, “Is Systematic Theology a Mirage? An Introductory Discussion,” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer [2], ed. John D. Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1991), 21.)

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” – John Wesley

“Too many church members are starched and ironed but not washed.” – Vance Havner

“Too many are willing to sit at God’s table, but not work in his field.” – Vance Havner

“The seven ages of man: spills, drills, thrills, bills, ills, pills, wills.” – Richard J. Needham

‎”Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4

“I think the devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds … Satan is quite aware of the power of silence.” – Jim Elliot

Five Great Quotes about Prayer . . . And Five Challenges to Pray for the Nations!

Quote 1: “Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure.” D. L. Moody

The Challenge: Let us stop launching movements that we claim will change the world until we have made prayer a sincere and intentional focus.


Quote 2: “I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.” Charles Spurgeon

The Challenge: It is not “either/or,” but it is “both/and” . . . and we could do with a little more praying as we reach out to the lost around the world.


Quote 3: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.” Martin Luther

The Challenge: When we look at our broken world, we can easily turn to despair, but God is drawing the nations to Himself and He chooses to work as we pray.


Quote 4: “It is good for us to keep some account of our prayers, that we may not unsay them in our practice.” Matthew Henry

The Challenge: Do you live out your prayers for the nations in your service, your generosity, your education, and your hospitality?


Quote 5: “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” Abraham Lincoln

The Challenge: Many times our efforts to bless the nations will seem to fail and we fall to our knees out of desperation. However, God wants us in a posture of prayer and He will take our feeble efforts and use them mightily.

(Source: unknown)

“It is very difficult for a minister of God to fall when he is living his life faithfully on his face before God in prayer.”

“It is because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus’ proclamations of grace and love are so astounding.” – Tim Keller

“Meet me in heaven!  Do not go down to hell.  There is no coming back again from that abode of misery.  Why do you wish to enter the way of death when heaven’s gate is open before you?  Do not refuse the free pardon, the full salvation which Jesus grants to all who trust him.  Do not hesitate and delay.  You have had enough of resolving, come to action.  Believe in Jesus now, with full and immediate decision.  Take with you words and come unto your Lord this day, even this day.  Remember, O soul, it may be now or never with you.  Let it be now; it would be horrible that it should be never.  Farewell.  Again I charge you, meet me in heaven.” – C. H. Spurgeon, from his book All of Grace (London, 1897), page 128

“You are required to believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bible says is true, not what you want the Bible to say is true.” – R.C. Sproul, from his book Chosen By God, p. 12

Randy Alcorn quotes Margaret Clarkson in his book If God Is God: “The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God.”


“Fly this banner over every wound and regret: ‘Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.’” (Genesis 50:20) – John Piper



“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his book The Cost of Discipleship


“We are Christians. Radical, full-blooded, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, God-centered, mission-advancing, soul-winning, church-loving, holiness-pursing, sovereignty-savoring, grace-besotted, broken-hearted, happy followers of the omnipotent, crucified Christ. At least that’s our imperfect commitment.” – John Piper

“God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion.” – Jonathan Edwards

“God’s sovereignty is no more “fatalism” than grace is cheap or mercy is merited. God is free to be God, thankfully!” – Scotty Smith

“I have learned that God’s silence to my questions is not a door slammed in my face. I may not have the answers—but I do have him.” – Dave Dravecky

“The law discovers the disease. The gospel gives the remedy.” – Martin Luther



“Grace isn’t God lowering his standards. It’s God fulfilling those standards through Christ’s sacrifice for us.”

“My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace.  If we’ve performed well—whatever ‘well’ is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly.  In this sense, we live by works, rather than by grace.  We are saved by grace, but we are living by the ‘sweat’ of our own performance.  Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to ‘try harder’.  We seem to believe success in the Christian life is basically up to us; our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is very freeing and joyous experience.  But it is not meant to be a one-time experience; the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily.” – Jerry Bridges, from his book Transforming Grace

“Malign no one” (NASB); “Speak evil of no one” (NKJV); “Slander no one” (NIV) ~ Titus 3:2.

Lord, make this word true in all of our lives daily!


Lesson #4: What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago

Subtitle: “Feeling discouraged? Want to ‘throw in the towel?”

Today I continue in the series “What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago.” So far, we have looked at three of the 12 lessons. This week we come to number four.

Number 4: Ministry will always be challenging and (at times) very discouraging. You must fight the temptation to give in to your discouraging thoughts (Acts 20:19-32; 21:13; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 9:24-27; 15:58;  2 Corinthians 1:8-11; 4:8-10, 16-18; 6:4-10; 7:5; 11:23-29; 12:9-10; 2 Timothy 4:5-8; Hebrews 12:1-4; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 5:10)!

Just because your ministry is challenging and hard, does not mean that God is not pleased. It’s easy, especially here in America, to think that if your ministry is truly “successful” and “being blessed by God,” that somehow your ministry will be free from hurts and heartaches, discouragements and disappointments, pain and persecution. All we have to do is look closely at Scripture to see that those that God used the greatest, experienced some of the most difficult trials and tribulations throughout their lives!

Marinate your minds in these words from the Apostle Paul:

“For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)

Did you notice the list?

  • “like men sentenced to death.”
  • “weak.”
  • “we are in disrepute.”
  • “we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands.”
  • “reviled.”
  • “persecuted.”
  • “slandered.”
  • “like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”

So often we think that if we are doing things right and living to please God, that somehow the above list will pass us by and leave us untouched.

It’s so easy in our culture today to subconsciously think that if we are living a godly life, praying fervently, and earnestly studying God’s Word each day, that somehow God will look down and make our road smooth and problem free. That cancer will pass us by. That physical and emotional pain won’t touch us. That we will meet Mr. or Mrs. “Right” early in life. That friends won’t walk out on us. That we will never have to worry about not being able to get pregnant and will never miscarry. That our children will never disappoint us and will always make the right choices. We tend to believe the lie that if I am living a godly life and genuinely pursuing Christ as my supreme treasure, that my life and ministry won’t have problems and challenges.

As Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take courage, I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

Again, marinate your soul with these words from the Apostle Paul…

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers,of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Notice Paul mentions “afflictions” and being “burdened beyond our strength.” But he doesn’t stop there! He reminds us that God allows these things in our lives so that we won’t rely on ourselves, but on Him. Paul reminds us that it is “on Him [God] we have set our hope.” Notice also the strategic and important part prayerplays in Paul’s life (v. 11).

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

“…but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; aspunished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-6)

Did you catch that? Paul says, “…we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within.”

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one-I am talking like a madman-with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I wasshipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, indanger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, dangerfrom Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (2 Corinthians 11:23-29)

And then the writer of Hebrews…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run withendurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:1-4)

Ministry will always have its challenges. The larger your ministry, the more challenges. No one ever said ministry would be easy! But Jesus did promise that He would be with you no matter what (Matthew 28:20; John 16:33). Scripture constantly reminds us that our reward is in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:10). That life on earth is a “vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). That our real home is in heaven, not here on earth (Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1-4). That the God who called you to this ministry is also the God who will sustain you in this ministry (Philippians 1:6)! We must always remember that life and ministry is a marathon, not a fifty-yard dash! Pace yourself!

Your greatest ministry doesn’t even begin until you have been in one place for at least five to seven years!” (Howard Hendricks)

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

When you are in the midst of a dark season and you don’t know what else to do or where else to go, go to your knees. Keep your focus on doing those “daily things”that you know are right!

“The God of the wilderness is also the God of the promised land.”

Make it a practice to regularly climb Mt. Perspective. Get the “grand” view of your circumstances. Get out of the forest and above the tree line!

As a pastor you must learn to deal in a healthy way with hurt and rejection.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements…It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love…is Hell.” (C.S. Lewis)

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were built for.”

I leave you with these encouraging words from Scripture…

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain!”

(1 Corinthians 15:58)

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone,especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

(Galatians 6:9-10)


Lesson #3d: What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago

Subtitle: “The dangerous draw of pragmatism.”

This week, we continue with our focus on where we derive our primary identity from…our ministry or from Christ.

Last week we looked at the first two “dashboard lights” that signal that our identity is being derived from our ministry rather than from Christ. Today we look at numbers three and four.

Third Dashboard Light:

My primary focus becomes “pragmatism” rather than what I believe is right and best.

In other words, I become far more concerned with “what works,” than with what is “right”. I begin to compromise what Scripture says and what my own personal convictions are.

We find ourselves preaching on things that we believe will bring “growth” even when we know that it may not be what is best in God’s eyes. We begin to compromise, not only what we say from the pulpit, but also what we don’t say but should say.

For example: We may talk a great deal about heaven, but conveniently never mention hell and its eternal reality. We begin to run every sermon through the grid of “Will this sermon make people want to come back to my church?” Rather than “Is this sermon pleasing to God?”

When Christ is our core identity, we live to please God, not man.

When pragmatism is in the driver’s seat, a person begins to compromise their convictions and possibly their integrity for something that will make their ministry “appear successful.”

Now I realize that there is nothing wrong with being pragmatic in a general sense. But when pragmatism gets put in the driver’s seat in our ministries (rather than God and His holy Word), dangerous things can begin to happen!

One of the best books on ministry leadership that I have ever read is a book by Kent Hughes, entitled: Liberating Your Ministry From the Success Syndrome. I read this back in the late 80’s when it first came out. I always have several copies on hand that I give out to pastors on a regular basis.

In it, Hughes writes the following:

“To me, success in the ministry meant growth in attendance. Ultimate success meant a big, growing church. Certainly there is nothing wrong with the wise use of any of the above principles [he had just talked about various ‘church growth principles’]. They should be part of the intelligent orchestration of ministry.

However, when the refrain they play is numerical growth – when the persistent motif is numbers – then the siren song becomes deeply sinister: growth in numbers, growth in giving, growth in staff, growth in programs – numbers, numbers, numbers! Pragmatism becomes the conductor. The audience inexorably becomes man rather than God.

Subtle self-promotion becomes the driving force. When success in the ministry becomes the same as success in the world, the servant of God evaluates his success like a businessman or an athlete or a politician.

Years earlier, when I began the ministry, my motivation was simply to serve Christ. That was all. My heroes were people like Jim Elliot, whose motto – “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” – was part of my life. All I wanted was the approval of God.

But imperceptibly my high Christian idealism had shifted from serving to receiving, from giving to getting. I realized that what I really wanted was a growing church and “success” more than the smile of God. Subconsciously I was evaluating nearly everything from the perspective of how it would affect church growth.

I realized that in the extreme such thinking reduces people to “beef on the hoof” – a terrible thought. It also enthrones a relentless pragmatism in church planning. And if this happens, it can erode the noblest ideals. It can even corrupt one’s theology.”

Because here in America we “celebrate and elevate” churches that are large and growing, we can begin to feel that if we are not doing the same, we are somehow a “failure.”

The reality is: just because a church is large and growing does not necessarily mean that they are doing “biblical ministry.” It does not necessarily mean that the pastor is “more godly” than the pastor down the street who shepherds a flock of 100 instead of 10,000.

We tend to equate numerical growth with “godliness” and “God’s blessing”…when in fact the pastor down the street who faithfully and biblically leads and shepherds his flock may be more pleasing to God than the pastor of the local mega-church. The reality here in America is that less than 2% of all churches are larger than 1,000 people. 98% of all churches are not considered “mega-churches.” Based on the latest statistics, approximately 80% of all churches in the United States have less than 100 to 150 people in them on any given Sunday.

Now, lest I be misunderstood, I am not in any way trying to disparage pastors of large churches. I have many personal friends who pastor some of the largest churches in the country, and they are truly men of integrity and are certainly godly leaders. What I am saying is: just because a church is large does notautomatically mean that the pastor is “godly” and leading his church in such a way that brings a “smile to the face of God.”

Fourth Dashboard Light:

My passion for God begins to wane and I cover it up (hide it) with my professionalism in ministry.

This is where we become downright dangerous in ministry. We’ve lost our passion. We’ve lost our zeal. We’re simply going through the motions. But let’s face it: if you’ve been in ministry long enough, it’s pretty easy to simply go through the motions without most people ever knowing that our heart is cold and calloused. We know the appropriate spiritual phrases that will make us sound spiritual. The beginning point of change is repentance.  It’s taking an honest inventory of our hearts and confessing our callous coldness and asking God to re-light the fire in our souls.

If we want our people to have genuine passion for God, if we want our people to pursue Christ as their supreme treasure, then we need to have Christ as our supreme treasure. We need to have a genuine passion for God. Howard Hendricks said it well: “You cannot impart what you do not possess.”

Those are the FOUR warning signs that I would suggest tell us that our identity is misplaced.

On the other hand, when our identity is rooted squarely in our relationship with Christ (and not in our ministry), I believe THREE things become obvious:

Number 1: We become secure individuals who have nothing to prove and nothing to lose.

Number 2: We care far more about what heaven thinks than with what earth thinks. Our audience truly becomes God rather than man.

Number 3: We freely acknowledge our inadequacy to produce anything of lasting value apart from Christ.

We’re not threatened by admitting that “we are hopeless and helpless” in life and ministry apart from Christ. We’re not threatened to admit, “I have nothing to offer of any significance apart from Christ.” We’re not afraid to admit that “we are not adequate in ourselves for this task of pastoring!”

John Piper, in his excellent book (which I recommend every pastor read!),Brothers, We Are Not Professionals – subtitled: A Plea to Pastors For Radical Ministry, writes the following:

“I was amazed once to hear a seminary graduate say how adequate he felt for the ministry after his years of schooling. This was supposed to be a compliment to the school.

The reason this amazed me is that the greatest theologian and missionary and pastor who ever lived cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). Not because he was a bungler, but because the awful calling of emitting the fragrance of eternal life for some and eternal death for others was a weight he could scarcely bear.

A pastor who feels competent in himself to produce eternal fruit – which is the only kind that matters – knows neither God nor himself. A pastor who does not know the rhythm of desperation and deliverance must have his sights only on what man can achieve.

But brothers, the proper goals of the life of a pastor are unquestionably beyond our reach. The changes we long for in the hearts of our people can happen only by a sovereign work of grace.

God does all His gracious work in such a way “that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:29),which means He usually does it in answer to prayer.

Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to “nothing.” For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer.”

Pastors and leaders, may you be encouraged and take heart in the fact that no matter what our “culture” may be saying about your ministry, what matters most is “the smile of God.” Pursue His smile, pursue His pleasure more than all else!

“…so that in everything he [Jesus] might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:18)


Stand Alone Post: Marriage Vows, the Average Human, Our Facebook Obsession and More

Till Death Do Us Part – In 1990 Robertson McQuilkin resigned his post as president of Columbia Bible College and Graduate School in order to take care of his beloved wife Muriel, who stopped recognizing him (due to Alzheimer’s) in 1983 and went to be with the Lord in 2003 at the age of 81.

Here are two Christianity Today articles by Dr. McQuilkin about caring for his wife:

Living by Vows (October 8, 1990)
Muriel’s Blessing” (February 5, 1996)

And here is an interview he did with Stan Guthrie upon Muriel’s death (February 1, 2004).

Someone had a tape recorder at his resignation speech, and you can watch a portion of it below. May God make us men like this: 

8 Symptoms of False Doctrine  – Quotes from J.C. Ryle on False Doctrine from the Gospel Coalition blog.

National Geographic Magazine shows a 2 minute 56 second video on the “typical human” on earth today. In a world of 7 billion people, who is the most “typical” human being on earth today? Very interesting.

The Book SurgeonTo say that this is “fascinating” art is an understatement. Another example of how God created humans to be creative.

Facebook Obsession – This video gives some context to our current Facebook Obsession.



The Relationship between Church and Parachurchexcellent articles from the 9Marks eJournal

Lesson #3c: What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago

Subtitle: “Four dashboard lights to signal that your identity is misplace.” This week we continue with our focus on where we derive our primary identity from…our ministry or from Christ.

I am taking several weeks to “camp out” on this particular point (Number 3 in this series) because out of the 12 points I will be sharing, this is one of (if not the) most important lesson to learn and live. And yet I think it is one of the slipperiest of all. Once we think we understand it, believe it and are living it, we can so easily fall back into deriving our identity from what we do (our ministry), rather than from who we are in Christ (God’s beloved child).

Number 3: Your identity is defined by your relationship with Jesus…not by your ministry!

You may be asking yourself: “How do I know if I am deriving my primary identity and value from my ministry rather than Jesus?”

Last week, I mentioned that I would share with you FOUR signs that give us a clue that we are deriving our primary identity and value from our ministry instead of Jesus.

I have found over the years that I can easily misinterpret where I’m deriving my identity if I don’t have some clear, objective concepts to measure myself by.  I like to refer to these “clear, objective signs” as lights on the “dashboard of my life.”

When those dashboard lights come on, it usually means there is something wrong under the hood that needs to be checked or fixed.

I want to suggest FOUR “dashboard lights” that signal to us that our identity is misplaced. Four signals that tell us that our identity is tied to what we do in ministry rather than in our relationship with Christ. I will share the first two this week and the last two next week.

First Dashboard Light:

My emotional health is tied to the apparent success (or failure) of my ministry!

When my ministry is going well, I’m feeling well. When my ministry is not going so well, I’m feeling emotionally down with a noticeable lack of joy. My emotions are up when the attendance, giving and excitement are up. When the elders and staff are happy and things seem to be moving in a positive, healthy direction, my emotions mirror my circumstances…happy, joyful and motivated.

On the other hand, my emotions are down when those “tangibles” (attendance, giving, ministry excitement) are down.

Obviously, this is a very unhealthy way to live (as well as unbiblical)! It’s a roller coaster existence.

As pastors (and as God’s children) we need to be reminded of the fact that no matter what happens to our ministry we are still totally and completely loved and accepted by God, never to be rejected (Romans 8:31-39; Ephesians 1:3-14)! We are still as valuable to God, even if our ministry falls apart and doesn’t produce the “growth” that we had hoped for. No matter what happens to our ministry, God promises to take care of us and provide for all of our needs (Philippians 4:10-19; Matthew 6:25-34). That’s the truth that we must daily remind ourselves of and stand upon!

Let me clarify, lest I be misunderstood: I am not saying that when bad things happen in our ministry we don’t feel negative emotions – sadness, hurt, disappointment, etc. Those are natural and all part of being human. Jesus experienced these types of emotions (John 11:33-38; Luke 12:50; John 12:27; Matthew 26:37), as well as the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 1:8-11; 4:7-12).

What I am saying is that when we learn to derive our core identity from our relationship with Jesus, not from our position as pastor, we will live a much more emotionally stable, enjoyable and God-honoring lifestyle.

Second Dashboard Light:

I have a hard time rejoicing in someone else’s ministry success (especially if it is a ministry near me that threatens my ministry).

People who have their identity tied tightly to their relationship with Christ develop the ability to “rejoice with those who rejoice.”

The longer I live, the more convinced I become that one of the greatest marks of spiritual maturity is the ability to genuinely rejoice with those whom God is blessing (or has blessed).

I’m convinced that it is far easier for us as Christians to “weep with those who weep” than it is for us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). Why? One word: jealousy. Insecure people find a “secret inner joy” when someone else is going through a hard time. Why? Because it makes them feel better about themselves.

People who are secure in who they are, who are genuinely deriving their identity from Jesus as their supreme treasure, are able to genuinely rejoice with those whom God is blessing!

When my identity is tied to my ministry (rather than Jesus), and someone else is doing better than me, I feel threatened. It makes me feel like a failure, and what ends up happening is that I don’t genuinely rejoice with those ministries and churches that God is blessing. I may even find myself inappropriately criticizing that particular ministry (or pastor).

When Jesus is your life, when He is your supreme treasure…everything else in life falls into proper perspective.  The danger and temptation that we all face is adding something besides God as our supreme treasure.


Next week we will look at “Dashboard Lights #3 and #4.”

Until then, keep Jesus as your supreme treasure and your greatest passion – always above and beyond your ministry! Jesus will not take second place to anyone or anything!

“For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)


“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:15-18 NIV)

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