A few weeks ago, I was running down one of my all too common rabbit trails during a sermon. I mentioned that one thing that is a real pet peeve of mine is when people essentially blame their lack of spiritual growth or insight on their pastor. All too often I have people say to me that they left their last church because they “were not getting enough out of it.” I am a firm believer in the idea that for those who are open to hearing the Word of God, that He will speak to them regardless of how boring a sermon is. This morning I was reading out of the Christian classic The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. This section just jumped of the page at me:
“Do not let Moses or any of the prophets speak to me; but You speak, O Lord God, Who inspired and enlightened all the prophets; for You alone, without them, can instruct me perfectly, whereas they, without You, can do nothing. They, indeed, utter fine words, but they cannot impart the spirit. They do indeed speak beautifully, but if You remain silent they cannot inflame the heart. They deliver the message; You lay bare the sense. They place before us mysteries, but You unlock their meaning. They proclaim commandments; You help us to keep them. They point out the way; You give strength for the journey. They work only outwardly; You instruct and enlighten our hearts. They water on the outside; You give the increase.”
I think that the church, almost since the very start, has put too much emphasis on the pastor. No doubt that it is an important role and that it is crucial for the church. But on the other hand, many groups have fallen into to the trap thinking that pastors are something much bigger, better, and more holy than others. The truth is that while pastors may have a special calling and they may be able to do great things (or great harm) for the Kingdom, God is ultimately the one that changes lives. We love the idea of their being some sort of a buffer between us and God. Never mind that Christ came and died and rose again in order to remove the need for any intermediary. Its just more comfortable to have someone else to blame our spiritual shortcomings on.
Don’t misunderstand me here, I am not trying to completely rag on pastors. As a pastor myself, I have to constantly remind myself who I am. I am nothing without Christ. Nor am I saying that you should simply stay at a church where the pastor is teaching things that are wrong and unbiblical. But your spiritual growth has far less to do with the pastor that you learn from and much more to do with the relationship that you have with our God!
There is no doubt whatsoever that pastors have a very heavy task. We must teach truth. We must guard from false teachings. We must strive in every way to help those in our flock to grow. But in a world in which many Christians cry-out for more personal responsibility in our world, many of them reject that responsibility when it comes to their own spiritual growth. Blame the teacher, blame the pastor, but never blame yourself! Shudder at the thought!
When we say that we are not growing spiritually or that we are “not getting anything out of his teaching,” we are in many ways saying that God is not able to speak to me. We are saying that God is not able to talk directly to us. Even though He has given us His Word, His Son and the Holy Spirit. We think that somehow we need to be spoon-fed from a human in just the right way. Not too cold, not too hot. Not too convicting, not too easy. It starts to sound like Goldilocks and the Three Bears! That pastor was too convicting. That pastor is not loving enough. That pastor does not use enough illustrations. What people seem to be holding out for is the pastor that is “just right.” A pastor, teacher, priest or anyone will never be able to come close to teaching us what we can be taught directly from the Source!
This by no means should be an excuse or a pass for pastors or teachers either. In James 3:1, we are told “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.(ESV)” We will be judged for what we teach and how we teach it. We must be diligent in our study. We must be open to correction, when it is valid. We must understand that there is no more serious calling in the world than teaching and caring for the flock.
I guess the best way to illustrate all of this is with a flock of sheep. The shepherd must be on constant guard. The sheep will wander. The sheep will be stubborn. The sheep will not want to listen. They will need to eat and drink. But the shepherd can only guard them and bring them to food and water. The food and water may be in abundance but only the sheep can eat and drink. How sad when a sheep is standing in the stream but dies of thirst. How tragic when a sheep is standing in a lush field of grass yet starves. In his book The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer has this to say:
“It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.”
All believers must take personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth. Allow God to speak to you. Open your heart and your mind to what He has to teach you. Encourage and build up those around you called to teach. If you starve seated at the Father’s table, you will have no one to blame but yourself. I fear that today there are many in churches that are standing in the streams and fields, yet they are dying of thirst and staving. Brothers and sisters eat from the Father’s table and drink deeply from His fountain!