Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Paul's advice to a church leader ...

A gray-haired old lady, long a member of her community and her church, shook hands with the minister after the service one Sunday morning.

"That was a wonderful sermon," she told him, "just wonderful! Everything you said applies to someone I know!"

It's easy to think of people we know who we believe should hear some preacher's sermon, and as the preachers and teachers who deliver those messages and present such lessons, it's also easy to think the message is primarily for the people in the audience.

At the 1993 annual meeting of the American Heart Association, thousands of doctors, nurses, and researchers met in Atlanta to discuss, among other things, the importance a low-fat diet plays in keeping our hearts healthy. Yet during meal times, they consumed fat-filled fast foods such as bacon cheeseburgers and fries at about the same rate as people from other conventions. When one cardiologist was asked whether or not his partaking in high-fat meals set a bad example, he replied, "Not me, because I took my name tag off!"

When the sermon has been delivered, the church service is over, and the preacher goes home, it's not time to walk away from the message he just delivered, it's time to make sure he's living it out by applying it to his own life!

That's part of the advice the Apostle Paul gives to a spiritual leader in Titus, chapter 2, as he instructs Titus in how to lead different people in the church. He begins by telling Titus what to teach older men (v. 2), then what to teach older women (v. 3) and what they should be teaching younger women (vs. 4-5), and then what to teach younger men (v. 6). Paul finally turns his attention to Titus as the spiritual leader, and directs him as follows ...

"And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can't be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us," Titus 2:7-8.

Paul says the spiritual leader should be a living example of good works, and that what the spiritual leader does actually reflects an "... integrity and seriousness of your teaching." In other words, the preacher upholds his message by practicing what he preaches! A flock won't take seriously a shepherd who preaches one thing, but does another. The integrity of a leader's message is found in the application of his messages in his own life. Paul is telling Titus to keep his name tag on and set the example!

But notice that Paul doesn't conclude his instruction there. He adds, "Teach the truth ..." On the face of it, it seems odd the Apostle should have to tell any spiritual leader to teach the truth, but teaching the truth isn't always what many leaders do.

It isn't just pastors who shy away from the truth. Terry Shea, writing in AOL Autos, attempted to dispel the mystery of the ever inaccurate auto gas gauge ...

"Have you ever noticed that your gas gauge stays on full for quite a while before the needle even moves, and then it moves faster and faster as it approaches empty? And then when it gets to 'E' it sort of stays there for a while until the low warning light comes on ...?

"It turns out it's partially your fault that gas gauges work that way.

"The engineers calibrate them to do that. Why? Because you, the customer, have told them that's the way you like it ... Apparently, consumer surveys indicate that people don't like seeing the needle depart from 'F' right away either ... Customers want it to stay on full for an amount of time. This gives them the illusion that they are getting better fuel mileage or at least not immediately burning through that expensive tank of gasoline they just bought, even if they quite literally are.

"And while customers want there to be a 'reserve' of gasoline available when they reach the empty mark ... they don't want too much of a reserve. Otherwise, they will complain that their 20-gallon tank only takes 15 gallons when filling up from empty. Apparently, there is a sweet spot where customers are happy to be fooled by their gas gauges, but not too much. We customers sure are a fickle bunch.

"The engineer's job should be to make things more accurate and efficient, but in this case he has to play psychologist to keep customers happy."

What could possibly be more straightforward than a gas gauge? You'd think that people would be happy to have one that simply provided them with accurate information. Not so in our "have it your way" world.

Most pastors today can identify with the pressure to accommodate an increasingly fickle people listening to their preaching and teaching. To suggest that it is challenging in an age of relativism and theological compromise to preach the absolute, uncompromising truths of the Gospel is a gross understatement. But the greatest example of doing good works, and practicing what we preach, is empty and of no value if what we preach isn't the truth.

Paul's advice to leaders, then, is very different from the advice we often hear offered to today's church leaders. Paul would tell you to live a life that is an example of good works, practice what you preach, and preach the truth. Execute that advice consistently and you'll be a shepherd that sheep will want to follow.

Scotty

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