As a pastor, I receive all kinds of junk mail. Every person and group imaginable – Christian and secular – tries to get you to do ministry according to their model or advice. There’s also all kinds of wares that are peddled, some helpful, most not, all overpriced. Much of this junk mail I expect.
But what bugs me most are the fliers for the many pastors conferences around the country. Don’t get me wrong – I love pastor’s conferences! I love attending the Basics Conferences at Parkside Church. I loved attending the Together for the Gospel conference. I wish I could attend more! But what bothers me is how pastoral ministry is often portrayed in the literature sent out by certain conferences.
Case in point. This past week I got really agitated with one flier that came in mail. Again, I expect a lot, but this really angered me. I got so worked up, my wife actually had to tell me to calm down. The topic seemed innocent enough, describing (in somewhat simplistic terms) three kinds of churches – some ‘blazing’ with intensity and growth, others that are stagnant, and the final group of dying churches. The point being to encourage pastors to get their churches ‘blazing.’ Not much new here, so what got me so mad?
What got me mad was the promotions used to get pastors to come. According to the flier, every pastor that attends will be entered into a drawing to receive a free video ipod, an iphone, a laptop computer, a Templeton Cruise [I’m not making this up!], or best of all – a year’s lease on a new car. And not just any car, a sports car which they say will be “sure to energize your daily commute!”
This made me so mad because it made me realize the sad truth that the promoters of this event think ministers can be bought. What made me mad was the feeling that they had somehow degraded me by appealing to my desires for ‘stuff’ and standing with the world. Worse, I felt that pastoral ministry – a ministry that serves as a reflection of the ministry of Christ himself – had been degraded.
The sad truth is that there will be some pastors who would never imagine going to a conference, but now they will. They won’t go because they’re concerned for their own soul, or the souls of their people, or their faithfulness to the task, or the reputation of God. But they will go for the chance of getting free stuff or increasing their ‘cool’ factor with the world. And the those promoting the conference know it. As a minister, that makes me feel cheap.
Whatever happened to ministry according to the apostle Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
– 1 Cor 1:17-2:5 (ESV)
I may not look as cool driving around in my minivan as I could in a new sports car, and though I would love to have an ipod, I think I will stick with Paul rather than the prominent pastor touted on the conference flier. And after a few days soaking myself in 1 and 2 Timothy, I hope I will feel less sleazy than I do now.