Christian leaders are often the most susceptible to the temptation to live surface lives, ignoring the admonition to closely watch ourselves. They can be mere ‘formal professors’ who continue the outward practices of spiritual life when the inward reality is long gone. Charles Spurgeon points out the danger such formal preachers face:
“A formal preacher is mischievous while he preserves his outward equilibrium,
but as he is without the preserving balance of godliness, sooner or later
he is almost, sure to make a trip in his moral, and what a position is he in then!
How is God blasphemed and the gospel abused!”
Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon
A man once asked me what I thought to be the most important thing a pastor must know to be effective. Without hesitation, I said they must always remember they are first sheep before they are shepherds. What I meant is that leaders do not play by a different set of rules but must first be true Christians before holding an office of ministry. That means they must always be careful to receive the life transformative grace of God before giving it out to others. Richard Baxter, author of the book The Reformed Pastor, makes this point:
“Take heed to yourselves lest you should be void of that saving grace of God which
you offer to others and be strangers to the effectual working of the gospel which you preach;
and lest, while you proclaim the necessity of a Savior to the world, your hearts should neglect him,
and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits” (Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter).
Notice the phrase “miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits.” This is a real danger that many do not take seriously. A dear friend of mine, Pastor Mark Freer, reminds us that the only safeguard against sinning is to constantly remind oneself that he or she is a sinner in need of the grace of the Gospel. That keeps the heart humble and ready to receive the grace of God.
This danger of failing to apply God’s grace to our own hearts while standing and ministering to others is a problem every leader faces. Knowing our need of grace saves us from the deception of judging our lives by the apparent outward blessing on our ministry—numbers of people coming to meetings, monies coming in, people getting saved, etc. rather than by godly character produced by grace. Compromised leaders are often deceived into thinking that since God has continued to bless their ministry despite their sinful lifestyle, He (God) overlooks their personal foibles. Such leaders should remember the frightful words Jesus spoke near the end of the Sermon on the Mount: