I’m well into the second half of my life. I’ve noticed that my heroes have changed from my early years in ministry. Qualities that used to look important now look repellant to me; qualities that used to look unattractive now look compelling and beautiful.
As I look at people I admire, here are three qualities I notice, compared with three qualities I used to value but now see as ugly.
Rooted (Not Faddish)
The greatest mistake I made in my early years was following fads. I tried to keep up with current trends in ministry. I read authors who had built large platforms, and attended conferences about the best way to do ministry now. I was like the pastor David Hansen describes in The Art of Pastoring:
His library told the story of his ministry. The books were ordered in topical fashion, but instead of “Pastoral Counseling” and “Commentaries” his topics represented most of the trends of Christianity…He did good work through all the years of trying one movement and then another…The movements he followed actually had little if any effect on his ministry, except in a fatal way: ultimately perhaps he confused following Christian movements with following Christ.
I used to respect pastors who helped me understand the latest trends. Now I find I’m drawn to pastors who are rooted. They don’t rush from one approach to another. They drink deeply from the wells of the past. They stay centered on the gospel and are often more likely to quote a Puritan than a current “successful” pastor. There’s a weightiness to their ministries that doesn’t allow them to be blown by trends or fads. They’re deeply rooted in Scripture and in great works from the past.
Serving (Not Advancing)
Some pastors seem to be on the rise. They’re smart at building their social media followership. They always seem to speak at the right conferences. They carefully manage their public persona.
Other pastors love to serve. Their highest ambition is to serve faithfully the people they’ve been called to pastor. They may or may not have a wider ministry, but it’s not their first priority.
Some people walk into a room and say, by their actions, “Here I am!” Other pastors walk into a room and say, by their actions, “There you are!” I forget where I heard this first, but it’s true. I find myself increasingly drawn to the second type of pastor. Ministry’s not about them. They see themselves as servants.
Bold (Not Proud)
“Do you know who I am?” asks Ron Burgundy in Anchorman. “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal. People know me. I’m very important.” I never admired anyone quite as brazen as this, but I used to be drawn to big-deal pastors.
The opposite of pride isn’t weakness. It’s boldness, but in the gospel. The pastors I admire are characterized by unusual boldness and humility at the same time.
They serve, but they serve boldly. They don’t hesitate to confront what’s wrong or to defend what’s right. Even their rebukes drip with love.
We all benefit from examples. My examples used to be up-to-date, on-the-rise, kind of-a-big-deal pastors. Not anymore. I’m drawn to examples of pastors who are rooted in the gospel and church history, eager to serve, and bold about the gospel. It’s who I want to be as I cross the finish line.