Speaking of the church members under his pastoral oversight in 19th century Scotland, pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne said these famous words,
“My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”
Today, when most people think of holiness, it usually conjures up negative images of someone who has a pompous, holier-than-thou attitude. It’s the picture of some miserable person legalistically separating themselves from “worldly activities” and self-righteously consecrating themselves to “religious activities.”
The good news is that the Bible gives us a very different understanding of holiness. Yes, it includes the concepts of separation and consecration. But It’s more about what you do with your heart than what you do with your hands.
Holiness is primarily about separating the affections of your heart away from your heart’s idols, those things you’re prone to look to for ultimate happiness other than Jesus Christ, so that you can redirect those affections more toward loving God and others deeply and well.
But I’m sorry to say that most of your future church members will probably not believe that their greatest need for their pastor is his personal holiness.
Instead they will say things like, “All I need is a pastor who is an eloquent preacher and teacher.” When you start hearing and believing that, I want you to remember these words of the Apostle Paul, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1).
Others will say, “All I need is a pastor who is a great theologian and scholar to teach me the deep truths of the Bible.” When you start hearing and believing that I want you to remember what Paul wrote next in 1 Cor. 13:2a, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing.”
Then others will say, “All I need is a pastor who is a strong visionary leader, a man of extraordinary faith, willing to believe God to do great things through our church.” When you start hearing and believing that I want you to remember Paul’s next words, “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2b).
And then there are others who’ll say, “All I need a pastor who is totally sold-out to the cause of Christ—one who is willing to give up everything to see the Kingdom of God advanced.” When you start hearing and believing that I want you to remember Paul’s words, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).
Pastor, God is not calling you to be an extraordinary preacher, theologian, visionary, and ministry activist. Instead
God is calling you to be a faithful preacher of the gospel, a caring shepherd, and a servant leader—one who reflects in your ministry the ongoing ministries of Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King.
And in so doing, God is also calling you to reflect the holy life of Christ—a life that is marked by a deep love for God and others. This starts with your love for wife and children. Then it’s meant to radiate out from there to others.
But what does this love look like practically, and where do you find the power you don’t have to love like God commands you to love? The Apostle John answered that question this way:
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live (and that includes love) through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:9-11).”
The astonishing love of God for you in Christ is the only true motivation and means for you to live the life of loving God and others that you are now being set apart to model before the church.
According to Paul, this kind of love “is patient and kind; it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [This kind of] love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” [This kind of] love “never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).
Pastor, as you take (or remember) these ordination vows, remember that God is calling you not only to lead the church well, but even more so, to love the church well.