Advice to Preachers and Teachers (22)
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1.22
“While we preach often we improve slowly; often are we offended, seldom patient, often conquered, seldom conquerors, often led astray, seldom wise. Then what will help us, like weak and unskilled fighters whose weapons turn and wound them, while it is no credit to hear these things, but to accomplish them? For the law does not make holy by hearing, but doubtless by performance; each should honour the Lord, not simply by words and bodily toil, but by ripeness of character and purity of heart.”
- Columbanus, Sermon II
What we do
Those who minister the Word of God are especially responsible before the Lord for many things, not least of which is consistency in how we live what we teach. We don’t want our lagging lives to call into question the great truths we proclaim about the life of faith. We work hard to improve our skills as preachers or teachers. Do we work as hard to improve our walk with the Lord? Or to increase in wisdom and holiness?
Pastors and teachers are on the same journey as those they serve. We have been called to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12). We want Jesus to increase in us, and our old selves to decline (Jn. 3.30). Day by day we hope to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3.18), to be more fully clothed with Jesus (Eph. 4.17-24; Rom. 13.24), and to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7.1). We can only lead those we teach to make progress in the Lord when we are making progress. The more we advance in Christlikeness, the better we will be able to lead others on that path as well.
Pastors and teachers invest a good bit of time and effort in improving their skills. They read books. Attend seminars. Study for an advanced degree in ministry. Join a study group. And more. This is all very good, and should be encouraged by the people we serve.
But we need to give even more attention to how we grow in the Lord, so that we are doing the things we preach or teach in ways that improve our Christian character, purify our souls, and enable us to honor and glorify the Lord in all we do.
Columbanus had some excellent suggestions for his preachers, and we can benefit from reflecting on them.
Columbanus encourages his monks to seek improvement in four areas of their lives, to complement and underscore their ministries of the Word.
First, he urged them to pay close attention to the state of their relationships. Was anything about their behavior offensive? Or had they offended anyone and needed to make amends? Were they impatient with people, so that they were reluctant to take the time and do the hard work of making disciples? All our relationships should be governed by the rule of love, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. We won’t get far in ministry if others find us off-putting, aloof, irascible, or otherwise difficult to work and get along with. Work hard to improve all your relationships.
Second, Columbanus urged his monks to improve in how they dealt with trials and temptations. If they found that they were often being “conquered” by temptation – getting angry, becoming lazy, falling into lust or covetousness, and so forth – they needed to take steps to shore up their ability to resist the devil. Similarly, he urged them to work hard at increasing in wisdom. The wise person recognizes temptation and steers clear of it (Prov. 1.17). Wise people make good use of their time, so that all the moments of their lives are devoted to the Lord and His glory (Eph. 5.15-17). They who are wise win souls to the Lord, because they always work to improve in this area of their ministries (Prov. 11.30).
Third, Columbanus counseled his preachers and teachers to master the use of the weapons of our warfare (Eph. 6.10-20). We’ll not improve much in our walk with and work for the Lord if we don’t make good use of such things as faith, righteousness, the Word of God, prayer, and so forth. How do we assess the quality of our use of such spiritual resources, and how can we make sure we’re always improving?
Fourth, Columbanus reminded his monks that they needed to walk in obedience to the Law of God as foundational to their lives and ministries. The Law opens the mind of the Spirit to us (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Rom. 8.5-9) and shows the way to greatness in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5.17-19). The Law of God is foundational to increasing in love for God and our neighbors (Matt. 22.34-40), and it keeps us mindful and alert to any inroads sin may be making in our lives (Rom. 7.7).
Aim for improvement
Do we preach often and improve slowly? What a challenge! Pastors and teachers have the gift of words and the calling to minister God’s Word to His people, but we must never forget that the Word must first be working in us if it is ever to work powerfully throughus. Thus the challenge to be always growing in the Lord – which we urge on the people we serve – must be the commanding challenge of our daily lives.
How do you “keep a close watch” on your soul and life? What is your approach to evaluating your walk with and work for the Lord? What tools, resources, or protocols have you found helpful to allow you to improve consistently? What plan or method have you found to help you continue improving your skills, increasing in wisdom, and gaining more of the Lord’s wisdom?
There are undoubtedly many different ways of approaching this discipline. Let’s make sure we have in place some means to ensure that we are growing in our own walk with the Lord at the same time we’re urging others to do the same.
There are two things of which a good pastor should be careful; to be diligent in teaching, and to keep himself pure. It is not enough if he frame his life to all that is good and commendable, and guard against giving a bad example, if he do not likewise add to a holy life continual diligence in teaching; and, on the other hand, doctrine will be of little avail, if there be not a corresponding goodness and holiness of life.
- John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Timothy 4.16
T. M. Moore
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).