There are three great idols that all ministers must tear down daily cast into the fire for scrap: buildings, bodies, and budgets. These are the three things that almost invariably come up in conversation with pastors and, I must confess, I’ve too often been a part of the problem. When I go to classis (the regional gathering of pastors and elders) I often ask pastors, “So, how’s it going?” by which I mean, “How’s your attendance?”
I’ve felt guilty asking it but I want to know because that’s how we measure how well or ill things are in a congregation. The other two, of course, flow from the first. If the pastor reports “good numbers” then the budget will be in good order and building plans in the offing.
I’ve coveted nice church buildings and complained against the Head of the Church for not providing more richly for the select of elect. Why does he provide so abundantly for churches that seem to have so few (or none at all) of the marks of a true church? If attendance is high then everything is thought to be in order. Never mind the sanctification of the people or the mission of the church.
Is “idol” too strong an adjective? Well, challenge these reigning gods or dare to remove them from their pedestal and see what happens. Propose something that might affect adversely the building, bodies, or budget and see what becomes of the proposal.
These are the things by which ministers often define themselves. These are the things they covet. These are the status symbols: a growing budget, increasing attendance, and a bigger building. These are the idols that shape the program-driven church. These are the gods that drive the liturgy and the gods that promise rewards to those who serve them faithfully.
“Ah, you’re just jealous because you’ve never had any of these.” Maybe so. God forgive me, I’m a wretch. I may be jealous and I might even find a way to rationalize the killer Bs should they be given to me, but that doesn’t make it right. I may be jealous but so is God and he’s the one about whom you should worry.
The good news for pastors today is that the Lord of the church is also the Savior of the church and of his sinful ministers. He knows your heart and he still loves you. He obeyed and laid down his life for you. His righteousness is imputed to you who believe by his grace alone, through faith alone. By his grace you can repent again today, turn from the killer Bs to the living Christ who is using you to build his church and to glorify himself.
[An earlier version of this post was first published in 2008 on the HB. ]