Last spring, I preached from the passage below. It was a very vulnerable sermon to preach, because it struck too close to my heart. As I uploaded the video to YouTube today, I decided that some of what I said should be shared with others. So this post is for pastors…that you might have encouragement and know that you’re not alone. And this post is for church members…that you might understand a little more what your pastor goes through.
In 2 Corinthians 12:16-21 Paul gives us four things that he fears most about his ministry to the Corinthians. It shows us that ministers have always had the same fears and that there can be some comfort in knowing that Paul felt the same way we feel over our ministry. So according to Paul, here are the four things that pastors fear most.
That suspicions would destroy trust.
2 Cor 12:16-18 “But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit. Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those whom I have sent to you, have I? I urged Titus to go, and I sent the brother with him. Titus did not take any advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps?”
The Corinthians were looking upon Paul’s past actions with a degree of suspicion that was destroying the relationship between the two. Paul’s opponents in Corinth were spreading the message that Paul used craftiness and deceit to take advantage of the Corinthians…in what way is unclear. The Corinthians somehow became so emotionally guarded that they couldn’t allow themselves to see the Holy Spirit at work in Paul and his companions. As a result, they rejected the Spiritual authority that God had sent them, and as a church they were starving themselves from the spiritual guidance they needed to grow as a Godly church.
This is a picture of why so many churches are suffering and declining throughout our nation. An atmosphere of suspicion has been created between God’s people and God’s called leadership, to the point where churches have forgotten how to trust the spiritual leadership brought to them by God. Maybe it was a bad experience with a false teacher, maybe human selfishness created wounds that have been difficult to heal. But the result is the same as in Corinth, churches are starving themselves from the spiritual guidance they need to grow as a Godly church. They are too suspicious of being taken in by some form of deceit that they are incapable of trusting any leader God has put before them.
Pastors fear that old suspicions would destroy the trust needed to bring the church together in a common walk with God. When we walk together and worship the same God, then we can trust that this same God will unify us in love. When we are unified in love, we can begin to lean on each other in mutual trust. But when we listen to the lies of the enemy, distrust and suspicion are sown, meant to tear down the church and to neutralize its effectiveness to spread the Gospel. Ultimately, mistrust and suspicion in the church is a mistrust and suspicion toward God, saying that God is not powerful enough and that the church doesn’t trust God enough to provide the kind of spiritual leadership needed.
That motives would be misinterpreted.
2 Cor 12:19 “All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved.”
Paul’s motives were misinterpreted by the people because of the depth of their suspicion and mistrust. They thought his motives were for self, and so they thought his defense was for self. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. His motives were to serve God, and his defense was for his service to God. This kind of misinterpretation of motives is preventing many churches from experiencing the presence of God, because a misinterpretation about the motives of a truly God-called leader is a misinterpretation of the motives of God himself. Though it is true that there are many leaders in various churches who serve from wrong motives or who are spiritual bullies, ultimately it falls upon the people of the church to lean upon their trust that God is in control and that God’s motives are to progress the church not hinder it. A truly Godly church serves not for people but for Christ. And truly Godly leaders are not in the church to serve the people but to serve Christ, to proclaim the words of God, and to love God’s people.
Godly pastors fear that their motives to serve God would be misinterpreted as serving self. When a church has a Godly leader, they shouldn’t let old suspicions taint their view of that leader’s motives. When the motive is to serve God, then the church’s motive should be the same. When the motive is to proclaim the word of God, then the church’s motive should be to follow that word. When the motive is to love the people, then the church’s motive should be to love the lost. Ultimately misinterpreting the motives of a truly God-called leader is a misinterpretation of the motives of God, and if a church cannot lean on God’s leadership to create in them the kind of church he wants with the leadership he has chosen, then the church has deeper spiritual issues that need to be addressed.
That unrealistic expectations would be the focus.
2 Cor 12:20 “For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;”
Paul feared that he had too high of expectations for the progress of the people while he was away, and feared that when he returned they’d be exactly the way he left them. Likewise, Paul feared that the people were expecting a certain attitude from him when he returned, that he couldn’t deliver, because if he came and found the people not as he expected then he would be forced to correct them…and that’s not what any of them wanted. If they didn’t meet Paul’s expectations, they’d suddenly find that Paul wasn’t meeting their expectations. So this conflict of unrealistic expectations would lead to strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, and disturbances…none of which are characteristic of a Godly church or beneficial for the spreading of the Gospel.
We see this as silly and a comedy of errors, but this very thing happens in churches all the time. The pastor pushes one expectation of the congregation, trying to make them something they are not, something they can’t give, and failing to recognize and utilize the abilities that make them unique. And the people push their expectations upon the pastor, trying to force him to conform to the perfect image of the perfect pastor, and failing to recognize and encourage the abilities that make him unique. A healthy relationship between the people and God’s leadership in the church involves healthy expectations. They should embrace each other, recognize strengths and weakness for what they are, encouraging each other in weakness and leaning on each other in strength.
Godly pastors fear that they cannot measure up to the expectations put upon them. Yet they shouldn’t have to, because they never can. Churches and pastors need to come together, not with unrealistic expectations of each other, but a realistic expectation of what God can accomplish through them. Not with an unrealistic expectation that God will politely step into the box we’ve made for him, but with a realistic expectation that God is greater, and more powerful, and bigger than anything we could expect, that he is in control, that he has placed within us a uniqueness in the people and in the leadership, exactly the way he wanted, to accomplish exactly the purposes he intended
That he would be a failure.
2 Cor 12:21 “I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.”
Greater than the rest of his fears, Paul was afraid that when he returned he’d find the people living in the same kind of sin and filth that they had been living in before he proclaimed Jesus to them. Paul would feel humiliated because he’d feel like a failure, like all his care and energy accomplished nothing for the kingdom of God. And he would mourn over them, because he genuinely cared, and it would break his heart to find them throwing away their spiritual lives simply because he was a failure.
Jeremiah felt this way too, and voiced it in Jer 20:7-9 – “O Lord, you have deceived me and I was deceived; you have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long. But if I say, ‘I will not remember him or speak anymore in his name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and cannot endure it.”
Pastors fear most that they would be found a failure before God at being a pastor. Though it is ultimately God who creates change, sometimes pastors can’t help but feel like a failure if they can’t see that change because they were the ones tasked with shepherding the people. At the heart of God-called leadership is a fear that they can’t live up to the enormity of the task that God has called them to. If at the end of the day, the pastor looks out over the church and all that work, all that love, all that energy, has done nothing in the hearts of the people, that there is still unrepentance, still a love for the alluring things of the world that distract from the work of God, still a resistance to the Word of God, then that pastor would leave mourning for those people and feeling humiliated before God because he’d be found a failure.
Do you have a Godly pastor? Let him know in some way that you trust him and that you don’t question his motives to be the spiritual leader that God has called him to be. Stop focusing on his faults and focus on his strengths instead, with realistic expectations about who he is as part of fallen humanity. And finally, know that every day your pastor struggles with feeling like a failure at the job God has called him to do. Give him some encouragement…he needs it more than you know and needs as much as you can give.