The Physiognomy of Ministry

I just recently finished a 60-day exercise regimen called Insanity. While, I wouldn’t say I have a beach body as the package advertises (which probably has more to do with the candidate than the program), I will confess that the program is certainly well named! While the program is really a full-body workout, one of the primary emphases is on the core. Regularly, and at length, exercises are introduced that focus on the development of one’s core.

Of course, one could simply view the videos without doing all the work. You could purchase the T-Shirt to resemble those who completed the course. You could even change your name to Shaun T. But those efforts won’t produce six-pack abs. In the end, the results will be evident. You can wear a baggy T-shirt all you want, but it won’t hide the truth underneath. To produce the desired results of the program, the schedule must be maintained and the effort must be complete.

Just like our bodies, ministry has a core. The core of our ministry is our character. Sadly, character seems in short supply. Far too many ministers have traded integrity for self-interest, character for convenience, or holiness for happiness. Others have become self-absorbed, or career-obsessed, and sacrificed less tangible qualities for the instant gratification of the expedient.

But compromise isn’t cost-free, and the damage done is incalculable. The harm caused by failures in ministers is more destructive than those of any other occupation. It’s little wonder that people have begun to suspect those whom they should respect; they’ve begun to question those who should provide answers; and, maybe worst of all, character flaws in ministers shock and alarm them less and less.

James Stalker once said, “The higher the honor attached to the ministerial profession … the deeper the abuse of which it is capable in comparison with other callings; and its functions are so sacred that the man who discharges them must either be a man of God or a hypocrite.”

May I say to you, Minister, your life is a reflection of the strength of your ministry. Flaws revealed in you weaken the impact your life can make. In the end, your competence will only be able to take you as far as your character can sustain. No amount of skill can make up for a deficiency in character because your character isn’t just about what you do, it is the expression of who you are.

No amount of skill can make up for a deficiency in character because your character isn’t just about what you do, it is the expression of who you are.

A recent Leadership Journal issue suggested that “Pastors need firmer guidelines on ministry rights and wrongs.” Really?! I wasn’t aware those were in question. I don’t think pastors need firmer guidelines; I just think they need firmer convictions!

Do you remember the story that Jesus told in Matthew 25:14-30 about the Master who was going on a long journey and in his absence, entrusted his servants with talents? In an effort to personalize their stories, I have given them names. I like to refer to them as Five Talent Fred, Two Talent Ted, and One Talent Otis

You remember their stories. Fred and Ted proved obedient to the task and were rewarded for their faithfulness. Maybe you’ve met some individuals like Fred and Ted. To be sure, the work of the Kingdom is blessed by servants with great ability.

But, the application of Jesus’ story isn’t about Fred and Ted; it’s about Otis. Unlike his more faithful co-laborers, out of laziness, apathy, or fear of failure Otis allowed his Master’s talent in his possession to atrophy. In the end, his return of a stale, unused talent did not meet his master’s approval.

It’s a cop-out to think that Otis was less important than Fred or Ted. He wasn’t less important, and there wasn’t less expected of him. Otis wasn’t confused on the instructions, and He didn’t need firmer guidelines on right and wrong. Otis just needed to be faithful.

Character failures in leadership are contagious to the congregation, and the casualties of our failures are inestimable.

The failure of Otis was not a failure of ability; it was a failure of character. Sadly, too many failures in the church today are as well. But, they don’t make baggy T-shirts that will hide the failures in our character. Our failures stand out like muffin-tops around our waists, undermining the work of God in us and compromising the ministry of God through us. Even worse, character failures in leadership are contagious to the congregation, and the casualties of our failures are inestimable.

As a minister, we are accountable before God and our responsible before people. Good or bad, your life is a reflection of your ministry. Remember, if you say it, they’ll hear it, but if you live it, they’ll remember it. How firm is your core?

Deron Biles

Deron Biles

Dean of Extension Education, Associate Dean for the Doctor of Ministry Program, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Biles serves as Dean of Extension Education and teaches in the School of Theology. He is married to Jaye and has four boys.
Twitter: @deronjbiles
Deron Biles

Latest posts by Deron Biles (see all)