Promote Jesus Not Ourselves
I just finished reading Scott Slayton’s excellent article, “When The Popular Youth Pastor Gets Arrested Again,” which was posted last week (August 28) on the Gospel Coalition’s website. The article made me incredibly sad, because so many youth pastors, believe the hype about themselves. All of us are susceptible to the trap of proclaiming a “different gospel, not that there is another one” (Galatians 1:7). The “different gospel” is one that puts us at the center rather than the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us and the students to whom we minister from the present evil age (Galatians 1:3-4).
We Must Repent Of Our Pride
How easily could I or any of us reading the article about the arrested youth pastor run to our own self-righteousness and pride? It is so easy to think, “That would never be me. I would never make such foolish decisions. I can’t believe he didn’t heed the counseling of older pastors and leaders.” Truthfully, however, that article could have been written about any one of us.
After all, we want to impress. We want to be hip. We want to be noticed. We want to be relevant. We want the students to laugh at our stories. We want to entertain. We want to be remembered. We want all of those things, and we must come to grips with our selfish pride, because if we don’t, we will become the next youth pastor to fall victim to peddling a nominal Christianity that is focused more on us and not enough on Jesus. All of us, myself included, should heed the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Our business is not to entertain people…but a preacher should go into the pulpit to enunciate and proclaim the Truth itself.” In our lives and in our ministries it should be about Jesus and proclaiming His Truth to the watching world, but also to a church that desperately needs to be transformed instead of constantly conforming.
We must guard our hearts as youth pastors. We must be vigilant by the grace of God so that the pride that could so easily ensnare us would be put to death. We must confess and repent of that pride daily. We must admit, honestly, that too often our heart’s desire is to make ourselves known rather than Christ. Friends, we do this when we preach and teach, filling our manuscripts and outlines with stories and illustrations about ourselves. We do this when we are constantly bragging about the number of people that attend our programs. We do this when we promote our church or our ministry above another. We do these things and others because of our pride, and we must repent.
I love Milton Vincent’s words in A Gospel Primer, “Pride always precedes every sinful stumbling in my life…Preaching the Gospel to myself each day mounts a powerful assault against my pride and serves to establish humility in its place.” I constantly communicate to the students in our ministry, our interns, and our staff, “Preach the Gospel to yourself, see your sin, repent of it, but see to the glory of Christ to save you from that sin.” I can’t say it in conversations and I can’t preach it if I’m not doing it; I must preach the Gospel to myself. If not, the pride that rests in my heart will kill me and the ministry that God has called me to.
We Must Pursue Holiness
Just as we must repent of our pride, we must also be about the work of pursuing personal holiness. Reading the story of the fallen youth pastor should only make us want to run to Jesus all the more, to pursue and desire holiness in Him. Holiness has become a forgotten word in many of our Christian subcultures. We have become so quick to equate personal holiness with a self-righteous legalism, and we run from it thinking we’re abusing grace. No, our pursuit of holiness is essential as we minister to young people. The church father Gregory of Nazianzus said of the servant of the Gospel, “A man must himself be cleansed, before cleansing others…draw near to God, and so bring others near; be hallowed, then to hallow them.”
Our students greatest need is our personal holiness not our self-promotion and our dead spirituality. They will have no idea what the pursuit of holiness is unless we are pursuing it ourselves. The words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the deceased Scottish preacher, should ring constantly in our ears, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” We are called to pursue holiness as ministers of the Gospel. Paul told Timothy and he tells us, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Our holiness is essential.
Jerry Bridges quotes an old Puritan saying in one of his books, “Work as if it all depends on you, yet pray as if it all depends on God.” Some of us might not like that quote; it may sound to you like legalism, but Bridges goes on to say, “They labored diligently to become more like Christ, but they also prayed diligently because they knew they were dependent on the Holy Spirit to make their labor effective.” For some, we need to wake up to the pursuit of holiness. We’re not laboring diligently to be like Christ, we’re not praying diligently, and the evidence is in our hearts and our ministries.
Because we are susceptible to the prideful ambition of promoting ourselves rather than Christ, let us pursue holiness and pray, “Return again with showers of converting grace to a poor gospel-abusing sinner. Help my soul to breathe after holiness, after a constant devotedness to thee, after growth in grace more abundantly every day.” (Need of Grace, The Valley of Vision).