The Promotion of Pain by Positivist Pastors Proud of Performance
A while back, the Lord granted me a ministry of encouragement toward a recently sacked Presbyterian pastor. It was on our holiday visit to Michigan that I first met the wounded shepherd.
I told him the story of my journey, and he reciprocated by telling me of his personal pilgrim’s progress. I admit, I was taken aback by his bitterness toward the church. His words were cold and scathing, especially toward those who cleverly orchestrated his removal from the pastorate.
Ministry is often born by one suffering affliction, followed by the scars, and then comes the Spirit’s direction to help fellow believers enduring similar hardships. One has suffered, and another one now suffers. God arranges the meeting. The suffering party often just needs to be heard and affirmed.
The truth is that sin abounds in situations of separation. Everyone plays their part, but the frenzy for change and resolution causes the parties to forget the ministry of reconciliation. Pastors are called, “men of God,” and to have an unspiritual group of people disregard such spiritual events can be treacherous for the congregation’s future.
Suffering servants, like this particular pastor, are common. I am ever learning of ministries created to minister specially to ministers. Recovering wounded warriors is their objective. I am grateful for those engaged in this healing work, but this type of ministry’s existence is a warning sign for the church.
The normal Christian experience is suffering. It comes with sufficient grace (2 Cor 12:9), so we must not be characterized as moribund. God does comfort His people. Much of our suffering serves God’s work of sanctification (Rom 15:16; 1 Thess 4:3, 7; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2), which means we cannot lose perspective of our Father’s chastening (Heb 12:4–13). He loves His children (1 Jn 3:1, 10).
When one child gloats in the presence of so much suffering, he should be corrected. Now is not the time to glory. In our day of infiltrated psychology, our critical focus is on the Christian positivist.
Often, the positivist pastor with a penchant for performance will boast publicly. This promotes pain in the suffering saints. Unable to explain his under-performance leads to guilt. Often the faithful servant decreases, while Christ increases. The opposite is true, too.
Spiritual depression is reality for weary pilgrims, but positivist pastors try to prevent this evil spirit from getting a stronghold. The problem is that positivism is a façade. Was not Jesus a man of sorrows (Is 53:3)?
Positivism is easily detected, as fabricated, by the “happy, happy, happy Christian.” We are not advocating dour Christianity, but the motives of the positivist have to be skewed. To avoid suffering as a Christian pastor, many turn to the “power of positive thinking…and marketing.”
“Authentic Christianity,” “Healthy church,” etc. are signal terms in the quest for true Christian experience. We, of all people, should be honest about our reality. We are at war with our spiritual adversary, who wills to work us woe (Eph 6:10–20). To pretend all is well, or to ignore our nemesis, is tomfoolery. Even to masquerade like we are a new, hip, start-up corporation in the world, publicly marketing ourselves and our church, is a travesty.
When a pastor is Christ-focused, he is faced with the dichotomy of Christ’s story. The suffering servant is the life of Christ (Is 53). Jesus promised that in the world, His disciples would have trouble (Jn 16:33). On the other hand, the glorious God-man is His current state on the throne of God in heaven (Ps 110:1; Rev 7:17). We have much to look forward to in our hope of glory (Col 1:27).
Every living Christian is being transformed from Adam to Christ (Rom 5:12–21). Thus, our current state is growing pains. We must grow up into Christ (Rom 8:29; Eph 4:13; 2 Pet 3:18). This is the path of pain. It is not, “Try Jesus for a better life.” Jesus insisted His followers must deny themselves, pick up their cross, in order to truly follow Him (Lk 9:23).
Grace should produce expressions of humble gratitude for little evidences of growth over time. God is at work. When a flurry of activities is promoted as church growth, or worse…spiritual growth, it is simply immature on the part of pastors who do it. As a pastor friend of mine once said, “activity is not equivalent to spirituality.”
Flaunting the frenzy of busy-bee Christians, like a corporation giving a quarterly sales report, inflicts an undesirable spirit of competition on other Christians tempted to envy, or worse…imitation. All of this is utterly unnecessary, and there is no benefit for the church. Should we not walk gently, as well as humbly with our God? Does not the picture of sheep in a safe pasture give us the proper picture of Christian performance?
Performance-driven Christianity is a cancer in the church. It is an invasive species of worldliness. Promoting performance can only be pride, and that never ends well.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:2), apprehending His work by faith (Ps 57:2; 138:8; Is 26:12; Phil 1:23), gives us the message of hope to preach to our long-suffering companions. This is not the obnoxious quest for church growth through carnal marketing campaigns. Rather, it is the Gospel told over and over again.
The candy shop church is sweet, but it does not sustain him who is spiritual (1 Cor 2:15). The steakhouse church is filling, and the saint who receives the meat of the Word is most blessed. He needs food for the road, for it is long and suffering is sure, indeed. May God comfort and strengthen you with His Word, brought to you by His Spirit, through a faithful preacher of the Bible. May God deliver you from the positivist propagation of pretentious performance Christianity.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 22, 2022