E2: Effective Elders Blog
Editor’s Note: Each Friday we publish a new blog post from our partners in ministry, E2: Effective Elders. We publish it here simultaneous to E2’s posting on their site. The leaders of E2 write an article for our print and online magazine every month as well. Those articles are full of wisdom and practical help for elders. Please check them out!
By Larry Carter
Richard Baxter, a preacher who lived in the 1600s, wrote a book to help church leaders understand the nature and task of ministry. Among his many wise instructions and observations in The Reformed Pastor, he included a chapter titled “The Oversight of Ourselves.” Though written in 1656, his words are still relevant today.
“Take heed to your spiritual condition first,” Baxter wrote.
We in leadership often put others first in our work with the church. When we serve others, we emulate the actions of Christ. But in the area of spiritual devotion, we must focus first on the condition of our own heart before God.
In 1995, the late Henri Nouwen wrote, “In the spiritual life, the word discipline means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’ Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied.”
In his book, Baxter went to the heart of the matter when he wrote, “A holy calling will not save an unholy man.” We must continue to seek God’s heart and work out our proper response to his leading.
“Take heed,” Baxter wrote, “because the tempter will make his first and sharpest assault on you. If you will be a leader against him, he will not spare you. He bears the greatest malice against the man who is engaged in working the greatest damage against him.”
The enemy has a special eye on you. You shall have his most subtle insinuations, his incessant attention, and his most violent assaults. As wise and learned as you may be, take heed lest he outwit you. The devil is a much greater scholar than you are. He is a more able debater. He can transform himself into an angel of light to deceive. He can cheat you of your innocence or faith before you realize what has happened to you. For his bait is always fitted to your temperament and disposition of character. In this way he can always take advantage of you.
Those of us who serve in church leadership, I think, would agree with Baxter’s analysis. We have felt Satan’s infernal pressure. We have seen fellow leaders fall. “Take heed” indeed.
Baxter evidently came to thoroughly understand and internalize Paul’s reminders to the church at Corinth. “When you forgive this man, I forgive him too—so that Satan will not outsmart us. We’re familiar with his evil schemes” (paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 2:10, 11).
I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast. . . . They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness . . . (2 Corinthians 11:12-15, New Living Translation).
Spiritual warfare is real. Paul understood that well when he wrote about the armor of God (see Ephesians 6:10-20).
Finally, Baxter wrote, “Take heed . . . because the honor of your Lord and Master rests on you more than other men.” Enough said.
Larry Carter serves as president of Great Lakes Christian College, Lansing, Michigan.
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