By David Faust
Remember the song “Winter Wonderland”? It contains a line about a talking snowman that a cheery couple imagines to be an ordained minister. They nickname him Parson Brown. “Are you married?” he asks, and they respond, “No man, but you can do the job when you’re in town.”
Parson comes from the Latin persona. In the past, some ministers were called “parsons” and their homes were known as “parsonages.” In his Commentaries on the Laws of England, the 18th-century legal expert Sir William Blackstone wrote that a parson’s job is to “carry out the business of the church in person.” He “is called parson, persona,” Blackstone explained, “because by his person the church, which is an invisible body, is represented.”
No one calls me Parson Dave, and that’s fine with me. The biblical concept of the priesthood of all believers makes us resist highfalutin titles that elevate clergy above the laity. But the word parson serves as a reminder that how you lead is inseparable from who you are as a person. God cares about your whole personhood, including your mental, physical, and spiritual health and the motives that drive you.
A. W. Tozer wrote, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular; it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act.”
Motivation is an essential part of leadership. Coaches try to bring out the best in their players. Parents and teachers want to motivate kids to clean their rooms and do their homework. Companies incentivize employees to make them more productive. Effective sermons move Christians to put our faith into action.
Motives matter to God. According to Proverbs 16:2, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”
Motivation spurs personal growth. We won’t lose weight, exercise, or read the Bible regularly unless we tune up our internal motors and do some honest self-evaluation. Like David in the Psalms, we should invite the Lord to search our hearts and see if any offensive ways are hindering God’s work in our lives (Psalm 139:23-24).
TIME FOR A TUNE-UP
Could your motives use a tune-up? If so, here are three questions to ask.
1. It’s OK to be driven . . . but who is driving?
Many church leaders would describe ourselves as driven. But who is in the driver’s seat—the Lord, or our own egos? Are we driven by the power of the Holy Spirit, or by our own insecurity and an unholy desire for recognition?
2. It’s fine to be ambitious . . . but for what purpose?
The Pharisees were zealous but misguided. Jesus didn’t fault them for praying, fasting, and tithing, but he criticized their self-serving motives and declared, “Everything they do is done for people to see” (Matthew 23:5). They were doing the right things for the wrong reason.
Is our goal to prove something to others—or perhaps prove something to ourselves? Are we trying to make our own names known or make Jesus’ name known? The apostle Paul wrote, “The appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives. . . . We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
3. It’s good to be passionate . . . but for whose glory?
In his B.C. days (before Christ changed him), Saul of Tarsus already was a hard-driving achiever, but the Lord overhauled his soul and reshaped his motives. After he became a Christ follower, Paul remained ambitious, hardworking, and passionate, but someone else occupied the driver’s seat. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul wrote, “and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Christ became the most important “parson” in his life.
First Peter 5:2-3 reminds the church’s elders about three negative motivations and three positive motivations for ministry. How (and why) does God want leaders to lead?
• “Not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.”
• “Not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.”
• “Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
How many problems would we avoid if those noble motivations guided our personal goals, our meeting agendas, our sermons, and our interactions with others? Johann Sebastian Bach and George F. Handel had the right idea. They wrote at the end of their musical compositions, Soli Deo Gloria (abbreviated S.D.G.): “To God alone be the glory.”
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Remembering Michael Mack
Like so many others, I was saddened last August to hear about the sudden death of Christian Standard’s editor, Michael Mack. When Mike was a seminary student and engaged to be married, Candy and I had him and Heidi over to our house to talk about marriage and ministry. Years later, Mike did freelance work for The Lookout magazine when I served as editor. I respected his attention to detail, his expertise in leading small groups, and his earnest love for God.
In recent years I emailed Mike my weekly articles (usually on Mondays) and he often responded with encouraging notes. A month before he died, Mike called and asked me to write a new column for the back of Christian Standard’s bimonthly issues. After brainstorming possible titles for the new column, we settled on “Motivate.” In his last e-mail to me, Mike wrote, “I’m imagining you as a coach who is taking the playbook, that is, the articles in each issue, and then motivating the team to put God’s Word into action.” As was his custom, Mike concluded his e-mail by quoting from the second verse of Jude’s Epistle: “Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.”
For all who read my column today and in future issues of Christian Standard, that is my prayer for you as well.