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Christ deserves the spotlight.
The Word always eclipses its messengers.
It’s no secret that many of the modern approaches to pastoral ministry have assumed a number of roles that that office was never meant to hold. From CEO to event planner to relationship guru, I would hasten to say that if the general swath of evangelicalism has anything to say about it, the pastor should always be wearing five to six hats with perfect aplomb. In my estimation, however, we’ve lost sight of what the job of the under-shepherd of Christ’s sheep is supposed to entail. This doesn’t mean that those hats aren’t legitimate, nor does that mean that pastors should outright refuse involvement in the business of the church or the coordination of the church’s programs or never engage in counseling folks through difficult seasons. But it does mean that such tasks are not the pastor’s primary assignment.
The role that’s most paramount to the office of pastor is that of a herald. To use Rev. Alexander Maclaren’s terminology, he is a “crier,” that is, one who enters the town square over and over again with a message that’s not his own. His job, to use the words of John the Baptist, is to decrease so that Christ might increase (John 3:30) — or, as Maclaren puts it, his task is to suppress himself in order thy the Word might shine. He writes:
The preacher is a crier. The substance of his message, too, is set forth. ‘The preaching which I bid thee’ — not his own imaginations, nor any fine things of his own spinning. Suppose Jonah had entertained the Ninevites with dissertations on the evidences of his prophetic authority, or submitted for their consideration a few thoughts tending to show the agreement of his message with their current opinions in religion, or an argument for the existence of a retributive Governor of the world, he would not have shaken the city. The less the Prophet shows himself, the stronger his influence. The more simply he repeats the stern, plain, short message, the more likely it is to impress. God’s Word, faithfully set forth, will prove itself. The preacher or teacher of this day has substantially the same charge as Jonah had; and the more he suppresses himself, and becomes but a voice through which God speaks, the better for himself, his hearers, and his work. (6:1.191)
Maclaren utilizes the backdrop of Jonah to great effect, here, drawing upon the Lord’s calling of his runaway prophet to articulate what it looks like for God’s ministers to be imbued with a message that’s not their own, that ought to surpass them at every juncture (Jonah 3:1–4). The Word always eclipses its messengers. Christ deserves all the spotlight. Turning to a New Testament example to demonstrate the same paradigm, H. A. Ironside says the following in a sermon on the apostle Paul’s farewell to the elders from Ephesus:
If there is any position, any calling where pride should have no place, it is in connection with the ministry of the Word of God, for, to begin with, the minister of Christ is one who was just a poor, lost, needy sinner, but who has been saved by grace and entrusted with a message to the world and to the people of God. He does not receive this because of any merit of his own. It is all because of the goodness of the Lord . . . The servant is really nothing, and the more we realize this and are willing to take the place of nothingness, the more God delights to come in and work through His servants. (470–71)
Pastors are needy sinners, too. They are desperate for grace and to be reminded of the truth of the Word just as much as they are deliberate in dispensing the truth itself. How tragic, though, when the messengers deem themselves worthy of the spotlight reserved for the Master! It’s a case of divine burglary to try to steal some of the attention for yourself. Christ deserves it all. The Lord is worthy of all the limelight. Pastors are merely those who point those to whom they are called to the light. They announce the truth and then get out of the way.
Grace and peace.
H. A. Ironside, Lectures on the Book of Acts (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Bros., 1967).
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944).