I remembered noticing him while I was preaching. Unaware of who this new guest was, I was thankful he approached me after the service.
“I’m a pastor on vacation this weekend and decided to join you for worship.”
As we continued our introductory chitchat, we made random connections, expressed encouragement, and wished one another well as he left, and I prepared for the next service.
I didn’t remember his name when I received an email from him two days later.
“I just wanted to thank you again for Sunday’s sermon. I really loved the way you preached. I have a question to ask you: would you consider selling your sermons to me? I just really resonated with the way you delivered it, and I would pay you for weekly outlines.”
Dumbfounded, I reread the email to make sure I understood the proposal. I really wasn’t honored by the request, I was more shocked that he hadn’t found better outlines to purchase. My thoughts begin to race about what this request meant about this new friend. Was he simply lazy and didn’t want to put in the preparation? Maybe he was going through a spiritually dry season. Could demands be so high that he lacked sufficient time?
Or was it worse than all of that? Was it because he had nothing to say for God because he had heard nothing from God?
The fear of that thought being true troubled me immensely. My email response to him never garnered a followup, and I never allowed such a transaction to take place because of one reason: his church deserved better. They needed a man growing so much in his own relationship with the Lord, that he had something fresh to share with them.
Are Spiritual Leaders Guaranteed to Grow?
I think people have false assumptions about a pastor’s devotional life. Since many people are unaware of what a pastor does outside of Sunday responsibilities, people might think that office hours are simply filled with rich quiet time completions. Studying the Word and praying to God must be so frequent and faithful that a pastor just glows from the uninterrupted devotional time.
Most congregations would be surprised to find out how many quiet times are missed, how many prayer times are lifeless, and how many Bible studies feel flat. They might be amazed at how many days are missed rather than how many verses are memorized.
A pastor can’t point people to Jesus if he isn’t walking with him regularly.
It just can’t happen. Ministry leaders are in desperate need of learning from the Scriptures if they are ever to teach them. They need times in prayer to meet the varying needs. They need their souls to be at rest if they are ever to help someone find that very thing.
Working for the God You Don’t Know
Samuel was a young boy dropped off into ministry. After his unexpected birth, his mother decided to make good on her promise to give him back to the Lord. If she got to birth him, God would get to raise him. And that’s exactly what she did.
Raised in the temple under the tutelage of Eli the priest, Samuel was “ministering to the LORD” at a very early age (1 Sam. 3:1). One night, he hears a voice and assumes it to be his mentor. It was actually God getting his attention. As he attempts to discern what is transpiring, the Scripture informs us of a tragic reality.
“Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.”1 Samuel 3:7
That line makes sense in of itself, but coupled with the chapter’s introductory remarks, it becomes a devastating backdrop.
Samuel was ministering to the LORD before he actually knew the LORD.
He was religiously busy but relationally dry. He was busy in the work of ministry without ever knowing the point of the ministry.
What a tragic reality that is too often repeated. Whether you lead as a pastor, minister, staff member, or lay leader, this warning needs to be heeded by all of us. Don’t settle for activity before nurturing intimacy.
Samuel’s walk was tied to the Word. The Word had not been revealed to him, so therefore, he did not know the God of the Word.
My pastoral friend was tragically in the same spot. He wanted to be busy ministerially, but he really didn’t know the object of his preaching.
If you really want to impact someone for God, you better get to know him.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.