Business author Jim Collins suggests we develop a “stop doing” list so that we discard activities that don’t fit because of our passions and convictions.
I like that idea, but rather than making up our own, I suggest we borrow from Paul’s list of activities that have no place in Christian ministry, all found in 2 Corinthians. I hope they’re not so much a “stop doing” list as much as a list of things we’ve never done and will never even consider. And they’re not as much a reflection of our passions as much as they are implications of the gospel.
- Don’t quit. “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (4:1). Paul knew discouragement. He despaired of life itself (1:8) and felt fear (7:5), but he refused to give up. He remembered what he used to be like (“formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent”) and was amazed that God saved him and called him into ministry (“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service…” 1 Timothy 1:12-13). His wonder at God’s grace crowded out his desire to quit when things got hard. Pastor: be more amazed by God’s grace than you are discouraged by your difficulties.
- Don’t manipulate. “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning…” (4:2). Then, as now, crafty leaders knew the tricks and shortcuts to draw a crowd and create buzz. If you’re looking for shortcuts, you’ll find them. Paul refused to manipulate. Pastor: never be tempted by bags of tricks. Pursue substance over flashy style.
- Don’t tamper with Scripture. “We refuse to…tamper with God’s word…” (4:2). The Bible contradicts us all. Teachers face the temptation to skip passages and soften hard truths. Paul refuses to accommodate God’s Word to his or other people’s tastes. Pastor: never elevate people’s views over God’s revelation in Scripture.
- Don’t be a hypocrite. “…but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (4:2). We sometimes wonder if a preacher’s private life matches their public proclamation or online reputation. Paul didn’t play that game. Pastor: we know you’re not perfect, but make sure your life matches your message.
- Don’t self-promote. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (4:5). Even in Paul’s day Christian leaders were tempted build a platform. Paul argues that we’re no more than servants, and servants don’t care about their influence. Our job is to make Jesus’ name great, not our own. “Let your sermons be full of Christ,” C.H. Spurgeon comments, “from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel.” Cram your ministry with Christ, and empty your ministry of self-promotion.
To put things positively:
- Stay amazed by God’s grace and let that carry you through difficulties.
- Maintain integrity in your methods as well as your message.
- Love and preach God’s Word without modification.
- Live the message you preach.
- Make Jesus the center of your ministry, and take your place as a servant.
I love Paul’s stop-doing list. I pray God will give me the grace to work these lessons into my ministry.