One of the great challenges of true leadership is walking the talk. Not just giving instruction, but being willing to follow that which you’ve laid out for others. And in the event that those rules don’t apply to you, showing that you are following the ones that do apply to you. This is especially true when it comes to preaching and pastoring. In fact, we are the basis of that popular phrase “Practice what you preach”. It’s so vitally important that we’re living by that principle because people in their flesh are often unable to look beyond God’s representative and see Him for themselves.
It is through the preacher that many are introduced to God. While we can’t save, we can point people to The One who does. Because of this, our jobs are more critical than any other within the body of Christ (Note: The importance is on the job, not on the individual doing the job). While we have been blessed with such a great call, we have not been given the free pass that many, both within and outside of the ministry, think we have. We have not been given a special rules exemption by God. This responsibility is sacred and it must be treated as such. Though we throw that catch phrase around rather loosely, “Practice what you preach” is probably the most important mandate available for any minister of The Gospel.
The human side of a preacher or pastor can often affect the spiritual call that he’s under. For example, if there’s anything that bothers us on our 9 to 5 jobs, it has to be higher ups operating by a different set of rules. I mean, doesn’t the employee handbook apply to everyone? Don’t we all work for the same company? I know you’ve gotten a few promotions, but rules are rules, right? Well, not always.
If you’re working a secular job for a number of years, you get comfortable. You’ve gotten a few raises, a few promotions, and you’ve got a little seniority. Just as it is on a secular job, the longer you’ve been doing it, the more comfortable you feel cutting corners and not following all of the rules to the letter. Now, if you’re blessed enough to have a few subordinates, you won’t allow them the same latitude (unless, of course, you have some favorites, which we all do). You make sure that the people “working under you” abide by all of the rules as stated. And if you’re ever questioned by them about the obvious double standards, you remind them of how long you’ve been doing this, what your title is, who their immediate boss is, and the fact that you’re in good with the big boss, so you’re privileged. Does this sound like church to anyone yet?
A preacher or pastor can’t in good conscience stand in the pulpit and instruct the people of God in the rights and wrongs of Christian living, and then act as though he is above the law. People in church can spot a hypocrite from a mile away. Even as they say “amen”, they’re still aware when you don’t practice what you preach. In fact, they lose respect for you. Not because you’re not perfect, because they already know that and they’re not afraid to tell you. They lose respect because you’re acting as if the rules don’t apply to you. You lose credibility and the ability to correct them because if you can pick and choose what to follow, why can’t they?
Nowhere in the qualifications for a Bishop (1 Timothy 3:1-7) were we issued a different Bible. The same Bible that applies to the “layperson” applies to the pastor and preacher. We all have the same rules about adultery, fornication, gossip and backbiting, forgiveness, etc. God meant those words for all, no matter what your position in the church.
People are turned off from traditional churches because some of our pastors and preachers act as though they’re above the Bible. But it’s not God that’s behind this elevation, oh no. It’s often man’s ego, coupled with members and their hero worship/groupie mentality. When I published my book “An Understanding with God”, the original premise was dealing with preachers and pastors that behaved as though having a greater understanding of God’s Word gave them leeway that other Christians didn’t have with God concerning sin.
Now, I don’t want anyone to get this wrong. Understand that both the pastor and preacher are under a special anointing from God. They have been called to a greater work. It is a work not to be taken lightly, nor disrespected. The Bible states in both 1 Chronicles 16:22 and Psalms 105:15: “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm”. However, those scriptures are in reference to the mistreatment of the prophets, not godly correction. None of us are above that. In truth, the fact that we’re called to a greater calling doesn’t alleviate our responsibility to live according to God’s Word. It increases that responsibility.
Preaching has enough challenges without we preachers acting as though The Word doesn’t apply to us. There’s automatically an expectation of “holier than thou” placed on us as soon as we accept the call. People believe that because we’re preachers and pastors, we’ve somehow been given some supreme ability to avoid sin. They assume that the devil won’t attack us because God is covering us. They began throwing our past around like its current events. They forget our humanity.
While there’s nothing we can do about people’s unrealistic expectations, we can do something about the idea that we don’t have to serve the same God that they do, under the same ordinances listed in His Word. We can be sure that people understand that our call doesn’t make us exempt from God’s orders for the Christian community as a whole. We can practice what we’ve been called to preach.
All of the teaching and preaching that we do on love, forgiveness, keeping God’s statutes, and overall Christian conduct should serve as a reminder to us first, before it becomes schooling or a corrective measure for those we’re charged with leading. Every word in our lessons, sermons, lectures, and Bible classes should sting us first. If we aren’t living what we’re teaching from the Bible, each word that we speak should be a bitter taste in our mouths until we’re trying our very best to do so.
We must remember that we don’t preach so that people can see how great we are, but so they can see how great our God is. We aren’t to preach a word of chastisement with a tone that suggests that we’ve somehow conquered sin. We ought to speak as though we’re beneficiaries of God’s grace and mercy, just like the people we’re speaking to.
This isn’t a call for you to be overly critical of the preachers or pastors that you know (remember 1 Chronicles 16:22 and Psalms 105:15), but you should be concerned when they’re aware of everyone else’s shortcomings, but blind to their own, particularly when they’re obvious. The easiest way to lose people is to tell them to do something that they know you should be doing to, but you’re not. We can’t be “do as I say, not as I do” preachers. We must be a living and breathing example of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not just a shadow.