North Church - Albuquerque, NM
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Profile Of A Bad Pastor #1

I like to visualize bible stories. I’m really imaginative with the scenes where Jesus insults religious leaders. I personalize and modernize those encounters. I see Jesus take the mic and call out the bad pastors (Pharisees and Scribes) of his day in front of everyone. The crowd jeers the bad guys. Then, I see Jesus hand me the mic as his stage hand. I drop it to the ground without saying a word. Together we exit the stage and are off to change the world. Applause grows in volume while the scene fades to black.

But there is one serious problem with my imagination. It’s void of truth. After more than twenty years of service in pastoral ministry, I’ve come to realize that I am not with Jesus as a character in this story. I’m not with masses either. Actually, I’m with those Jesus is calling out. I am the Pharisee. I am the bad pastor.

Matthew, a follower of Jesus, tells the true story this way, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:13) 

The Pharisees and scribes were religious leaders in Israel. They wielded considerable spiritual authority. They studied, interpreted and taught the bible. They presided over rituals. They had big time social status. And they were frauds.So Jesus tells those languishing under these teachers to not throw the bible out with the bathwater. The lesson of the bible teacher is to be followed. But the lifestyle of the teacher isn’t. 

This is where I identify with those Jesus exposed. Too often, in my own experience, I have preached but not practiced. One painful example comes to mind. Years ago the church was struggling to pay the bills. I was struggling to pay mine too. I remember preaching several sermons with a heavy application on the biblical exhortation to give sacrificially and trust God to provide for our needs. Yet, I wasn’t giving at all because I didn’t trust God that much.

I justified my hypocrisy. In my way of thinking, I had given many hours in serving the church and was underpaid for my efforts. Thus, in a twisted way of reasoning, I was giving the money I didn’t have to the church that needed real dollars.   

Preaching the truth was my gig. Practicing the truth was for everyone else. Sadly, this isn’t an ancient disease found only in the religious Judaism of Jesus’ day. It’s an epidemic in today’s American Christianity. 

Preachers proclaim justification by faith then practice self-righteousness. We preach about the importance of public worship but never join the gathered congregation in song, prayer, communion or in simply listening to someone else preach. We exhort others to live on mission yet don’t even know the names of our unbelieving neighbors. We call people to live in community yet are isolated and insulated ourselves. And while we’d never be so honest to say it out loud, at times we practically believe the preacher’s job is to preach the gospel while those who listen should live it out.

That’s probably why the Apostle Paul felt it necessary to write to his spiritual son, Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16 ESV)   

Practicing and preaching the truth are inseparable for the sake of everyone. But especially for the sake of my own soul. The church needs more preaching. But even more, the church needs preachers who are practicing what they preach.