Wednesday, June 16, 2010

seven lies that can trap a ministry

Most of you are aware one of my original reasons for this blog was to help people in ministry come to grips with issues, theology, personal problems, and general roadblocks to living life to it's fullest while serving in full time ministry. [That can be a misnomer for sure.] In keeping with that purpose, I'm going to share autobiographically for the next few weeks, some problems that I believe plague many today in Baptist life.

If you're a reader with no connection to FTM, [Full time Ministry] I think that what's said here might benefit your life in general if you're willing to read it. Regardless, here's the first installment of "Seven lies that can trap your ministry." [Substitute 'life' for 'ministry' here if you wish. It's applicable I believe. Full time life...that has a ring to it.]

The first lie is.."THEY SAID IT..I BELIEVE IT TO BE TRUE."

I guess the desire for "heroes" is in us all. Maybe that's the reason for the popularity of Superman, Batman, the guy at the top, and every other super hero who all have comic books written about them. It may also be that in some, like me, who may have few childhood memories of strong role models in adults, a need for heroes is stronger. Who knows?.."what evil lurks in the heart of man?" [For the UN-initiated.."the Shadow knows." ;)] But when that is carried over into the realm of your Christian walk you create big time troubles. Trust me..I know. [What I'm about to say some of you reading who are NOT in FTM might want to substitute your own heroes whomever they may be.]

As I've said several times before, I started preaching when I was fifteen years old and was called to pastor my first part-time church at seventeen years of age. Then is when my heroes became men of the cloth. [Preachers] I admired them, followed them, and believed them. Some were correct in how they lived and what they said.. some where not. But the over-riding issue with me was not the truth.. but the fact that they were my heroes. And, you see, heroes are NEVER wrong and would NEVER lie. My truth WAS what they said about the scriptures. What did I know. If they said it..I believed it to be true.

Who are the 'THEY?' Frank Coy, Danny Recer, Fred Cherry, Billy Graham, Hershal Ford, A.W. Pink, Warren Wiersbie, John R. Rice, and a HOST of others. Don't laugh. Some of these were the greatest individuals imaginable. [Some still are.. but some I've found to be less than heroic in behavior and even in belief.] If we genuinely checked, I think we might find that we all have lists..maybe just with different names on it.

Problems resulted from this as you can imagine. A lot of them in fact. One was my having a low view of the importance of the text of scripture itself. I'm not saying I didn't believe the text of scripture to be inspired. I'm saying I didn't know/study the text to find out what I believed it said. In actuality, I assumed I knew the text BECAUSE of what "they" said about it. So.. what do you study for sermons? The text? No! Who do you listen to for the truth of a text? The Spirit? No! The answer is obvious.

Systematic theology became my goal for knowledge. Style of delivery became my goal for preaching. Studying the masters [My heroes] became my goal for reading. Systems written for leading a church and imitating the authors became my goal for pastoring. You see the problem.

You may be thinking that if I had gone to seminary I would have laid all this aside. I did go to seminary. I just changed the names on my list of heroes. The names then included people like..[Name any professor you wish that was strong in the Word.]...along with new friends like Jack Taylor, Peter Lord, Ron Dunn, Manley Beasley, T.W. Hunt, Oscar Thompson, and a host of NEW others. These became my new greatest individuals imaginable. I'm not saying they wanted to be any one's hero. They would probably have died if they had known they were mine. But you see the result I'm sure.

Celebrity worship may be the prevailing sin of SBC life today. If it is, The roots of it are probably in what I've just described autobiographically. Left unchecked in ANY ONE'S life and these kind of roots will wind up in a CELEBRITY STYLE CHRISTIANITY which is so obvious in SBC life today. So tertiary truths have become the issues that divide us, with anger on both sides, as we [Ministers basically] defend positions held by our heroes, past or present. Or worse, we defend our heroes whatever they do or say.

A second problem that resulted from this faulty thinking was I failed to comprehend who I was and how I was uniquely gifted in whatever way God chose for me to be. So I never believed I was someone who could do or be what my heroes were. This became the second of seven lies that hindered my ministry and is the lie that will be spoken about at length next time. Remember I SAW no failures or weaknesses on my heroes part. But that's WHY they remained heroes isn't it. I DID, however, see the failures and weaknesses on my part and that laid the foundation for the second lie. If I can be like them everything will be right with me. We'll look at it next time

I said there were other problems that resulted from the lie, "If they said it..I believed it." Without getting into specifics, permit me to say what some were as I close. You will notice that there are no WOMEN'S names on my lists. That's a problem because the only way I thought of most women was as the 'wife' of one of my heroes. Will it surprise you to find out that that was the way I thought of my own wife early on? I don't think it will surprise you at all. It also made me a perfect candidate for a hierarchical system of authority [That's a REAL problem] that left men in charge of everything. I read the scriptures through this filter for several years which was unfortunate for my own family and the churches I pastored.

I'm glad I can now say that filter has been removed and were I to have a list of heroes, and I don't, my wife would head the list. But she has her head on straight and her heart right and will not abide that kind of thing in her husband at all. So we now talk of our weaknesses and our faults without shame or a desire to hide, which is healthy and necessary for any true relationship to grow. But will not happen when hero/celebrity worship is in play.

I know what has happened to our marriage and family with the demise of hero worship. For those family members willing to plug into it, there is an ability to know and love without shame, anger or condemnation. Now think of what would happen to church-life if hero/celebrity worship were to be laid aside there. What? No shaming, condemning or perpetual anger? No defending in anger a position on doctrine or a need to maintain an image? My goodness.. perhaps REAL Body-life would be experienced.

Next time___lie number two.. "They did it..I should do it also to be truly spiritual."

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...

Good post.

Longer dissertation follows (Bible Study beckons, and I really ought to be there as I lead it).

Word Verification: slatignb, which is an anagram of BLASTING. Oh, boy .. I can hardly wait.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff here! (PS: You are my hero).

Aussie John said...


Hey! I didn't give you permission to write about me !

Seriously, a gross problem in most congregations, and leadership. Sadly, I believe such hero adulation is reveled in, promoted,and encouraged by many leaders!

How I've longed to see such honesty as yours.

Becky Dietz said...

About 16 years ago, I began asking God for TRUTH. Before He began revealing Truth, He first revealed the lies I believed. (Or at least that's when He started) And the first lies He revealed were those some of my favorite pastors had taught me. He is a jealous God, isn't He?

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks.I hope you have a great bible study.



Come spend some time with anyone who knows me WELL and they'll help get your head on straight about your 'hero.' ;)

Aussie J,

What more can I say about what you say? Your comments are appreciated more than you can know.


Reading your comment reminded me of Mary and my desire to gather all the churches we pastored before twenty-five years ago and go on a reunion retreat with them so we could apologize, tell them what we believe about some things differently now as opposed to then and why, tell them how much we appreciate the fact that God uses the ignorant and unlearned, [that's us] and tell them "thank you" for loving us in spite of a lot of things said and done in our immaturity spiritually.

Two more things..

1. I know He accomplished a lot even in and in spite of our immaturity.

2. I know He has grown some people we pastored beyond where we were personally when we were with them. [Thank the Lord for that.]

You and Andy are living proof of that.

Chris Ryan said...

I'm sure this is timed just after the GCTF gets the records sealed as a coincidence, but that doesn't make it any less applicable.

Like you, I've had my heroes. Most, I've never met: Bonhoeffer, Hauerwas, Lewis, Luther. And some of my professors (especially my NT prof from undergrad, Rodney Reeves) have been profoundly influential, if not heroes of the faith.

But I'm not sure that having heroes is the problem, so much as hero worship. I think it is important for each of us to have people whose lives and ministries we respect and respect highly - we all need reminded that ministry can be done well and we need inspired to try towards that ourselves. And we all need those who help us to ask questions about scripture and about theology so that we learn to ask good questions and not settle for pat answers. But when we accept their answers without critique, or when we emulate their ministry without reserve and without considering our context, then we have moved beyond having heroes to having idols. Because then we have set them before Scripture and before the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It may be, probably is, a line very easy to cross. But I still think the line is probably there.

Thanks for the reminder not to cross it, though. This young pup could always use that reminder! : )

Becky Dietz said...

No apology necessary! We've watched you and Mary grow and change---as have we, hopefully! Isn't that what this is all about?

Paul Burleson said...


The sealing of the GCTF records was something of a final straw for me in some fashion that I don't quite yet fully understand. I'm sure I will eventually.

But your point is well taken. There is, I'm sure, a line somehow.

Mentor, example, appreciation, respect, admire, impact, influencial, resource, even hero, rightly understood. But there is a line easily crossed where they become our SOURCE instead of our RESOURCE. That is where christian idolatry can begin for a believer with them often unaware.

My prayer is that you "young pups" will NOT cross the line with men, ministries, or methods.


If we ever have that retreat you and Andy are automatically invited.

Christiane said...


I haven't commented on 'the sealing' on Wade's blog, because I don't understand it yet.

The only thing I can think of is that a 'deal' to keep it secret was made up front, so that discussions could be, shall we say, 'frank', rather than filtered through the reality that all SBC members would be privy to discussions.


Maybe something 'happened' DURING the discussions that is so embarassing and threatening to some of the participants, that they are not wanting 'outsiders' to know about it.

If I WERE and SBC member, for me, the sealing would have been a 'statement' that I was 'outside' of the loop, and not 'privileged' (privy) to the know the workings of the task force.

I would be offended by being seen as untrusted with the information, and as an 'outsider'.

But it is not my place to comment. So just some thoughts from a REAL outsider.

Paul Burleson said...


You're right. There could be any number of reasons "why" they had the deliberations sealed. It could be, as they said, they told some who spoke before them, they would.

My problem is not 'why' they did it. My problem is 'that' they did it.

With what I know about people being elected or appointed to do a job and being instructed to report to those who did the electing so a vote/decision can be made about what to do..then choosing to keep things secret.. [whatever the motive] effect, saying, trust me, I know what's best for you, is not the way biblical leadership functions. In any business, especially Kingdom business.

There are too many ways to keep people's names private, were that to have been promised, and go ahead and published what was said for the good of all who need the information given by any interested party during the deliberations.

Too much is at stake for a few to make decisions based on all the information while the rest are in the dark as to information on the issue now sealed.

If this were a one time thing it might be a little more understandable. A mistake, but understandable.

But it has happened MANY times in SBC life [The IMB for example] over the past twenty-five or so years and a dangerous trend has been detected by those alert to such things which may be, in fact, a habit.

Bob Cleveland said...


Several things early in my active Christian life served to ingrain this thought into me. The first was, the next-door neighbor who invited me to Sunday School, divorced his wife (who was terminally ill).

The second was that my first best friend/fellow church member, and prayer partner, left his wife and ran off with a student teacher.

Then I heard the phrase "If he didn't save your soul, he's not your hero". That took root immediately, and I from that point on figured that any man could disappoint me, but Jesus never would.

Then, the instructor of the first real spiritual training I ever had, lost his luggage en route from Texas to lead our retreat, and thus lost his "Spiritual Opinion Poll" forms we were going to use. He said God spoke to him and said there was never ever to be any subterfuge any more .. we would stick to the gospel and prepare to simply present it to people, unvarnished, and as it was.

Depend on the word, nothing else.

Then there was a Joseph Garlington sermon which led me to desire to shed all of the "other people's conclusions" I had learned, and look to scripture alone for what I believed. And .. he also said in that sermon, that God may tell me something that someone else doesn't think He told me, so don't depend on everything others say. Filter it ALL through the Word.

The last thing was early on, when I noticed something about Revelation 3:20 that my hero Sunday School teacher said He'd never noticed. That shocked me into believing that God communicates with us, through His word, according to His will and not necessarily in order of one's age or credentials.

Bottom line: Great post!

Paul Burleson said...


What you have said reminds me of Hebrews 12:2 where we are told to be "Looking [off] to Jesus who is the Author and Finisher of our faith..."

The Greek emphasis is "looking off." Could it be that also indicates that our eyes are to taken off anyone BUT Jesus?

You and I would both agree with Chris that there are and will be special people in our lives, but there is a line. To not cross that line, "looking off" is absolutely essential. You've described that well.

Paul Burleson said...


I'm going tobe away from my computer for the next little while. Say what you wish to each other or just commenting on the post. But remember our ground rules for conversation if you will. I KNOW you will. You always do.

Bob Cleveland said...


The Apostle Paul referred in Ephesians 3:2, to a special dispensation of God's grace, that he'd been given for particular people. I firmly believe that happens today. That thought lets me see God reaching out to man, concerned about me, and recognize obedient servants while avoiding hero-worship.


Lin said...

"One was my having a low view of the importance of the text of scripture itself. I'm not saying I didn't believe the text of scripture to be inspired. I'm saying I didn't know/study the text to find out what I believed it said. In actuality, I assumed I knew the text BECAUSE of what "they" said about it."

This was me. But after many years of making excuses for what I saw behind the curtain with "leaders", I decided it was time to study on my own, alone. I wanted to know what having Christ IN me really looked like. I would not trade the last 5 years of study for anything. The more I study, the more I realize how much I don't know. It is endless.

We really do stifle ourselves when we start out only listening to or reading what humans have to say about God or their translation of what passages mean.

We must encourage new believers to get into the Word for themselves and be Bereans.

(I am very concerned about the focus on Systematic Theology. Where is the Holy Spirit in this?)

Strider said...

Great post Paul, I look forward to the rest of the series. I have found great value in learning and being inspired by others. I have found no one who is worthy of the hero title. We all have feet of clay. I often tell those under my leadership that they are not any better than I am, and that means they too need a lot of grace!

Aussie John said...


Each of those who have commented thus far are reflecting your frankness. I cannot put in words how refreshing, and encouraging, that is to me.

It's thrilling to consider the possibility of the amazing change in the world of "church" if all claiming to belong,were as seriously honest about who and what we really are.

For many, maybe most, Johnny Ray's song(yes, I'm ancient), "For I'm a Great Pretender" could be our theme song.

The chorus speaks volumes:
"Too real is this feeling of make believe
Too real when I feel what my heart can't conceal"

As Paul's words express much of my own walk, I think Lin expresses the truth of what I would dearly like to see happen across the church, Acts 17:11 in action!

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I'm back from Houston where I was in a week-end family life conference with my wife. We had a great time there.

Thanks guys for commenting. Aussie J I have to tell you, this is getting a bit spooky how we relate to the same things of the past. The platters singing 'the great pretender' is one of my all time favorites. {I didn't know Johnny Ray did it. I loved his singing too.]


I love your final sentence. That's one to remember. Thanks.


While I've always been a bit drawn to "systematic theology," I DO know what you're saying. We get it worked out systematically so often that our system often replaces the Holy Spirit in a practical sense in our study. God deliver us from that is my prayer too.

Aussie John said...


Oops! There is one difference between us! Your memory is better than mine!
It was The Platters!