A Pastor’s Reflections: Burn’em
We live during the age of the theological celebrity. In previous generations there were undoubtedly popular preachers and theologians but things were a bit different. A theologian like Martin Luther was tied to a church not to a para-church organization, he wrote books, but they were not usually available for mass distribution like today’s trade paperbacks or internet posts, and he preached sermons but you had to be present in Wittenberg to hear them. Nowadays a celebrity preacher likely has a blog, a personal para-church ministry, website, published books, and his sermons hit the web within minutes after being preached. All of this creates a sense of urgency among newly minted minsters—they feel a sense of being left behind. As soon as they get into a church they want to start writing books, recording their sermons, writing their blog posts full of wisdom and insight, and perhaps even fire-up a para-church ministry with a matching website. Is all of this a good idea?
From one vantage point I can understand the sense of urgency. I can remember feeling like I was “behind” because I entered ordained ministry by the time I was 28, one year after Calvin had already published his first edition of the Institutes. I mean, you spend four years in undergrad, three to four years in seminary, followed by three years of graduate school, so the thought is, “I want to get off the bench and into the game!” But the more I have reflected upon what I know now, fifteen years later, and what I knew then, I’m glad that I didn’t get overly exposed too early. What do I mean?
I remember some people at my church were digging around in our storage container and stumbled upon the audiotapes for my first sermon series. They immediately bounced over to me and asked, “Do you want us to convert these to MP3s so we can post them on the website?” I responded, “What? Are you nuts? Those sermons were my very first ones—burn’em.” In other words, over the years I have been able to look back upon earlier work and I wince when I look back at it. As a minister matures, grows, and learns more, hopefully his sermons get better with time and practice. I am glad that I took possession of those tapes and they are now in a landfill somewhere. Yes, the Lord can use our paltry offerings in ways far beyond what we can imagine, but that doesn’t mean that everything we say or write is ready for broad dissemination.
All of this is to say, don’t be too eager to fire up the recorders, post your sermons on line, write books, blog posts, and start a personal para-church ministry. Rather, take time to sit quietly, study, learn, and ply your craft. Tend to your sheep and ensure you spend time caring for them—that is the primary goal of your ministry. True ministry isn’t about celebrity and notoriety, writing books and blog-posts, but about ministering the means of grace, word and sacrament, and caring for hurt and needy sheep. I think far too many ministers chase after the celebrity train and their congregations suffer as a result. The Lord may decide to use you in mighty ways, far beyond the reach of your own congregation. If he does, praise God. But don’t forget that ministry is about your sheep, your congregation. Moreover, as a new minister you still have much to learn. So it will probably be a while before you should become a greater public figure.