Some jobs are more dangerous than others. Certain risks are associated with various professions. By most standards, pastors have a pretty cushy job.
At least we do in the United States.
But even in this modern American context there is a real danger for pastors. For all Christians, really. Few are talking about it. Most don’t even know it’s a danger.
But it’s there. Always lurking. It’s a hazard that many fall into. It seems that many don’t even realize they’ve fallen into the trap.
This occupational hazard is related to pride. It’s a symptom of our modern church systems. It can only be fixed by returning to a robust theology of the church and focusing our attention back where it belongs.
So, what is the danger?It is foolishly taking a position for ourselves with our lips that doesn’t belong to us.
The danger arises every time I meet someone new. Typical conversations may dwell for a few minutes on superficial and trivial matters. Sooner or later (especially when speaking with other men) the question will be asked:
So, what do you do?
When I reply, “I’m a pastor,” I know the inevitable follow-up question is coming:
Oh! Where is your church?
The follow-up question seems harmless. On the surface, this is simply a clarifying question. It’s the verbal equivalent of where do you work?
People ask the same question when we’re out witnessing.
Where is your church?
They don’t mean for it to be a trap. But the question isn’t harmless. How I respond to this question is extremely important. Jesus taught,
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45)
How I answer this question indicates what is in my heart. So, does my heart reflect the truth?
The truth is I don’t have a church.
Only Jesus does.
I can’t shed my blood for my own sins, let alone for yours. I didn’t suffer on the cross, enduring the wrath of God for anyone. I didn’t rise triumphantly on the third day in fulfillment of the Scriptures. I didn’t ascend into Heaven and take my seat at the right hand of the Father. I am not going to return in glory to gather a people to myself. I won’t rule the nations with justice and deal out retribution to my adversaries.
I won’t do that because I’m not Jesus the Christ. Only Jesus has a church.
Speaking of the risen and exalted Christ, the Apostle Paul said in Colossians 1:18,
He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
I am a part of Christ’s church. I minister, serve, worship, and fellowship together at a particular local church most of the time. However, I want to be very careful to never attempt to usurp Christ’s role or place. Not in my mind and heart. And not in the hearts and minds of others, either.
Heaven forbid I take first place away from Christ!
It’s a dangerous statement to casually say, “My church is over here” or “My church is over there.” It’s divisive. It’s theologically inaccurate. And, it’s common.
I don’t have a church. Neither do you. There is only one church. It belongs to Jesus. Purchased with His precious blood.
Sometimes I get a funny look when I tell people that. I don’t mean to be awkward. I understand when people ask me where my church is that they just want to know the name on the building I preach at.
But don’t I owe it to Christ to ensure He remains first? Shouldn’t I prioritize honoring Christ and lifting Him up over convenience in conversation?
It’s true that modern culture refers to buildings as “churches.” It’s true that modern culture thinks pastors have “churches.” But aren’t we called to not be conformed to the ways of this world?
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
If I renew my mind by the Word of God, I cannot help but defer to Christ and point all glory, honor, and praise to Him. He is worthy. I am not.
I am thankful for the opportunity to preach and teach in Christ’s church. But I never want to mistakenly (or, even worse, purposefully!) take first place for myself.
When we speak of the church are we careful to ensure that people know that she belongs to Christ?
To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood–and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father– to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. (Revelation 1:5-7)
I belong to the church. I happen to be a part of a local fellowship that is part of the church of Jesus Christ. But “my” church is a careless and theologically inaccurate way to describe it.
You may think I’m picking nits. That’s fine if you do. But I believe this is a real danger. We shouldn’t be casual with setting ourselves up in the place that only Jesus is worthy to occupy.
It is a symptom of a deeper problem. Culturally, we have failed to honor Christ in our hearts as He truly is – resurrected, glorified, and exalted. If we don’t hold Him in His rightful place in our hearts, surely our lips will speak carelessly about His church. I am convicted that it is better to exalt Christ and be clear that the church belongs to Him than it is to cater to the passing winds and waves of culture and language.
I desire to exalt Christ in my heart and with my words. How about you?
As we live for the glory of our God it is good to prioritize protecting our Head, who is Jesus the Christ. We should protect His honor by speaking and acting in accordance with His Word. We should protect His rightful place in our hearts and minds above all else.
(A version of this post was originally published on the Fourth Year Ministries blog. You can view the original here.)