In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul writes to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Most people I know that are desiring the office of elder/overseer are often starry-eyed about the work of the ministry. Sure, the majority of intentions behind desiring such an office is a desire to see God glorified, to serve Christ, and to love the church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those are the things that make the calling of elder a noble task to desire. However, like any other job or pursuit in this life, there can also be other desires underneath the noble ones. For some men it may be to change the things he sees wrong in the congregation he is a part of it. For other men it can be to get to a place of recognition and power.
A Theologian of Glory
A man seeking to be a minister of the Gospel must understand that he is not seeking an office of self-glory, but one of service, one that follows in the ways of the cross. The office of elder is not one to build your reputation, to fix the things that are wrong with the church, nor to feel good about yourself. In Gerhard Forde’s famous book exploring Martin Luther’s distinctions between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross, Forde writes,
“A theology of glory…operates on the assumption that what we need is optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem. Theologically speaking it operates on the assumption that we are not seriously addicted to sin, and our improvement is both necessary and possible.”
The theologian of glory is pursuing life and satisfaction through building their own platform, driven to make much of their own name and ministry. The path to self-glory is dazzling and drawing, but only leaves you thirsting for more like a dehydrated man tirelessly chasing a mirage.
The reason I can say these things is because my heart so desperately longs for self-glory. Deep down inside of me is this longing for acceptance, the praise of man, and a platform where people would finally see and acknowledge my worth. In my head I often daydream of finally getting my break, writing a book everyone loves, and so hushing the whispers about me being the “other pastor.” But let me assure you, the little sips of glory never satisfy you and keep you longing for more. If you do not believe me, let me assure you that the ministry is not for you, and if you think it is, you ought not trifle with the glory that belongs to God alone.
A Theologian of the Cross
Over and over throughout my years in ministry, I have found that God himself loves his children enough to not let them continue in such desires of self-glory. Whether it’s in the ministry, family, finances, etc., I have witnessed a jealous God who loves me enough to crush my self-glory and bring me over and over again to the foot of the cross. It is there, that I rightly see the cost of self-glory: The innocent Son of God bleeding for me. It is there that I see what true glory looks like, lifted up for all to see. As John 3:14-15 says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
The Son of God himself turned the world upside down when he was humiliated and lifted up for all to see. No longer are those who build a name for themselves the ones worthy of following, but one who was crucified and resurrected. And the call for all Christians, but especially elders, is to lead in being a theologian of the cross. As Luke 9:23-34 affirms this upside-down theology of the cross, Jesus proclaims, 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” The life of a man who desires the noble task of elder is one who is called to daily model death and resurrection in his own life. As Forde writes,
“Theologians of the cross operate on the assumption that there must be a ‘bottoming out’ or an ‘intervention.’ That is to say, there is no cure for the addict on his own. We must come to confess that we are addicted to sin, addicted to self, whatever form that may take, pious or impious. So theologians of the cross know that we can’t be helped by optimistic appeals to glory, strength, wisdom, positive thinking, and so forth because those things are themselves the problem.”
The man who desires to be elder is voluntarily joining a band of brothers that agree to lead the bride of Christ in daily killing self-glory and finding forgiveness and any righteousness whatsoever as a gift from Christ himself. To desire the office of elder is a noble task and is not affirmed through the church affirming your worth, but affirming your character (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Godly character that is worthy of imitating is one that moves out of the way so people do not make much of you but make much of the Christ and his cross (1 Cor. 2:2). To all of you men desiring the office of elder, it is not a place for you because the cross is a place where you die and Jesus lives through you (Gal. 2:20). If that sounds like a worthy calling, also know, it is a daily dying that must take place because self-glory blossoms often like weeds and only the theologian of the cross knows what to do with those weeds. I read this quote every morning and I hope it serves you as it has me:
“Pastor, take your ego out to the woodshed, then, everyday. And don’t just whup it. Put a gun to its head and blow its brains out.”
Wes Van Fleet is the Pastor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at Kaleo Church
Gerhard Forde, On Being A Theologian of the Cross.
Jared Wilson, A Pastor’s Justification