I suppose it happens in a majority of fields of endeavor, not just in church ministry. I’ve been continuously employed in local church work for 40 years, though have on the side dabbled in a few other occupations. And in all of these, I have seen people who really think they know what they are doing but who are in reality far short of their self-evaluation.
I have seen it in my occasional service at Antietam Battlefield. A giant bus filled with high-paying tourists will pull in with a guide from … well … who knows where. They’ll be gathered around this fellow who is speaking in a loud and authoritative voice, but who is boisterously pointing in the wrong direction when describing battle actions and combatants.
I have seen it when coaching runners. A few other teams sported vociferous coaches warming up their athletes in all the wrong ways … with methods that seem correct, but that were counterproductive and even harmful. It was sad to see naturally-gifted athletes decline over the course of a season rather than advance.
And I have so often seen this same thing in the religious world. The most glaring examples are the mega-ministry stars with large media ministries. An inordinate number of these have come crashing down over time. And even on the local level in the places I’ve lived, along comes an exciting preacher dude with energy galore, and people leave churches to flock around him and his upstart ministry. And then something blows up, or the starlet exploits his fast-rising fame to vault himself to a larger ministry in a more prominent place, leaving the people behind to try to hold together a fragile following built more around a personality than the person of Christ.
Paul has saved his most difficult and awkward topic for the final quarter of his letter – the subject of boldly dealing with and confronting the opponents of the apostle and thereby of the truth. They needed to be dealt with and removed; the Corinthians needed to return to the truth that had been the pure gospel message of their salvation.
By measurements of this material world, these self-proclaimed leaders were impressive. They had credentials and a level of excitement beyond what Paul produced. They saw Paul as a weakling – all bark and no bite. They said his speech was unimpressive. Likely these folks were fun to listen to; but likely also, when they got done, you couldn’t actually remember what they taught. They probably had style … likely some great stories as well. It felt good. There was energy. Paul was just a meat and potatoes guy by comparison.
But real growth, not just in numbers and excitement, has to do with people growing in their faith and in their desire to expand the gospel message near and far. It is the stuff of regular faithfulness on a daily basis. It may not be glamorous all the time. But it can be measured by lives changed over a longer period of time. This is the inner work of the Spirit, not the outer work of the flesh.
The work that really counts is that which God commends, not that which simply finds the accolades of the masses. And this quiet, but faithful, service can indeed bring pleasure – the joy (the boasting) of being used by God to do His work in His timing and His way.
The Christian tortoise beats the pseudo-Christian hare … again.
2 Corinthians 10:1 – By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
7 You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. 8 So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9 I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. 10 For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” 11 Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.
12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. 14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 15 Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. 17 But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” [from Jer. 9:24] 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.