I’m Not Looking For A Hill To Die On

Tonight, I had a long conversation with my friend Trevin Wax that made its way back to our calling as local church pastors. We were discussing how ministering to real people tends to help young guys, like us, learn some much needed humility and maturity.

Zeal Without Love

Of course, none of us are qualified for the ministry. It’s only God’s kindness that calls and equips us. But I think I might be worse than most, and I could prove it if you knew me.

I remember a time when I thought any accommodation was equal to compromise. I don’t mean preaching a soft Gospel. Rather, I was worried about third and fourth tier theological issues like the plurality of elders, alter calls, and the exact order of the salvation process. Other guys may have their own pet doctrines, perhaps an eschatological time line or a narrow view of the atonement. By the time I finished Bible College, my list was getting long.

I was sure that these issues were beyond debate, and I was ready to go to the mat to defend them. My zeal runneth over…

This attitude would be bad enough if I were an apologist, but when the context for ministry is the church it could get ugly fast. Yes, churches need brave pastors who will stand up for the truth. But without love, I’d only be making noise or burning without profit. (I Cor. 13:1, 3)

Who (Not What) Should We Lay Down Our Lives For?

I’m learning that ministry is more about serving God’s flock than defending my pet doctrines. Jesus never told me to die on those hills, and self-appointed martyrs don’t last long enough to feed the sheep. It’s like the other John 3:16 says:

“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16 NASB)

For me, serving a real church is making difference. Fighting with other believers over non-essentials seems like childish thinking now.

Free Help For The Teachable

I’m only 30, and have only served on staff at my church for 2+ years. But I have been around seminary people for almost 10 years and know that my sins are far too common. In my case, God used experience to teach me. Maybe you can benefit from hearing my story.

Looking back, I’m certain that my heart issue was (and still is) pride. I was convinced of my own inerrancy and superiority. I’m praying that God will continue to help me replace that with humility and love for others.

Here are a few thoughts if you’ve seen yourself in this post:

  1. Listen to your critics, they can be your best teachers.
  2. Always repent of bitterness before it takes root.
  3. Try to think of something to affirm about people you don’t like.
  4. Read Ken Sande’s Peacemaker and C.J. Mahaney’s Humility
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10 Responses to I’m Not Looking For A Hill To Die On

  1. Tony, This post is thought-provoking and Christ-honoring. It is a much-needed word for all of us to hear. In Christ, RDM

    Russell D. Moore’s last blog post..Southern Baptist Sexual Revolutionaries

  2. This is an excellent post, Tony, and a critical reminder to young pastors and seminarians. Paul warned his pupil Timothy to “be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wrong, with gentleness correcting those in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). We need to be like Athanasius in our doctrine, but like Barnabas in our attitude. If we pick our battles carelessly, or speak the truth without love, we will do more harm than good in the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 13).

    Stephen Jones’s last blog post..What should I do with all this money?

  3. Lee says:

    There is nothing like the ups and downs, ins and outs of serving a congregation of God’s people to put things into their perspective.

    Lee’s last blog post..The Acts 1:8 Solution

  4. Brother Hank says:

    Tony-

    Great post brother. It got me pondering upon what it looks like to defend a hill, while not being willing to ultimately “die” for it. I’m assuming you would affirm that even our “pet doctrines,” if they are worth holding, are worth defending – at lest to some extent; or else we would have no place believing them as true — And if ultimately true, and held rightly, should humble us. So then I guess my question is, can these third and forth tier doctrines be held to “in love,” and if so, how can that be done in a manner that grows us in humility, rather than pride?

    Brother Hank’s last blog post..Let Not “Ichabod” Be Written On Your Pulpit

  5. selahV says:

    Tony, you, my brother are one wise thirty-year-old minister. A little old lady in our first church told me that they thought the ministry of their little country congregation was to prepare preachers for the ministry. Ha. I still love that! We definitely got an education in humility, diversity, and sovereignty there. The average stay of pastors at that church was about 18 months. We stayed nearly 7 years. It was one of the greatest blessings of our lives. Twenty-seven years have come and gone since then. And God is still working on us.
    It will be so wonderful if the Lord lets me live long enough to see where you are in 27 years. From the starting gate, you’re looking to be one of the favored in the race, as I see it. selahV

    selahV’s last blog post..BANDAIDS DON’T FIX EVERYTHING

  6. Tony Kummer says:

    Dr. Moore & Lee – Thanks for your encouragement.

    Stephen – You wrote, “We need to be like Athanasius in our doctrine, but like Barnabas in our attitude.” That is a great way to look at it, thanks for the comment.

    Hank – I think the three issues related to your question are the 1) certainty of the doctrine, 2) my attitude in holding it, and 3) my attitude toward my church.

    For the first two issues I’ve found Dr. Mohler’s article on Theological Triage very helpful.

    It gets more difficult to integrate the third issue of loving my church. I think the point of some of the passages I’ve quoted is that God is calling us to lay down our lives for people first. This is something I am learning, but am far from mastering.

    Sometimes I am shocked at how little we talk about loving people. I don’t know of any books on my shelf titled “The Doctrine Of Loving Your Neighbor.”

    selahV – I hope that in 27 years I am as far along as I imagine myself to be now! Thanks for your kind words and the allusion to the Derby.

  7. Helpful post, Tony. This is why I believe the balance of local church ministry and seminary is a necessity, with the “local church ministry” being more equal!

    I have found Tim Keller’s sermon that he preached at the 2004 Covenant Seminary Preaching Lectures helpful. The title is All Things Are Yours. It really helps in breaking out of the arrogance that seminary can bring without the balance of the local church!

    Matthew Perry’s last blog post..Before You Preach (Joe Thorn)

  8. Tony,
    Seldom do I take time to respond to other blogs, but I thank God for your wisdom and honesty here. I well remember my zeal as a young preacher — and thank God for the local church members who would not allow me to compromise truth, but who also taught me to temper zeal with love. Thanks, brother.

    Chuck Lawless’s last blog post..Satan versus the Leader

  9. Todd Young says:

    Tony,

    Great post! I think this is more pervasive than many of us seminarians imagine. I see even the big guys are reading your blog! :-)

    Todd

    Todd Young’s last blog post..An Illustration of Faith?

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