I recently attended a class on the art of serving as an under-shepherd of Christ’s church. It wasn’t in a seminary, but on a mission trip in Bolivia serving alongside of a Bolivian-seasoned-saintly pastor by the name of David Flores.
As we sat around the dinner table on his boat, which he routinely takes up and down the river in the Amazon basin spending months away from his family and encountering all types of dangers, I asked him what led him to this ministry.
Pastor David had built a good life for himself and had done remarkably well by church standards. He had achieved much material and spiritual success. Many churches have been started throughout several countries in South America as a direct result of his work, especially in his hometown of Santa Cruz. Serving as the president of his Baptist association was no small achievement. From the normal Bolivian perspective, and from the US perspective, he had "arrived." He did it. Pastor David shared how he had obtained a level of pastoral comfort. A nice house was built for his family and a nice couch on which he could relax.
“I bought a nice couch,” he stated, “and then I repented.” As tears overflowed the banks of his eyes, he said, “Jesus gave his all for me; how can I give him any less in return.”
His heart bled for the uneducated, abandoned, poor people in the Amazon basin, and he committed to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As he spoke the Spirit of God brought words from the Scriptures and skillfully sliced open my heart to reveal a sinful passion for sordid gain that I had not know was there. Obviously, there is nothing inherently wrong with owning a couch (or a house to put it in); but there is definitely something wrong with pursuing a life of comfort through ministry. This motivation goes against the grain of the ministry picture in the New Testament. And I realized in that moment that a not insignificant part of me wanted to pastor well so that I could relax well. I wanted at least a little attention, prominence, comfort, and success.
In that moment, I was reminded that serving the King is not a vocation from which you retire, nor is it a pursuit for personal gain or for the faint of heart. God calls us to die on the battlefield and follow him to whatever strongholds need broken down, even when they lie in your own heart. May God help me to pastor well for the glory of God in times of growth and times of decline. May God, who is rich in mercy, vanquish evil motives that seek to arise within, and empower me to serve his purposes faithfully to the end.