Where have all the godly men gone? These days I ponder that question with increased frequency and concern. If the lack of godly men were only a matter of personality or ministerial preference, then little would be lost. Such is not the case, though. The church is in great need of awakening and renewal; and, in the spirit of Richard Baxter, its greatest need might well be godly men.
Not that long ago, “man of God” was a common and honored descriptor in the church. The phrase ranked alongside “great preacher,” “brilliant theologian,” or “gifted writer” in frequency and surpassed them in value. Now, it seems as though the designation “man of God” has gone the way of the bus ministry and the youth choir—a largely passé referent to a bygone era of church life.
It is as though someone snuck into the shopping mall of the Kingdom and changed all the price tags, upsetting and inverting God’s value system. We have increased the mundane and ancillary aspects of Christian ministry, all the while cheapening its true virtues and values. In God’s economy, though, character is valued over talent, and holiness over giftedness.
Why So Few Godly Men?
Why is there a dearth of godly men? Admittedly, godliness is nearly impossible to measure, and godly men are nearly impossible to quantify. Yet, three factors seem especially to contribute to the paucity of godly men.
Many churches don’t seek men of God. Given the complexity of modern ministry, many churches prioritize giftedness and experience above godliness in their candidates for ministry. Churches often look for competent administrators, capable speakers, polished people skills, a cute family, and other secondary concerns before assessing the heart. Like ancient Israel, we have the propensity to look on the outward; all the while God looks on the heart.
Many ministries no longer necessitate godliness. There may now be more distance between the minister and the congregation than ever before in the history of the church. Through the years, pastors have lived among their people (New Testament), by their people (parsonage), and near their people. Now, everything from the size of the church to the expansion of auxiliary campuses has created distance between the pastor and his people. Moreover, video-screen pastors often have no relationship at all with their people.
An overcommitted laity does not desire personal interaction with their ministers, and overcommitted ministers have less time for personal interaction anyway. Though social media grants the appearance of personal engagement, the truth can be altogether different. The distance between the pastor and his people means there is less life-on-life engagement and less moral accountability one with another.
Ministry “peer pressure” is not toward godliness. The “peer pressure” of ministry is oriented toward events, products, conferences, and materials. It is as though the paraphernalia and garnishes of ministry have displaced the more biblical and eternal aspects, like godliness. Perhaps this is why Matthew Henry lamented some preachers who, “when in the pulpit, preaching so well that it is a pity they should ever come out; but, when out of the pulpit, living so ill that it is a pity they should ever come in.”[i]
Man of God, in Biblical Terms
“Man of God” is a biblical designation granted to Old Testament giants like Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, and Elisha. In the New Testament, Timothy is the singular designee. The title was not merely honorific. It was a lofty and noble designation—granted to men with lives that merited it.
In the context of I Timothy 6, the title “man of God” is associated with action.
It is found in a list of admonitions, commands, and encouragements that flow both descriptively and prescriptively. Paul instructs Timothy that the man of God is known for fleeing from immorality, fighting for the faith, and for following after Christlikeness. Moreover, II Timothy 3:15–17 links the adequacy of the man of God with the power and authority of holy Scripture.
Clearly, the New Testament prioritizes godliness in the life of the minister. The qualifications for ministry found in I Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 deal almost exclusively with character, with little reference to giftedness beyond the ability to teach. Thus the timeless ministerial admonition, “Beware of letting your talent gain you a ministry position that your character cannot keep you in.”
Men of God, the Need of the Hour
In the main, the modern church has most everything it needs—save revival. We have more conferences than ever, but fewer conversions. We have more books and blogs than ever, but fewer baptisms. We have more products and paraphernalia than ever, but little power. Indeed, we have a surplus of resources, but a deficit of revival.
Of course, revival is a work of the Holy Spirit, initiated and carried forth by God. At the same time, we cannot expect God to bless our shallowness, staleness, and carnality. Perhaps revival will not arrive in the pew until it first arrives in the pulpit. It may well be that the greatest need of the church is godly men who shepherd the flock of God with holiness and grace.
Where have all the godly men gone? I am not exactly sure, but I pray God will call forth a new generation of men consecrated in heart and devoted to his glory. As the hymn of old begs, “Rise up, O men of God! The church for you doth wait, her strength unequal to her task; rise up, and make her great!”[ii]
[i] Matthew Henry, Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible: Matthew through John (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1859), 229.
[ii] William P. Merrill, “Rise Up, O Men of God.”