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26 & 27 August 2023 (Pastoral Page) “WE TOO ARE ONLY MEN, HUMAN LIKE YOU” (Acts 14:15)

By Dr Peter Lim

This was the response of Barnabas and Paul when the people of Lystra wanted to offer sacrifices to them after Paul healed a cripple. (Acts 14:1-18). Their seemingly supernatural power led the populace to assume Barnabas and Paul to be deities. Such adulation can be deadly as King Herod Antipas discovered albeit a little too late. He was struck down by an angel when he did not give glory to God after his oratory was publicly deemed divine. (Acts 12:21-23) Indeed, the Christian world sometimes hero-worship certain of its leaders as if they were gods. But make no mistake, Christian ministry staff, however gifted, are still human and therefore susceptible to temptation and sinful ways. We therefore need to uphold them in prayer as they, being in the frontline, are particularly vulnerable to the “devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). May I humbly suggest some areas we can focus on as we intercede for our ministry staff remembering that integrity is fundamental in all areas of faith and conduct.

1. Integrity in financial matters. This area has proven to be a major stumbling block to many full-time Christian workers. We are all familiar with the high-profile case involving Pastor Kong Hee here in Singapore some years ago. Elsewhere we are aware of the numerous instances of fraudulent practices particularly by overseas TV Evangelists in the accounting of donations. It is therefore not surprising that the Apostle Paul should choose to direct his warning about financial impropriety to young Timothy as the latter settles into his fledgling pastoral ministry in Ephesus – “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil . . . “(1 Timothy 6:10). Let us pray that our ministry staff will trust in God’s provision for all their financial needs - “And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

2. Integrity in personal relationships. Apart from lapses in financial matters, indiscretions in personal relationships particularly with the opposite gender is another area for prayer. Without having to cite specific examples, the Christian world particularly in the US has been rocked by cases of sexual immorality involving some very well-known evangelical leaders in the last few years. It is quite disheartening when such occurrences surface. We thank God that there has been only one instance of sexual sin involving a pastoral staff within our midst all these years. And we need to continue interceding to God to ensure that there is no recurrence. In the course of their ministry, there will be occasions when ministry staff will have to work closely with the opposite gender. It is therefore critical for ministry staff to be always on their guard against any “hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3).

3. Integrity in work ethics. Unlike the secular world, ministry staff may often have to establish their own work schedules. KPIs may not always be available and ministry staff may be left to function on their own and be largely unsupervised. As there is usually no bottom-line to account for, work performance standards may be more difficult to establish and implement. It is therefore imperative for ministry staff to be personally accountable for the time spent on their work.

4. Integrity in spiritual life. Spiritual pride is a common Achilles heel among ministry staff. We do need to pray that the Lord will grant humility to our staff because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). I remember the best-selling Christian author Philip Yancey telling a closed-door session many years ago that what he has learnt most from his mentors was their humility. Apart from humility, we want to pray that our ministry staff may cultivate spiritual sensitivity. As sin is often numbing to the conscience, only a spiritually sensitive soul will acknowledge sin when one has been committed. To this day I am in disbelief that David, the man after God’s heart, should be seemingly oblivious to his adultery with Bathsheba until the prophet Nathan confronted him about it. (2 Samuel 11-12). Unconfessed sin will hinder spiritual development (Psalms 32:1-5). It is also important to pray that our ministry staff will adhere to the sound biblical teaching and doctrines that they have received and not be led astray by false teaching or dubious doctrines or heresies.

5. Integrity in personal and family life. Ministry staff must also realise that they have to fulfil certain family responsibilities and obligations. Spiritual nurture of their own children ranks high on this list. We are well aware that godly parents do not guarantee godly children. Two Biblical examples of this come to mind. The children of Eli and Samuel were wicked and sacrilegious. (1 Samuel Ch 2,4 8). Dysfunctional family life will obviously hinder a fruitful ministry, so humbly seeking God’s help, wisdom and guidance is important.

This is by no means a comprehensive list for our consideration as we uphold our ministry staff in prayer. But it is a start. The Apostle Paul often solicited prayer support from the many churches he helped established (Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; Ephesians 6:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1,2)

“My prayer is. . . that You protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

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