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(The following is a reposting of the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.])

The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions. It is precisely by the failure to see this that we are dying…. I have seen it often: the love of professionalism (parity among the world’s professionals) kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world.

The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man. The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism. There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others (2 Cor 5:15-16) (p. 3).

In the opening chapter – which shares the title of the book – Piper calls pastors to see a great contrast between what humble, self-sacrificing service accomplishes, and what cannot be accomplished by professionalism—which seems, for Piper, to be an approach to ministry that is unwilling to identify with the ugliness and offensiveness of a ministry modeled after Christ (cf. Mark 10:44-45; I Cor 4:9-13). Only by modeling Christ can we give our all to see the life of Jesus manifested through our bodies while receiving little or no earthly reward. Only by hoping in Christ alone can one serve without parity in pay, benefits and honor to the other executives (and pastors) in one’s region. A non-professional approach to pastoral ministry can help solve a growing problem of smaller church pastorates remaining vacant, and the abandonment of poorer sections of cities by those very well trained for ministry.

Yet, in truth, I realize that in writing this that professionalism is viral, bacterial, and fungal for those of us who have grown up in middle-class evangelicalism, been trained in seminary to manage ministry, and have great admiration for those who have recognized ministry success by all human standards (like my admiration for the author of The Pleasures of God). The holy antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal inoculation needed is a resolve to trust in the Resurrection and the Life—to live as “outcasts,” being those who look not for the measure of men, but for “the expectation of the Lord” (Phil 3:20) (pp. 2-3).

In his prayer for readers of Brothers to become non-professionals, one discerns that our hope before God is that we would be servants of the Most High God marked out by these characteristics (with Scriptures added by me):

  1. Mournful over personal sin (Mt. 5:3-4)
  2. Deep (in consistency, dependency, and earnestness) in prayer (Eph. 6:18-20)
  3. Given over to the study of holy truths (2 Tim. 2:15)
  4. Discontented among and because of perishing neighbors (Rom. 15:20; 2 Cor. 5:14-21)
  5. Full of passion and earnestness in all of our conversation (Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6)
  6. [Full of (the)] childlike joy of our salvation (Mt. 11:25; 18:1-4; 19:13-14; 21:14-16)
  7. Terrified (my term) by the “awesome holiness and power of Him who can cast both soul and body into hell (Matt. 10:28)” (p. 4)
  8. “[Holding] to the Cross with fear and trembling as our hope-filled and offensive tree of life” (Jn. 17:14-26) (p. 4)
  9. Completely void of viewing anything the way the surrounding, unredeemed culture views it (Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 3:1-4)
  10. Complete indifference to all material gain (Mt. 6:19-34).

May He Who Lives Forever give us grace.

UPDATE 2011: In today’s reading, I was struck with how easy it is expect the results of professionalism even if one’s practice is not in the professionalism model. That is, I am not looking to be “cast down,” as expected of those who preach the gospel; I am expecting to be able to give my children extra-curricula activities, exceptional private schooling, and Christmas gifts with the same ease and freedom as those who are professional in other professions. This is not the gospel and I have been bitten by this anti-gospel bug! Getting rid of the poison from this bite is not easy. I have thought about this all day today and have had to fight off thoughts like, “Lord, I cannot say ‘unfair’ when speaking to one who is good to me at all times, but the feelings that such bring about such thoughts are real.”

O Lord, help me to live for and do ministry in the hopes of a city whose builder and maker is God.