For Pastors of Small Churches
“I am retiring in less than a year and then I am finished with church for good.” This pastor knew he was not a Christian though the members of his congregation did not know it. He did not need to examine himself.
A former colleague in the ministry, a person I had actually recommended for ordination, suddenly resigned his church. He had come to the conclusion he was not really a Christian.
Another pastor, a close friend of mine, was converted after being in the ministry for nearly twenty years.
Sadly, stories such as these are hardly unique. The fact that someone might go into the ministry or be in the ministry already and not be genuinely converted is the reason this chapter comes so near the beginning of the book.
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We must be sure of our own conversion. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
In Colonial America: an unconverted pulpit
I love to read of the three Great Awakenings in America. One of the preachers of the First Great Awakening, Gilbert Tennant, published a sermon titled, “The Danger of An Unconverted Ministry.” In his day, the “half-way covenant,” which developed in the 17th century, was wide spread. This so-called covenant was popularized in New England by Jonathan Edward’s grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. The half-way covenant said, in part, that it was not necessary to show evidence of conversion in order to be baptized, to receive communion, to be a member of a church, or to be a minister. Therefore, many of those who occupied the pulpits of churches in 18th century colonial America were unconverted. When Tennant preached his sermon he upset many a minister.
The fact is that many of the ministers in colonial America were not converted; they did not have to show evidence of conversion in order to be ordained to the pastoral ministry. The ministry was often looked upon as just another career choice or occupation.
Warning in Are You Really Born Again?
The same occurs in our day as well. And because of the possibility of false conversion, preachers must apply the Corinthians passage to themselves. I have written a book titled, Are You Really Born Again? (Evangelical Press, 1998) that deals extensively with false conversion. The book discusses the process of “christianization”—how someone can look and sound like a Christian but not really be one, and how someone can have profound religious and spiritual experiences yet remain unconverted.
To be engaged in pastoral ministry and yet be unconverted—this is a great tragedy. Many think they are converted on the basis of church membership, baptism, good deeds, holding to orthodox creeds and doctrine, and so on. In fact, some mistakenly believbe they are truly converted because they are ministers.
Questions to ask yourself
Those pursuing the pastoral ministry should examine themselves to see if they have been truly converted. The following questions might facilitate such an examination: Did you sense a need of forgiveness? Were you aware of your separation and alienation from God? Did you realize that unless your sin was forgiven you had no hope? Did you understand that Jesus’ shed blood is the only means for forgiveness of sin? Is Jesus your only hope for eternal life? Do you desire to turn from sin in repentance? I Jesus your object of trust for salvation? If so, as the Puritan preachers would say, conversion has hopefully taken place.
Or, on the other hand, did you merely experience a desire to stop sinning and become a better person? Did you decide to become more spiritual and observe religious commandments? Did you rely upon your own goodness? Did you hope that actions done in the name of God would suffice? Did a crisis proboke a lifestyle change that incorporated some kind of religious philosophy? Did you form a bond to a spiritual community coupled with a subsequent adherence to a religious viewpoint? If so, then it may be true that chrisitianization has taken place instead of true conversion.
These questions must be faced sincerely and in a straightforward manner. No preacher wants to stand at The Great Judgment and hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
Yes, it is possible for an unconverted minister to preach the gospel and see persons genuinely converted. How is this possible? God honors the preaching of His Word. Faith comes through the proclamation of the gospel; even the stones could cry out the message. Good works done in the name of God, by even good people, are ineffectual to secure salvation.
You must examine yourself!
In accordance with the Scripture, you must examine yourself. Do not settle for anything other than simple trusting Jesus for salvation and knowing that Jesus alone is the source of forgiveness and righteousness.
If you recognize that you have not been truly converted, I suggest you wrestle with God until assurance comes. Assurance does not consist in having lived a perfect life where there are no doubts, temptations, or actual sin. Assurance comes when your trust is in Jesus and his shed blood. There is a knowing certainty that the Holy Spirit brings, although it need not be overpowering or dramatic. Rather, it is often a peaceful reliance upon Jesus alone for salvation.
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- Have you ever examined your own conversion?
- What did you find?
- Have you ever asked someone else, for their own best interest, to examine their conversion to see whether it was genuine?
- Does this seem harsh, arrogant, or even unnecessary?
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