Blog From Bill: A dog in a tree

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At a recent session of the Wednesday Morning Men, a men’s Bible study I teach every Wednesday morning (what else would the Wednesday Morning Men be except a gathering for men and when else would it meet except on Wednesday morning) one of the regular guys, Wayne Mitchell, talked about something his grandmother said to him when he was in his late twenties. Wayne questioned her about prominent pastors who promote themselves, become well known, and then fall. She said, “They’re like a dog in a tree.” Wayne had never heard that phrase before so he wondered what she meant. She replied, “You will never see a dog in a tree who got there on his own. Someone had to put him there, and he cannot get down without help. Dogs can’t climb trees, and when someone puts a dog on a limb he barks, growls, whimpers, but if no one gets him down, all he can do is jump —and usually he gets hurt when he jumps.”

That’s so much like a pastor who promotes himself and then discovers he’s like a dog in a tree. The only way he can get down is to fall and he always gets hurt when he lands.

How does a pastor become a dog in a tree? There are several ways.

  1. He can get there on his own by becoming caught up in himself and promoting himself only to discover that he doesn’t belong in the prominent place he sought out, that he is failing, that he is being criticized, that he brought pressure on himself he doesn’t’ want, and no one will help get him down. So he has to jump, and it always hurts him when he lands.
  2. He can get there because some well meaning people have told him he’s so great—you’re the next Swindoll, pastor—he believes this and expects others to recognize how great he is, only to find out few, if anyone actually believes this to be true. However, he’s out on a limb that inevitably breaks and dumps him to the ground and leaves him in great pain.
  3. He can get there because some people who want to use him to advance themselves tell him he’s the greatest leader his church has ever had, and he believes them and acts as if they’re right, only to find out others don’t think that at all. So the limb he’s put himself on breaks off the tree and crashes him to the ground.
  4. He can get there because some self-promoting woman wants to add his scalp to her belt so she tempts him, engages him in adultery, boasts about their secret rendezvous, and shames him for her own glory so that His secret becomes public, his wife becomes devastated, his children become crushed, his congregation becomes shamed, and he becomes destroyed. Who can say how great the pain this fall brings to a pastor?

How can a pastor avoid becoming a dog in a tree?

  1. By telling himself he’s not as important as he thinks he is, not as good as he believes he is, not as big a deal as he wants to be, not called by God to promote himself, but to give glory to God and do this by focusing diligently on prayer, the word, and others around him who will help him turn from exalting himself.
  2. By genuinely thanking the well-meaning people who admire him and then going to the Lord through prayer and the word to gain the humility he needs to promote Him alone and not himself.
  3. By remembering that most people who claim they want to promote him actually want to promote themselves and they will become a source of division in his church if he lets them, so he must realize that his refusal to respond to such people may well cause them to leave and take others with them, a painful season of blessing even if some people he deeply loves are gone.
  4. By building a powerful public relationship with his wife and also by keeping his leaders informed concerning potential self-seeking women so it becomes known throughout his church that their pastor has an exclusive commitment to his wife.

A pastor in a tree will end up barking, growling, and whimpering like a dog in a tree, but the only way most pastors get out of a tree is by falling down and crawling away in shame, shattered and broken by the despair his pride brought him.

A pastor in a tree is no better than a dog in a tree. Neither was created by God to be there, and neither can get down without failure and pain.

Blog From Bill: The Giants are Going and the pygmies must Take Over

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Recently one of my former students sent me an e-mail about a current article in Christianity Today on Karl Barth, one of the most influential theologians in the early part of the twentieth century who had an adulterous relationship for much of his married life. The article was revealing, penetrating, and distressing as it spoke of such terrible sin in the life of one of the most significant thinkers in the past one hundred years. My former student, now a man with thirty years ministry experience and a key theological thinker in one of the largest evangelical countries in the world, reminded me of a time when he came to my office to ask me a question about a group of similar situations. Three key American spiritual leaders, one a past successful pastor and head of a major international ministry, one a well known Dallas pastor, and the other a prominent leader elsewhere in the country had committed adultery and been removed from their influential roles.

In our conversation he asked me, “If the giants are falling, what can the midgets do?” He reminded me of my answer in his e-mail. I said, “All three men forgot they were midgets.” I was not surprised that the well-known Dallas pastor committed adultery because another student who knew him intimately had told me of his family situation, and I warned the student to be careful around this man and not to be surprised if he became engaged in immorality. Unfortunately I was right. The other two were a painful shock for me.

I had thought about what I normally call giants and pygmies before my friend, then student, came to see me, although I was not thinking specifically of adultery before he raised the question with me. I realized that leaders whom I thought of as giants were dying and I knew there was no way I could take their place. I have continued to think that in recent times when the giants who taught me at Dallas Seminary so many years ago, professors S. Lewis Johnson, Charles Ryrie, Haddon Robinson, and Stan Toussaint, entered the Lord’s presence. These men died with well deserved honor from me and all who studied under them as they taught us with such wisdom, as we admired their character, as we sought to be like them, and as we ministered God’s word based on their brilliance, dedication, and wisdom. They were giants, everyone else, and I were pygmies.

There is one thing I learned from the giants I have known and worked with. I saw them up close and personal, and I learned that even the giants among us, are pygmies. No leader, man or woman, makes himself or herself a giant. God’s giants are pygmies whom God uses in gigantic ways in order to reveal Himself and demonstrate His glory through unqualified men and women. Abraham was a giant who had a gigantic need to protect himself at his wife’s expense, Moses was a giant who had a gigantic temper, David was a giant who had a gigantic moral struggle, Solomon was a giant who had a gigantic power drive, Paul was a giant who never forgot his gigantic sin against Stephen. All of these leaders and more were pygmies who had gigantic flaws yet who experienced God’s gigantic blessing.

The giants are going and the pygmies must take over. Never forget that no matter how great a giant you become you will always be a pygmy.

Podcast:  Leaders are inadequate to lead

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We are often told that we must believe in ourselves and that we have what it takes to succeed, but this is not true without Christ.  We are not qualified for the life that God calls us to live and lead other to. We must do what we cannot do with what we do not have for the rest of our lives. Listen to this truth from 2 Corinthians.

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