Archive for February, 2023

One of the books I began during my sabbatical is Perils of Leadership by Kenneth Prior. Though this is not a very big book, it took longer to read than expected. However, I have finally finished it.

Prior served as a canon in the Church of England when this book was published in 1990. His ecclesiology only affects a few places. The focus, as seen in the subtitle, is on our personal battles. His method through the book is to focus on a person in the Bible that illustrates not only the personal battle in view but also how God was at work in their sanctification in this area. As a result, this book is very focused on the Scriptures. It is the primary source though he refers to other authors and preachers, as well as some references to psychological issues.

Here are the issues he addresses and the person(s) in the Bible that he uses to illustrate it:

Immaturity thru the life of Joseph

Inadequacy thru the life of Moses

Sexual Temptation thru the lives of Samson, David and Solomon

Depression thru the experience of Elijah

Living in the Shadow of a Mentor thru the life of Elisha

Marital Stress in the life of Hosea

Impulsiveness in the life of Peter

The Love of Power and Prestige with James and John

Oversensitivity in the life of Timothy

Criticsim in the experience of Paul

There is something for everyone. As the blurb on the back says, leaders are people too. We struggle too. This is one of the great things about the Bible is that God is the hero, not anyone else. The Bible does not hide the flaws of God’s people and its leaders. This is really good news for us.

Prior’s tone is not to be critical of people but to lay out how each of these played out in someone’s life and how the gospel can change us.

It is possible to be highly gifted, as Joseph undoubtedly was, but lacking in graces. These gifts can even be described as “spiritual” yet the possessor can be very deficient in humility, wisdom and understanding.” pp. 14

In my own life, I am an avid reader and quickly accumulated lots of knowledge. A Cru leader thought I was mature. No, just well-read. It takes time to grow up in Christ. God wants us to be mature, not simply gifted. Daniel endured great hardship to gain the maturity necessary to lead the efforts in Egypt to prepare for the famine. I also had to endure various hardships to become mature. I am not alone, as many have gone through this process.

I could also identify Moses’ struggle with inadequacy. When I received my first call I was providentially reading Exodus and could clearly identify with Moses’ excuses before God. Moses was following his emotions, not the command of God. We have similar temptations and weakness.

When, in the face of the promises of God and the great truths he has revealed of himself, we persist in advancing our insufficiency as an excuse for avoiding our responsibilities, it is a mark not of humility but of unbelief.” pp. 33

Pastors and elders are human beings and subject to sexual temptations. Prior piles on by looking at the lives of three men this time. Sexual sin proved destructive in all of their lives. Oddly, this was one of the shortest chapters in the book. I am weary of reading about high profile pastors guilty of adultery and sexual harassment.

Many leaders struggle with depression. For some like Luther and Spurgeon there may be a tragic event that triggered it. For most of us, it is the circumstances that result in us feeling useless, like failures and frustrated. Success is not simply a result of our gifts and abilities, but one’s circumstances play a large role too. I hate to say it as a Patriots’ fan, but Dan Marino was a great quarterback who never won a Superbowl because of factors besides his talent and decisions. You can only play with the guys, and under the coaches, the team signs.

Prior reminds us that God did not forsake Elijah. He is not condemned. God knows we are dust (he quotes Ps. 103:13-14 which I will providentially cite in my sermon Sunday regarding Exodus 13). God does challenge his false perceptions. He didn’t give up on Elijah but gave him the mission of anointing the next kings of Samaria and Syria (!) and his own successor (who actually anointed those men king).

Hosea married Gomer because God told him to. His marriage was intended to reveal the realities of God’s relationship with adulterous Israel. He had special revelation in this matter. Many of us can choose to marry a woman who drains us, destroys us or distracts us. Dr. Nicole told us that a good wife will double your ministry and a not-so-good wife will half it. There are times when it is not an issue of the will- unexpected health issues can arise. That is also difficult to address in the course of ministry.

When we suffer from unfaithfulness in another, may it help us to understand how God feels about our unfaithfulness. When we experience the hurt of children going against us and doing wrong, may it give us some idea of how God feels when we go against him.” pp. 104

Peter was a natural leader- people followed him. But Peter was impulsive, and some times lead people in bad directions. Responsible leaders recognize their impulsiveness and seek to make wise, not simply speedy decisions. The wheels of presbyterianism grind slowly for good reason. Prior speaks about learning lessons in submission and humility which are our least favorite parts of the curriculum. We want to embrace love but soon find that love stretches us farther than we want to be stretched.

Before the death of Jesus, John and James are pictures of men who sought power and prestige. They wanted to sit as His left and right hand when He came into power. They were not the last to seek power. Jesus reminded them that greatness in the kingdom is connected to service. Prominence often has a price, particularly in times of persecution.

The overly sensitive person is basically insecure. They suspect they are inadequate. Their inner anxieties drive them to seek affirmation.

Indwelling sin can exploit all our fleshly weakness, and sensitive persons are especially at risk here. Their sensitivity can render them likely to lose their temper, or experience jealousy and resentment.” pp. 144

Insecurity is like fear (and impulsiveness and …). You may experience it but don’t need to give in to it. The Spirit helps form self-control and a sober mind. You have to keep returning to the gospel to find security before and from God.

Paul dealt with all manner of criticism. Prior calls this one of the greatest trials experienced in full-time ministry. There will be criticism. Few are those who can let it roll off their back. In an episcopal form of government, Prior was secure in position despite criticism. But in other forms of government, pastors are far more vulnerable. He notes that some face the annual vote of confidence. Like other public figures we can be victims of “innuendos, exaggerations, speculations” and ruined reputations for being merely human.

Paul understood that he was Christ’s servant. He stood or fell before Christ, not mere men. It can be difficult to grasp that when people can fire you, or abandon you. But that is the place we need to be. God’s assessment of our ministry will be more fair than that of others or even ourselves. He recognizes the full context of our ministry: the weaknesses we have, the ways the sins of others have damaged us, the circumstances around us etc.

I’ve been spending lots of time (too much some would say) thinking about why things are they way they are. The last few years have been very difficult for a variety of reasons. The other day I realized that in the last 6-7 years there have been at least 3 new splants near us that have all the bells and whistles, I mean programs, we don’t have. They have been growing but we have not been able to “compete”. That is not about me, my gifts or leadership style. It just is.

I found this to be an helpful book. I’m still battling with some of these perils. We won’t arrive in this life, but we should make progress. This book can be a goad to move us farther down the line.

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I am currently reading 1 Thessalonians in my personal devotions. Today’s reading had application to me as a person and a pastor. It has application for you and your church (particularly since it was written to the church).

Paul had warned them while planting the church about the reality of affliction (3:4) so they would be prepared. Paul had told them about how he had suffered in Philippi (Acts 16,; Phil. 2:2), being jailed after freeing the slave girl from the demon. He probably told them how that opened doors for the gospel as well.

Paul knows that the Thessalonian Christians are currently suffering affliction at the hands of their neighbors. It began while he was there with a riot led by angry Jews (Acts 17:5-9). He reminds them that this is similar to what happened to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and Judea (2:14-16).

Our Three Enemies

In the case of persecution, the affliction the Thessalonians experienced was from the world. The world, as a fallen system in rebellion against God, is one of our enemies. It wants to squeeze us into its mold (Rom. 12:2) and when it can’t it brings pressure to bear to achieve its goal.

Hearing of their suffering, Paul was greatly concerned. He wanted to travel to Thessalonica again but was repeatedly hindered by Satan (2:18). We’ll get to him again in a few moments.

Paul was concerned that they would be moved by their suffering. He was concerned they, as a church, would be shaken and filled with fear. There was a possibility of them moving off their mark, retreating or running from the fight altogether. What we see here is the work of the flesh, another of our enemies, in response to the pressure from the world. The flesh wants to flee and seek comfort. The flesh is like a terror cell in your heart. It opposes the lead of the Spirit in movements toward holiness. It encourages flight rather than fight in the face of persecution.

But there are three enemies of the Christian. Paul was also concerned that the Tempter would tempt them (3:5) to run away and forsake their post. He was concerned that they would be tempted to question God’s goodness (a strategy that has worked since the Garden). He tempts us to abandon our living hope for present safety.

The Tempter is also the Accuser. In suffering he will accuse God of wronging us. He will also bring up our sins as reasons for this suffering. He seeks to dishearten as well as tempt. He hates you because he hates our Triune God.

Paul implicitly reveals the role of the world, the flesh and the devil in affliction, particularly persecution. We need to be aware of all three but we tend to fixate on one. We are to engage in repentance and spiritual warfare, not one or the other. We are to mortify our flesh and put on the armor of the Lord (5:8).


How did Paul respond to his great concern and Satan’s hindrance? He and Silas sent Timothy to establish and exhort them in their faith (3:2). Timothy was to bring them the word of the gospel to fix them in place so they don’t move back. Timothy was also to plead and implore them, strengthening them so they stand firm.

We need the ministry of others when we suffer. We need others to speak God’s Word to us, to remind us of the living hope we have. We need them to exhort or encourage us.

Let me rephrase that. I need the ministry of others when I suffer. I need people who speak God’s Word to me. I need to be reminded of our hope. When I am fainthearted, I need to be encouraged (5:14). I need others to help keep me in the fight. I am thankful for my wife who does this. I am thankful for co-laborers who do this as well. But, sadly, not many realize I need encouragement too.

I also need to mortify my flesh. I need to read the Word and replace the lies of the world, the flesh and devil with the truth of God. There must be personal responsibility and action. I need to speak back to the Accuser that Christ’s blood and resurrection have removed my guilt and shame.

But when we are fainthearted or weak, we need the ministry of others. That is humbling. Especially if you are the pastor.

As a Pastor

As pastors we need to establish and exhort others when they suffer. We also need to establish and exhort the church when it suffers. There is both the personal and public ministry.

Our church has been struggling. We are suffering. I likely made a bad choice of when to preach on Ecclesiastes last spring. I don’t know. We were struggling with how life didn’t make sense and Ecclesiastes did that. But I likely need to provide more hope to counteract the pull of the flesh and the Tempter.

Wait, is that the Accuser trying to discourage me about Ecclesiastes? I don’t know. But I brought us to Exodus this fall to reveal the God who shows up and delivers His people. The God who hears the cries and moans of His people, and keeps His covenant promises to them.

In those sermons I spoke of Egypt and the world that seeks to crush God’s people, the seed of the Serpent at work in it all, and their own sinful responses to adversity. The world, the flesh and the devil.

Now we shift to the wilderness and learning to trust God. I am seeking to encourage and exhort so they stand firm. Timid Timothy’s can be God’s man at the right time.

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